Last Updated on May 6, 2016
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.And 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.
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.Take 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.
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?
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!
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!
Tuesday 3rd of May 2016
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.
Friday 6th of May 2016
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 :)
Sunday 17th of April 2016
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.
Friday 6th of May 2016
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!
Saturday 16th of April 2016
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??
Friday 6th of May 2016
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.
Friday 15th of April 2016
Ah yes, believe it or not I just recently feel in love with guidebooks .... I should never have bought my first one haha!!!
Friday 15th of April 2016
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.