Our Guide To Guide Books!

We all do it! We commit to a destination and start the process of hunting down all of the amazing things we want to do and see while we are on holiday. But, are we really getting the most out of the information that we uncover? Have no fear! TGC is here and we are committed to helping you find the perfect travel guide to make your next investment in travel all it can be.

books on shelf in library
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Listen in to our conversation about guide books on our podcast! Babcia and Yia Yia Travel The World is a great way to get all kinds of travel tips. Click here to listen to this episode and more!

First, a few pointers…

Before we jump in to all the different guides out there, there are a few tips to make travel guides work for you.

  • Always buy a new guide book. Up to date books are a must. You can’t reuse an old travel guide. Times change and new places pop up while old establishments may not be around. I once tried to follow an old book in Poland. I was after a great laundry service I’d read about. It turned out that they moved 10 minutes closer to where I was staying but I only found that out about four hours later!
  • Multiple sources can help narrow down options to tailor your travels. Using more than one source can validate a particular choice. When I went to Livingstone, every guide, blog, and recommendation list told me to go to the Elephant Cafe. They were all right!
  • Mark up those books! Make notes and cross things out so that your book works for you. My favorite tools are Notetaking tabs and flags and Flare Pens to mark up all of your travel guides.
  • Don’t forget the guides on TV. Some of my favorites are Curious Traveler and The Travel Show on BBC. Shows like these can breathe a little more life into your decision making process so you can know if your picks really work for you.
  • Be careful of terms like hidden gems and off the beaten path. Sometimes these can mask as “I’m recommending this for a monetary kickback”.
pile of books accurately stacked on table
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In the beginning…

While the concept of touring goes waaay back, modern tourism truly started with the grand European tour. Bored people of the Victorian age would pack up a ton of stuff and traipse around Europe seeing the big sites. Back then, a guide from Murray’s was the best choice around. As the tourist trade became more accessible to the middle classes, the grand tour was put on the back burner with the first shots fired in the World Wars. Then in 1957, a soldier named Arthur Frommer thought that Americans would like to know how to visit post war Europe on $5 a Day. It was a smash hit.

With Europe being the number one destination of traveling American, backpacker Rick Steves published Europe Through The Back Door in 1980. He brought the same pragmatic approach to visiting Europe and a great dedication to keeping his work up to date. Both books warrant a read by any serious traveler regardless if Europe is at the top of your list or not. Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

What’s on the bookshelf…

Rick Steves and Europe Steves continues to dominate the European guide market and does provide excellent, reliable information for the general tourist and traveler. He, however, is not the man you are looking for to string hostels together for a hiking trip through Switzerland or a super specific guide to island hopping in Greece.

Count on Rick, his TV show, and his multi media empire to give you a good read on the basics. His Rick Steves Guided Audio Tours are certainly illuminating and, yet, some can find that his focus is on the arts and humanities…. which can come across as a little dry. We recommend using the official Bingo game when watching!

aerial view of city buildings
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Beyond Europe…

As travelers expanded past European boundaries and set their sites on places like Japan and Australia, guide books kept up with demand. Arthur Frommer certainly expanded his base and his daughter, Pauline, continues to update 350 guide books for pretty much every destination around the world.

Lonely Planet follows suit with 200 authors canvasing the globe for the next greatest find in travel. LP leans toward eco tourism and outdoor adventure which can be super helpful for those looking to get out of the the general tourist lane.

Moon rounds out the big four and likes to invest in Central and South America with great guides for Belize and the Dominican Republic. Look for Moon to be helpful in other outdoor centric areas like the National Parks.

The digital bookshelf…

Big trade guide books are an incredible place to get information. However, with so many choices, they can feel a bit overwhelming. The question now becomes, “how do I narrow down all these great choices?!” The best suggestion is to follow a few bloggers.

This is the newest treasure trove available to travelers. A simple search on Pinterest leads to pin after pin of blog posts that will give you more information than you can imagine. That, in itself, can be a little overwhelming. Narrowing your search can be a huge help and following several bloggers that approach your destination from different perspectives can also bring on the best info to help you plan. Again, use Pinterest as a springboard so you can find writers that write about your interests like camping, wine, shopping, and more.

Digital guides on platforms like Amazon hosts a few digital picks which can make download and print an easy task. These guides are often written by niche experts who have well established blogs. They can be super helpful when you are looking for very specific information like fishing guides or foodie guides.

A few amazing bloggers are:

Your traveling tour guide…

You’ve researched all your choices and you’ve got a list tailored just for you. One tool in your arsenal that you may forget about your smartphone. The huge amount of apps that can be sourced is astounding. Apps can be a great on the go, last minute resource for any traveler.

Beware of crowdsourcing apps like Yelp! and Trip Advisor. Do they give you the best advice? It’s a mixed bag: Yelp! Seems to come out of the haze and tends to be accurate but Trip Advisor is dealing with a ton of bad reviews based on personal experiences that usually involve a crappy guest who didn’t get their way.

A few great app choices are:

  • Google Arts and Culture
  • Public transit apps like NYC subway or Eurail travel planner
  • iExit

Listen In…

Podcasting is a fabulous way to gather information and cross check a lot of the choices that you’ve already read about. Podcasts often have expert guests and plenty of kitchy tips to blend in to your own tailored needs. Some podcasters hope to be storytellers while others are working toward giving you the just facts in a fun format. Like all other areas of digital media, podcasting is flooded with too many choices to ever listen to, but here are a few of my faves: