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  • Writer's pictureGunnar Garfors

10 reasons why guide books are bad for you

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

Travel guide books. I hate them. I hate them like garden owners hate smelly little apple stealing brats. Guide books reduce your creativity and destroys impulsiveness. A lot of people use guide books to plan their holidays to death. All I know is that any such plans must, shall and have to be changed. So why make them in the first place?

1. Guide books try to take over your holiday Merely following what some random person has written in a guide book is like plagiating another person’s holiday. It isn’t illegal, but man, how unoriginal. Live your own holiday!

2. You are not everyone What you read in a guide book is hopefully well-meaning advice. Stay in the same room as travel writer X when he visited country Y and found the service amazing and the value of money much better than at home. A lunch in her favourite coffee shop where Wi-Fi is free and the coffee was made according to her taste. Or a trip to the statue park, a visit to the concert hall, a little bit of haggling in the local market or a pint of that must have dark beer in the particular pub by the park. A travel writer try to cover all, or at least many audiences. Everyone will get something. I am not everyone.

3. Guide books make you plan too much before leaving your home When I arrive in a new place I want to do so with an uncorrupted mind. If I start out with a stress creating list of what I have to see, I have lost as a traveler. Not because planning is all bad. But because I base my holiday on what a random contributor to a guide book coincidentally ended up doing before me. Instead of actually going there first to see, smell, taste and get a feel of the place. That is difficult if I have already read about “everything” there is to do there. Which probably means that you have also planned your trip to death. Before meeting a single local person from there or getting a feel of the place. Just imagine how much you will lose out on just because you have “already planned something else” than those locals you ran into invited you to join.

4. Guide books are biased Of course they are, they are written by one person, or at best a few, with their specific interests and preferences. I am not going to claim that anyone have offered goods, services or money in exchange for listings in guide books, but I would be very surprised if that was not the case in a number of books. By the publisher or the individual writer. Or both.

5. Guide books are based on short experiences I mean, what did the travel writer really have time to do and see during the 12, 24 or 72 hours she was in town? There are of course exceptions to this, at least when it comes to big and famous cities, but just think about it; How else can you manage to visit than by severly limiting your time on each destination? Rumours have it that certain travel writers have visited 4 or more towns in one single day.

6. Guide books are old When is your guide book written, again? Seven months ago? Two years ago? In 2006? The restaurant and nightlife scene can totally change in a matter of months in some cities. Then again, perhaps not in Slough.

7. Guide books create queues Admittedly not necessarily true if your destination is Tadjikistan or Chad, but nevertheless. Given that you use a particularly popular guide book, such as Lonely Planet, likelihood is that there are many other tourists there carrying it too. Which means you will end up on the same touristy route that most other readers of it are on. So, not only is there a likelihood for queues, they are not even made up by locals, so they won’t even help tell you if the particular restaurant, museum or pub is a good or popular one among locals either.

8. Guide books hike prices The owners of the bars, cafés and restaurants aren’t stupid. (Well, I know one that is, but that is besides the point.) When they one lovely day notice, by an increased number of foreign visitors, that they have in fact been listed in i.e. Rough Guides, they will naturally hike their prices. Of course! Wouldn’t you have? With brigades of well-off foreigners coming from nowhere into your business? I mean, travellers are often pretty well off, and might not mind or care if prices go up 30%. But locals do, of course. So, you will end up in places which accommodate for foreigners. And of course those trying to hook up with foreigners, trying to get you to buy them drinks.

9. Guide books take you to ghettos of foreigners As shown above. I rather prefer meeting local people, asking them for advice on what to do and what not to. Even though I, as a shy Norwegian, usually need to drink myself into daring entering into such encounters. In the nearest local joint. Of course, you can always innocently just ask someone what the time is or where the nearest coffee shop can be found. Chances are that it will develop into a proper conversation, and kaboom, you have a local friend. Who knows “everything” about the town, village or country you are in.

10. Guide books create hostility towards locals It doesn’t exactly make you seem like a friendly person, sitting on the bus or on a bench with your nose into a guide book. Instead of actually engaging with locals, asking them what you should do.

I never use guide books, although I admit that they can be good for getting some basic knowledge about a place, giving background information and act as a safety precaution in your backpack should you find that you are lost or without any idea of what to do. To travel without being bombarded with impressions in advance works best for me. I want to come there with a free and open mind. But to read up on culture, history and political and religious matters is good. That provides you with background info. And might help you avoid making stupid mistakes or insults. Or go to jail.

So what do I do? I try, when possible, to ask local people of what to do wherever I am. They know their area, sights, restaurants, cafés and nightlife much better than someone who pass through. There is of course one exception. People usually know nothing about hotels where they live. Why would they?

And some people would never even travel without a guide book, and to travel with a guide book certainly beats not travelling at all. Admittedly.

How do I know so much about guide books, by the way? Well, I certainly used them in the past. And it did take me a while to actually realize that I was much better off without them.

The exception

There is of course always an exception that proves the rule. The guide book series is first of all free for download online. But even better, it is written by locals and updated several times a year. Unfortunately it primarily covers European and some Asian cities.

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