Whether you like it or not, traveling with a guide like the Lonely Planet or the Routard can help to unblock certain situations in an emergency, such as avoiding overpaying for a cab for example. How to take advantage of it during your world tour without having to lug 17 pounds of 1kg each in your bag?
1. Download the extract of the Lonely Planet guides on the Kindle app
The part I like the most in the Lonely Planet guides is the “itineraries” part. I may hate the “must-see tourist destinations” part, but I must say that these itineraries have been perfectly designed to be feasible, hassle-free and economical; in addition to being super visual. The many times I deviated or added extra stops (I’m a rebel myself), it cost me a lot of time and money (remember the addition of Puerto Galera from Coron in the Philippines? a nightmare trip of more than 24 hours).
Photo: Itinerary from the guide “South America on a Shoestring” by Lonely Planet
This “itinerary” section is always available FREE when downloading the guide extract from the Kindle application. Moreover, the extract is free and always gives access to the most interesting part: embassy contact information, country profile, recommended itineraries, must-see places, budget per day and a map of the country’s capital.
2. Buy multi-country guides on Kindle and/or by chapter
I still buy Lonely Planet guides, but only for countries I don’t know at all, and especially when there are multi-country guides. For example, the guide covering all the countries of South America costs only 18€ while the Chile guide already costs 16€. Similarly, you’ll get a good deal when you buy the Cambodia – Vietnam – Laos – Thailand guide, which also proposes itineraries crossing these countries (precious information that you can’t find everywhere on the Internet).
It is obvious that I avoid walking around with 3-ton travel guides in my bag. The Kindle application by Amazon is perfect for that, and the travel guides are adapted to the Kindle format to be read on a small smartphone. Moreover, the Kindle version is cheaper than the paper version.
If you don’t plan to visit the whole country, it is possible to buy just one chapter via Kindle. This is what I did for Rajasthan in India. The chapters are cheap (3€) and still include the essential information of the country (Country profile/Transportation/Health/Language).
3. Buy the English version
If you are fluent in English, it is better to buy the English version. The French version is only a has-been translation of the English one. The English guides are updated every year, while the French version may take 2-3 years to be updated. It’s raging when you travel to countries with 2 digit inflation, the budgets indicated by the guide are completely out of line.
4. For budget & gastronomy, trust Le Routard
I have had many opportunities to compare the budgets given by Lonely Planet and Le Routard. I must say that the budget estimates of Le Routard are closer to reality. The “gastronomy” section is always a disappointment at Lonely Planet, while it is superb at Routard. These two sections (budget & gastronomy) are available for free on the Routard website for each country.
5. Open your eyes, the travel guides may be waiting for you in a hostel
These paper guides are so heavy that they are often abandoned by travelers along the way. It isn’t uncommon to come across almost new travel guides in youth hostels.
6. Don’t believe everything you are told
Travel guides are written by humans. Thus, the opinions expressed are completely subjective. An unavoidable experience for the author can be a nightmare for someone else. Always ask for confirmation from the locals / check TripAdvisor before skipping a destination, or paying a very expensive excursion. Here are a few examples to prove to you “that we aren’t told everything!”
- the guides do not compare the landscapes of country A to country B. Thus, they will push you to visit the Franz Josef in New Zealand, a big turnip vs. the Perito Moreno glacier that you will visit in Argentina.
- guides have to adapt to the largest number of people. Thus, even if there are options for visiting the disabled (or sports disabled like me), or families with children, the guides will ignore them. For example, I almost missed Torres del Paine because I thought it was absolutely necessary to do the W tour; or Abel Tasman Park because I thought the only option was to kayak and walk for a week.
- the frequency and existence of transportation should be systematically checked: new roads are being built every day, as well as new bus companies.
- Nobody mentioned the possibility of visiting the Uyuni salt desert in one day (and saving my $). All the guides talk about the 3 days tour. When an excursion is too expensive, be sure that a cheaper alternative exists (otherwise how would the locals do it?)
- Little mention of security and scams. A crappy but nice neighborhood will be presented in the same way as an ultra-secure residential neighborhood. From time to time, the words “popular”, “poor neighbourhood” may be used, implying “don’t go there at night”; or when the word “preferable” is used, it implies “it’s that or you might die”. It is up to you, each time, to find out about the safe zones in each city to book your hotel.
- The duration of the proposed itineraries is always exaggerated (at least for me who likes intense and express trips). Compare your travel rhythm to the one suggested by the guides and adjust your itinerary accordingly.