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Confession: I can’t travel without a guidebook! (+guidebook giveaway)

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A few days before my flight to Cartagena, I found myself browsing the shelves of New York’s book shops in search of a Colombia guide book. My first stop was the Strand, my favorite independent book shop, where I was disappointed to find that they only had the Lonely Planet Colombia. So I walked across Union Square to Barnes & Noble, where I found six or seven guide books for Colombia. Now I was overwhelmed with choices and decided to look up some reviews online to see which one would be the best. But then I thought to myself: ‘Do I really need a guidebook?‘ and decided that now that I was traveling with my Kindle Fire tablet /eReader, I could use blogs and wikitravel, downloading articles onto my Kindle via the Pocket app to access them when I was offline, and if I really needed a guidebook I could buy and download the online version straight onto my device. This would be my first ever trip without a paperback travel guide.

I was in Colombia for about a week when I realized that I couldn’t travel without a guidebook. I found it really tiresome to gather information on how to get from place to place on several websites, instead of having all the information I needed to know in one place.dk eyewitness guides 2016 icelandAnd so I decided to download a guidebook – my first choice, the DK Eyewitness Top Ten Travel guides, which I love for their many photos, itinerary suggestions and colorful maps. However, there’s no Colombia edition from Eyewitness yet (hello there, DK Eyewitness people, I know someone who could write that for you! ;-)) and so I found myself swiping through the pages of the good ol’ Lonely Planet instead.

But – even though the colorful eReader that is the Kindle Fire makes the experience much more pleasant than trying to navigate a guidebook on the first version of the kindle (impossible!), it’s still not the same as an actual guidebook where you can turn pages quickly, can go back and forth between map overviews, suggested routes and detailed descriptions of a city.

dani palomino colombia
Okay, I might be carrying more books than just a guide book, despite my eReader…

And so I ended up carrying an actual physical guidebook again a few days later, even though I didn’t want to add any more weight to my bag. Was it worth it? Absolutely!

Why I still travel with a guidebook

After picking up the guidebook, planning my travels became so much easier. I had bus routes and bus times in one place, the most important sights listed, and maps of the places I visited. I didn’t have to consult several websites to gather the information I needed, like I did before I picked up the guidebook, and even better: I could plan my itinerary while I was traveling on buses or in places where there wasn’t any wifi. It was such a relief to have a guidebook again, and while I thought it might be a good idea to travel without one because these days everything you need to know can be found online, I now know that it’s still much more convenient to look up something in a book quickly.

I know that most people don’t use guidebooks anymore, but not only do I think a guidebook helps me to find out relevant information (I read all of Colombia’s recent history in my guidebook, for example, which gave me invaluable background information while traveling the country, helping me understand its culture and people better), but it also helps me find cool spots that I might have missed without one.dk eyewitness guides 2016 new yorkTake Villa de Leyva for example, a famous colonial village four hours north of Bogotá. I’d heard that it’s a must-visit place in Colombia, but what I learned from my guidebook was that there were actually quite a few places outside of town that were worth a visit: Los Pozos Azules, a series of swimming holes with azure blue water, waterfalls, plus a hike to a viewpoint overlooking the village.

Or when I decided to do the 5-day trek to the Lost City – I was incredibly thankful for my guidebook which didn’t only tell me all about the history of this pre-Columbian city and what the trek is like (given me reassurance that I was fit enough to make it!) but also what to pack (including an amazing recommendation for a local mosquito repellent!!) and an overview of the different tour operators organizing this trip.

lost city trek river crossing colombia
Thanks for preparing me so well for my trek, trusted guidebook!

Not only do I have all the things I can do in a town in one place, but also opening times, admission fees and recommendations for good places to eat, which is especially helpful for vegetarians like me. Yes, of course it is also a nice experience to stumble upon an amazing restaurant and sample some local dishes, but sometimes it is nice to already have some recommendations, especially when I arrive in a new city after a long bus ride, famished and not in the mood to walk from restaurant to restaurant to see which ones has veggie options.

Of course I do not solely rely on guidebook recommendations, absolutely not. In addition to guidebooks, I still research online what to do and where to eat, double-check on Wikitravel if prices stated in a guidebook are still up to date, and am always happy to get personal recommendations from locals or other travelers. But for practicalities like how to get from A to B, safety tips (very helpful for Bogota, for example!)

Is traveling with a guidebook becoming old-fashioned?

The reason why I’m feeling almost guilty for still carrying a guidebook is that I noticed I often get funny looks when I pull an actual paperback book out of my bag to look something up, while everyone else is using their tablets or phones. I started to wonder if I was the only one who still used a paperback travel guide. But, over the next few weeks, I saw more and more people with guidebooks in their hands, studying them just as intensely as I studied mine.

And those who didn’t travel with a guidebook? Well, I found it interesting that when I was hanging out in communal areas at hostels, my guidebook on the table in front of me, people came over several times and asked me if they could borrow it for a minute. I guess that after all, they felt the same way like I did when I arrived in Colombia without a guidebook: they wished they had brought one.

Reading this article, one might think I am the only one still (happily) lugging a guidebook around, making it seem like something very old-fashioned.

That’s why I’d love to hear from you, readers – are you still traveling with guidebooks? Have you changed to Kindle versions of guidebooks? Or have you never bothered carrying a heavy travel guide?dk eyewitness guides 2016 rome1

Meet my favorite travel guides: DK Eyewitness Travel Top Ten

I’ve used DK Eyewitness guidebooks for years now, and I was excited when I found out that their popular Top 10 Travel Guides got an upgrade last month, I couldn’t wait to check them out. For those of you who don’t know DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Guides – these award-winning pocket guides are famous for their top 10 lists for the best places to eat, sleep, sightseeing and entertainment, but they go way beyond a city’s Top Ten, with suggested itineraries, pull-out maps and public transportation maps, walking routes, off-the-beaten-path things to do, and lots of photos, which is a huge advantage for a visual person like me. Look at Las Lajas for example, a famous church in the south of Colombia. Reading about it in the Lonely Planet, which doesn’t have any photos, I’m not sure if I would have been enticed to visit. But with a photo (see below), showing me what an amazing structure this church is? Absolutely!

Santuario de Nuestra Senora de las Lajas
Santuario de Nuestra Senora de las Lajas by Frank_am_Main via Flickr.com

Win 10 new DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Guides

To celebrate the upgrade of the DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Guides, I am giving away not one but ten of them! Namely those which are the first ones to get a revamp – the ten most popular travel guides: London, Barcelona, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Washington, D.C., New York City, Iceland, San Francisco, Rome and Berlin.

For a chance to win a set of all 10 travel guides, just leave a comment and tell me which one of the guide books you’re most likely to use first – Paris? London? Rio? Share in the comments below!DK Eyewitness guides

The contest is running until 20 April 2016.
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63 Comments

  1. I’m planning a trip to Germany, part because I love the language, part because I want to learn about the German part of my heritage in a way that no book or genealogy site could facilitate… So I think I’d use the Berlin guide first!

      1. I’d be ready to leave now, in theory, but unfortunately I have tons of medical tests to deal with first. So hopefully this Autumn? I love exploring new cities during my favourite month of the year, so maybe it will work out well!

    1. Well, you’ll receive ten of them shortly! You’re the winner of the giveaway, Janet – congratulations! 🙂

  2. Ha! A travel blogger that sings praises for a guidebook, this is atypical!

    I’ve always traveled with guidebooks. At home, I have them all lined-up on my bookshelf, like trophies. I don’t throw them away, after all, it brings back the memories.

    And yes, like you said, guidebooks are still convenient, and it makes traveling easier. I definitely prefer the paper version over a PDF, due to the convenience. It’s after all, one’s travel Bible, so to speak. Even in the times when I visited just a city or a region, and so I only bought a chapter, I still printed them out instead of just carrying the electronic version of it.

    Most people who consider themselves “travel-savvy” tell me that they don’t use guidebooks anymore. Some travel bloggers have said that guidebooks are out, blogs and TripAdvisor are in. While I appreciate the insights travel blogs can give, and yes, I read travel blogs about the places I am about to visit, I still prefer the research done by guidebooks. Only guidebooks give me bus schedules, practical information, ideas for top and not-so-top sights to see (and the maps to go with it). Blogs are great for getting ideas, but for the actual practical logistics, I still rely on the trusted guidebook.

    1. Jeruen – I agree with everything you’re saying! And you say it perfectly: travel blogs are great for inspirations, and some have a fair amount of practical information, but overall, guidebooks still do a better job at providing the logistics… I mean, that’s what they’re for, right? 😉

  3. Rome! Although I’ve been to Italy twice as an adult and so many other places zero times, I’ve never been and I keep having literal dreams about going . . . so it might be time. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for entering the contest, Sarah! You didn’t win the guidebook set but I would like to send you the Rome guide as a Thank You for entering – can you send me your address to my email address? Thanks 🙂

  4. That’s so unexpected! I’m not sure why this is the case, but I really didn’t think you’d be traveling with a guidebook. As for me, I don’t travel with a guidebook ever. I find it to be a big hassle to carry around a book, so I researched the heck out of my trip pre-departure and rely on my self-made itinerary during the duration of the trip. Mind you, my trips are much shorter compared to yours, so that’s probably why this works for me. I can imagine it being too overwhelming once the trip stretches beyond the 4-weeks mark.

    As per the guidebook, I’d probably use Berlin first as I’ve heard SO many good things about the city but have never been! I’d also LOVE to go to Gemarny for the Christmas markets this year!

    1. Pauline- see, I am not very good at pre-trip research!

      P.S. I hope you get to visit Berlin soon! I prefer the summer there because all of my favorite things to do there are outdoors, but I have to admit that the Christmas markets are pretty special, too!!! 🙂

  5. Well, thank goodness I’m not the only one who always travels with a paper guidebook!!! I feel so old fashioned but I LOVE having all the goodies on a place in something I don’t need wifi for and can access whenever the mood strikes me. I also keep all my old guidebooks on my bookshelves with all my other travel souvenirs and treasure them with lots of love. I recently left a bag with two new fridge magnets and my DK Chile guidebook in a cab in Santiago and was beyond bummed and pretty grouchy about the incident. As for which travel book I’d read first, definitely Iceland because I’m trying to convince my husband to take me there for our anniversary and studying the pictures in the Eyewitness books make me a better photographer!!!

    1. Thanks for entering the giveaway and for your comment!

      Yay for other guidebook users 🙂 I feel old-fashioned, too, but I just like them too much to give them up 😀

      So sorry to hear that you left your Santiago guidebook and fridge magnets in a cab, I would be totally bummed out about that, too, Hilary :O

      PS I hope you can convince your husband to go to Iceland with you! Such an amazing country!!

    1. Andi – I’d be happy to send you my copy of the Rio guide, just email me your address 🙂 I hope you’ll get to take Joaquin to Brazil soon – and to Argentina, of course!! I don’t think he’s been yet, right??

  6. I LOVE guidebooks! Nothing like having all of the info there for an easier time planning!

    It’s a toss-up for me. My favourite country in Europe (aside from Greece, where I’m originally from) is probably Iceland. I’m always planning a trip there, so the guidebook would be a great help for my planned Icelandic road trip in the next few months! At the same time though, I’m probably going to the East Coast of the US soon, and the Washington DC would come in handy.

    All ten of those guide books look amazing, and I’d love to read ALL of them!

    1. I love seeing how popular Iceland is, lots of people seem to want to go there (and I want to go back!!)

      Thanks for entering the giveaway – and if you happen to be in NYC this summer, please let me know and I’d be happy to show you some of my favorite spots 🙂

  7. Iceland!! It’s been at the top of my travel list for too long and v as soon as my wife and are no longer students we want to road trip around the island (like you!)… Once we are no longer poor students ;))

    1. Adam – yes, you definitely need some cash if you want to enjoy Iceland, but I guess you could go on a hitchhiking adventure, if you’re the adventurous type 😉

  8. I have two bookshelves packed with old guide books but I don’t usually lug the around when I’m travelling. I’ve found that a good travel app can be more useful.

    1. Christina – I would like to use travel apps more but I have to admit that my phone storage is always FULL!! I have too many apps and pics on my phone… aah!

  9. I almost always take a guide with me when I travel! It’s pretty usefull to know which places to go and what they are about, so I like reading them. The guide I would use first would be Berlin, because I already booked a trip to Berlin for september. But the one I really want to use is ‘Iceland’, this destination is placed on top of my bucketlist so maybe this guide will push me to going there. 😉

    1. I love that you’re going to Berlin, Tjapke! Awesome 🙂 Hope you’ll be there over a weekend so that you get to check out some of the cool flea markets and Mauerpark karaoke 🙂

    1. Thanks for entering the giveaway, Tiffany! You didn’t win the set of 10 guidebooks but I’d love to send you a copy of the San Francisco guidebook as a thank you for entering, so please email me your address! 🙂

  10. Iceland: I’m also interested in visiting the UK, but if I get only one choice, its definitely Iceland all the way!

  11. I completely agree! I much prefer having a guidebook with everything in one place. I usually go through it before I leave and take notes I’ve made and copies of pages I think I’ll need with me instead of carrying the whole book. It helps me feel less conspicuous than I would pulling out a book but I feel like I have the knowledge right there if something comes up. I’ve never heard of DK travel guides, but I’m definitely going to check them out! Curious question–why did you dismiss the Lonely Planet book? Are they just not your thing or do you have a specific reason you prefer others? Love the blog!

    1. That’s a good way to do it, CJ!

      As for Lonely Planet – I don’t completely dislike them but they’re usually so out-of-date, it drives me crazy sometimes. The Colombia LP served me well, for example, but like I said – many things were just very out of date. I also like Rough Guides and the Footprint guidebooks, so I don’t really have a preference, I think.. but I love how visually appealing the DK Eyewitness guidebooks are!

  12. Strange as this may sound, I would most likely use the Washington DC guide although I live 20 minutes from DC abd lived here for 10 years. I love to leave home and travel the world but, I never take the time to explore my own backyard. DC has a lot to offer and soooo much to see.

    1. It can make such a difference to experience ‘your’ town with a guidebook – I felt that way in Chicago where I used a guidebook even though my ex girlfriend was from there, and in London where I lived for three years. There are usually some gems in guidebooks that most locals don’t know about 🙂

      I’d be happy to send you my copy for the DC guidebook if you send me your address, Chantelle 🙂

    1. If you still want the London and Iceland guidebooks, they’re yours! And I want to meet up with you when you’re in Europe!! 🙂

  13. Guidebooks all the way! I may supplement it with apps such as Triposo which often give much more detail on a place and works offline, but a paper guidebook is always the first thing I buy after booking flights for all the reasons in the article – not dependant on wifi or electricity, everything in one place. I’d love the Berlin guide 🙂

  14. I never leave home without a Lonely Planet (or sometimes more than one). And i always bring it back home , they are sort of my travel memories.

    1. Danielle – I used to be the same, always kept my guidebooks, but since becoming nomadic, I’ve started to leave them behind in hostels on the last day in the country I’m in, hoping that it’ll serve somebody else as well as it served me 🙂

  15. I wish they would do the Colombia travel book. Based on your previous posts – I think you’d be brilliant in writing it 🙂

  16. The guidebook I’ll probably use first is the London one. I had a layover there once on my way to East Africa and would love to go back for at least a week to really explore.

  17. Same with me, i also can’t travel without travel book.May be its looking old for techsavy guys but real travelling experience feels when you are travelling with guidebooks and not with gadgets….

  18. I’d probably use the London one first. Although I’m from the UK, I’ve not really spent much time exploring there. I still buy guidebooks, much prefer them to using my kindle etc

  19. Totally with you on the guide books and can never understand why people do not spend a few dollars extra on top of their airfares to enhance their trip.
    I have always been the one with the guidebooks and therefore get to do what I want hehe.

  20. Such a cool post Dani!

    And yes, even though I’m an established travel blogger with many years travelling experience, I still travel with a guide book!

    Why not? I love reading them and I like the writing styles as some of them are hilarious, especially in Lonely Planet so I wouldn’t mind checking out the way the DK writers do it!

    I have pdf versions which I read at home and of course, I have many blog friends for extra advice, but I still like to have a book too.

    I love reading and I still enjoy the feel and look of a travel guide and I have loads on my bookshelf! Some of them I’m still using many years later..!

    If I could choose, I would choose the New York City guidebook as I’ve never been there before, and I would like to give this trip as a birthday present to my husband as this year is his significant birthday!

    1. Thanks, Victoria 🙂 I hope you’ll make it to NYC soon – if you make it happen this year, I’d love to show you and your hubby some of my favorite spots!! Let me know 🙂

  21. I’m happy to see that I’m not the only one who still really enjoys having an actual guidebook with me when traveling. While I love getting info from the web and my phone, there’s nothing like having an actual guidebook to read through for background info, maps, and other places to explore….I just wish some were updated more frequently.

    I would choose the London guidebook since I will be spending a week there is July. I love Berlin and Barcelona though too and am sure I will be visiting again soon.

  22. I’ve tried my last couple of trips without a guidebook and agree with you that having the info in one place is a bonus. a bigger bonus is not having to rely on wifi. Downside is if travelling to a few places need a book for each and we’re getting bulky.

    First book mmm maybe Berlin. So much to do there and an interesting recent culture.

    cheers

  23. Iceland and Barcelona at the top of my list! I hope guidebooks never go out of style because my dream job would be to create guidebooks!! Im travelling Next year For six months and still Need to figure out the guidebook dilema, i make notes and record stories in them and could never imagine throwing them away to lighten my load. Maybe mail them to a friend to keep for me? And reconmendations on this??

    1. I would love to create guidebooks, too, Shanan! 🙂 Maybe we should team up 😉 My recommendation for your long trip next year – yes, definitely leave them behind after you’re done (I usually leave them in a hostel so that somebody else can pick it up) and as for buying them as you go – most airport book stores have a good selection of guidebooks, so that might work. Depends on which countries you’re looking to visit and how you’re getting around (if you’re flying). If you’re staying in one region, pick up a regional one like ‘South East Asia’ or ‘South America’ which there are quite a few good ones.

  24. Berlin! My Colombian friend has it as his number one place to visit when he moves to the UK later this year and I am ashamed to say I have never been to Germany so it seems a great place to start.

    As for guidebooks, I love having them on my book shelf as they provide memories and it is great flicking through after a holiday to remind yourself of all the amazing things you did.

    1. Yessssssssss, Berlin! So happy to hear that! And I agree that it’s the best place to start exploring Germany 🙂 I hope you’ll make it there soon, Rachel!

  25. No guide book here. The wife always spends time before our trips to find something out of the normal touristic path. One of our best experiences was finding a hard to get to remote area in Zakynthos, Greece.

    1. I usually spend a lot of time researching a destination before I get there but a guidebook still comes in handy, especially when I’m on a bus to a new city and want to look up what to do there, or familiarize myself with a map. I don’t rely solely on guidebooks though… and I love getting off-the-beaten path! Personal recommendations are usually the best – guidebooks often miss the things locals love to do, events like free open air concerts or markets… stuff like that, which I love doing 🙂

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