Choosing a Guidebook

If you know what area you will be traveling to, then purchasing a good guidebook is your next step.  A guidebook will give you details on specific countries and cities in the region you are interested in and make recommendations of hostels, restaurants and activities to do.  They will provide you with a lot of details, like maps and facts on the city that are excellent tools both on and off the road and can be ordered online or purchased at most bookstores.

choosing a guidebook
Popular guidebooks:

Lonely Planet – Lonely Planet guidebooks are the most popular among backpackers, but because most backpackers have the same guidebook that you have, the recommended locations and restaurants will be more crowded than usual. Lonely Planet has an excellent “on a shoestring” series that is good for budget travelers, the Central America version which I have used before.

Rough Guides – Rough Guides is directed towards backpackers and has its own “on a budget” series of guidebooks and tends to be off the beaten path with its suggestions. I personally prefer its maps, little tips throughout, and consider it more user-friendly.  I used this guide for my Europe trip.

Let’s Go – Started by a group of Harvard students, this guidebook is similar to the two above, but geared towards younger backpackers, focusing on the nightlife and party hostels. The recommendations are said to be more honest and spot on though as their writers do not disclose themselves to the places they are visiting.

Fodors – guidebooks are directed to a backpacker on a larger budget, and typically include some trendier hot spots rather than the bare bones.  Good for those wanting to mix in some splurges with their bargains.

Frommers – Started as the founder of budget travel guides with his Europe on $5 a Day in the 60s, his guides now are regarded as towards a wealthier class.  Although some editions focused on budget travelers exist, these guides may be better for a more mature audience.

All of these guidebooks are quality, and every backpacker has their own preference, so the best way to start is to just go to a bookstore, sit down, and flip through them to see which one caters to your personality and needs the most.  Don’t let choosing a guidebook overwhelm you.  They all do the same thing in the end and really aren’t too different when you get down to it.

Other Guidebook Tips:

  • It is helpful to purchase the most detailed guidebook that applies.  For instance, if you
    choosing a guidebook
    -AX- / / CC BY-NC

    are only traveling to Thailand,  purchasing the Thailand specific guidebook is better than purchasing a Southeast Asia guidebook.  You can also purchase city specific guidebooks for large cities for when you plan to concentrate a lot of time in one place.

  • Check the publication dates of the guidebooks before you buy.  They usually release a new version every year, and though more expensive than using an older edition, it is worth it to purchase the most recent one as the advice in guidebooks can become outdated very quickly.  The last thing you want while traveling is to spend hours waiting for a train that doesn’t exist, or searching for a hostel that has closed down.
  • Many people I have met backpacking don’t just rely on one guidebook, but have two just to gather a different perspective, if one book had a feature that another book didn’t.
  • Some guidebook websites, like Lonely Planet, will sell individual chapters to books in .pdf online instead of having to purchase a whole book.  This is helpful if you only plan on going to 3 or 4 countries, and the guidebook features more than twice that amount and if it ends up costing less.
  • Always take the guidebook with you on your trip.  I am a huge supporter of having hard copies of your research with you.  It is best not to rely on internet cafes or computers while abroad in case you end up in an area where they are not readily available.   Having it on hand is much easier when you need to know a last-minute place to stay or a good restaurant without having to pop in to use a computer every time. If you are worried about the bulk of carrying around guidebooks with you, you can just tear out the pages or chapters that you plan on using.  This is best if you have a set itinerary.
  • Read your guidebook ahead of time, don’t just skim.  Through reading it, you will get a better feel of the places you want to visit, and can internalize a lot of the advice so you don’t have to rely on it so much.  A guidebook is meant to be exactly what it says, a GUIDE, so it is best to use it to get a feel for what you want, then do more individual research on your own. Remember, you are not confined to the restaurants, hostels, and cities mentioned in your guidebook, and there are always other options out there.  Just because they are not listed in your guidebook doesn’t make them bad or wrong.


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