If you were stranded on a foreign island that you knew nothing about, what one thing would you bring with you? My answer? A Lonely Planet Guide Book.
If you are at all interested in a vacation that can take you outside of the tourist traps and into the local flavor of a place, then I’m convinced that these guide books are the best thing you can bring with you on virtually any trip. I was introduced to these beyond helpful books during my two-month internship in the Dominican Republic (when my Spanish was barely functional).
And, I’ve just bought another one for a trip to Alaska that Robert and I are planning in the next year. Call me old school, but these hard copy masterpieces will always be with me on any self-planned trip abroad. But what’s so great about them?
They give you everything you need to know before traveling.
This includes what language the people in your destination speak, their currency, exchange rates, banking information, visa information, cell phone options, transportation concerns, important phone numbers (like country code and emergency information), history, landscapes, maps, climates for each season, and more. This information is presented right at the beginning so you can find it super easily. They also include things like “Top Places to Visit,” varying options for targeted trips (such as “Romantic Getaway” or “Wildlife” trips), month-by-month event options like festivals and holiday events, and even pre-planned itineraries for those who don’t want to sort through the whole book to find the cool stuff.
In addition to this, they have a survival guide in the back that goes into greater detail. For destinations that don’t speak English, they even include the language essentials. Like I said, they cover everything.
They provide the best options for every kind of budget.
One of my favorite things about these guide books is that they recognize that their readers all have different budgets. For every section in their book, they include the best options for differing price ranges regarding hotels, restaurants, transportation, excursions, and more. They separate the budgets based on a three-tier budget scale (low, mid, and high). What’s better is that I’ve found the information to be extremely specific and accurate. I know exactly how much it is going to cost me to get from point A to point B, how much I will spend at my resort/hotel/hostel/campground/whatever, and where I’m going to eat according to my budget and tastes! For those who are ultra-planners and budget-tight, this kind of specificity is a Godsend.
Details are by region, so you can hit all the best spots wherever you are in the country.
While they do have a “Top Visits” for the entire destination, the bulk of the book is separated by region. This is great for two reasons. First, even if you can’t afford to go all around the country, you can still experience some amazing places and activities within a manageable area.
Second, it can actually be more gratifying to stay longer in a certain area rather than just hitting the “big stuff” and missing out on local flair. In my opinion, a lot of people are overly concerned with hitting the top attractions. One of the best parts about traveling outside of a tourist package is that you get to experience the culture. The longer you stay in one place, the more of that local culture you’ll get to experience and the better your trip will be. When you start traveling this way, it might be hard for you to go back to tourist packages.
Regional information is extremely specific and covers all bases.
When I was traveling in the Dominican Republic, local transportation was…different, to say the least. Compared to America, the driving there is entirely chaotic, but public transportation is readily available. The only thing with the public transport is that there were no online websites or phone numbers to call to tell you routes, departing/arriving times, cost, etc. The information in the Lonely Planet Guide Books gives you all of that, which is why I love them so much! Using these books, I and three other girls were able to reach a highly isolated beach at the extreme of the country by hopping on a tour bus, motoconcho (motorcycle taxi), and gua-gua (public van) with virtually no problems. Our reward? An entire half-day to one of the world’s most pristine beaches completely to ourselves. And, when a few others did show up, we gained new friends. Sorry, but you won’t get that experience with a pre-paid tourist package.
And, as I mentioned before, they cover restaurants, sleeping accommodations, sights, tours, festivals and events, and other important information per region (such as where to buy that beautiful, country-specific jewelry you’d like to take home as souvenir). They even rate these based on quality + price to give you their “top choice” so you can get the best bang for your buck.
Seriously guys, I’m getting excited just writing this all down again. Where do you find all of this information in one place to make self-planned trips so easy, awesome, and affordable?
They provide cultural information to give you better insight.
These books provide you with a lot of cultural information that can help you better understand what you’re seeing. Are all of the subway stops named after people? Maybe politics has strongly shaped the country and culture. Whatever the case, Lonely Planet books give you solid but purposeful information about the place you’re visiting. Music & dance might be a cornerstone of the destination, or maybe sports have shaped the economy more. If you’re looking to really experience the place, these things are good to know. I do recommend reading these sections to give yourself a fuller understanding and appreciation of it all. One of the greatest points of travel is to expand your perspective; if you visit all the pretty sights and do all of the awesome activities but don’t understand the meaning of the place that provides them all, then you’re missing a crucial aspect of travel.
The writers travel to your destination every edition, so the information is up-to-date.
One of my biggest concerns was whether a printed book could provide updated information. If you buy the latest edition of your destination guide book, this shouldn’t be a problem. In addition, they don’t ever accept “gifts” for promotion of a particular place, so you’re getting the real deal, too.
Online sources may not always be available to you.
Lonely Planet does have a website with travel information on it, and I would recommend using it (or some other website) as a place to start your planning. What region looks like an interesting place visit? Do you really want to go whale watching? When is the best month to do that? Beyond that, though, I would still purchase the printed guide. Simply put, you may not always have WiFi. And, if you don’t have an international data plan, then the costs of looking anything up can be astronomical. And even so, I truly do believe that you will not be able to find such reliable, in-depth information so simply in one place, even on the worldwide internet. The books are worth the extra cost, trust me.
So, I don’t know about you, but I will always have one of these handy guide books on me whenever I plan my own travel. I have never found a more comprehensive, trustworthy resource than these books. Consider them your new best travel companion.