Earlier in 2013 I wrote “The End of the Guidebook?”, inspired by the BBC’s sale of Lonely Planet (LP) and some other stories I read around the same time regarding the future of traditional printed guidebooks. I related my history of using guidebooks while traveling, my first email account and the impact it had while traveling. A number of readers responded to the piece and shared comments about their use of guidebooks when traveling versus relying on online content.
It seems most who commented (admittedly these people are friends and acquaintances) have affinities for printed guidebooks but most expressed that online content certainly has its time and place while planning travel and on the road itself. Availability of Wifi connections was the major cited downside of relying solely on online travel content as well as finding a useful way to assemble, organize and tie useful online content together for use while on-trip.
Melanie Ellery, from Vancouver, says there’s usefulness to printed guidebooks both pre and post-travel, “I feel the same way about having a guide book as a tangible, travel expert in my hands. I can mark it up in advance, and as I travel add to it, make notes, and highlights. When it sits on my shelf later, it conjures the memories of the places and things we experienced together.”
Chris Shannon of Calgary loves his printed LP books when traveling and also keeps them on a bookshelf at home, reminding him of his trips. For Shannon it’s bias that keeps him buying and traveling with printed materials. “I just don’t trust online reviews. Even if they were honest reviews, you can’t review the reviewer. At least with a guidebook, you can get a feel for how the reviewer has similar and different tastes than yourself.” “Having one reviewer (or all reviewers have a similar standard) review the entire field is far more consistent than to a variety of reviewers judging a variety of options.” “It seems to me that online sites have profit motives that may be biasing. The Lonely Planet has a bias to keep offering their honest opinion, because in the long run, their long term reputation is really all they are selling. I don’t see how any review site can really match that.”
Whether you’re an established publishing brand or online startup, one thing that’s a distraction and upset for Nima Chandler of Bangkok, is accuracy of maps. As the Managing Director of the famous Nancy Chandler map series, she’s found printed maps in guidebooks can sometimes lack specific requisite detail. “I just went somewhere with one [guidebook] where several places listed weren’t on any map inside. ‘3km east of the city center’ was the directions they gave for one shop… which turned out to be down some hard to figure out back streets which were actually on the map, and ‘5km west of the city center’ for a dance club that was off the small city center map.”
Chandler also points out some other interesting flaws with online content, “A lot of sites recycle the same material, without publication dates which means much more is out of date than guidebooks. Case in point: Google ‘jazz bars in Bangkok’ and 99% of results will list Brown Sugar on Sarasin Rd. still, years after it moved.” “Online maps are often wrong too, The Big One weighing user generated content over owners of businesses. Trust me, as I make maps (paper only still) and have called more than a few hotels and restaurants to let them know The Big One has them in the wrong place.” “I recently spent half an hour trying to help a friend correct the location of her resort, pinned in the wrong place by someone else, only to then be told she had to wait two weeks for a postcard to be sent to her with an authorization code to use to confirm the change of location.”
Some argue it’s only aging travelers that still rely on carrying printed guidebooks but twenty-something traveler, Evan Galbraith of Calgary, traveled Myanmar in 2012 and found having a printed book in-hand to be invaluable. “I can say that having a guidebook was much better than not having a guidebook.” “I found Lonely Planet to be the most helpful when seeking out things to see or spots to hit, as the Internet doesn’t have the same organization or focus – it’s too free flowing, with repetitive/redundant info. Perhaps the Internet holds more content, but it lacks the straightforwardness of an LP, so I found myself turned away from using the web as it ultimately took me longer to find useful info.”
Despite being a fan of having a guidebook in-hand while on the road, Galbraith did find online travel information has an advantage over the printed in one respect, “When looking into the process for getting my visa for Myanmar the Internet was great as several people had blogged about their experience. Perhaps partly because that particular country is changing so fast, the Internet can keep up with those changes more accurately than a guidebook.”
Chandler has an interesting method of striking balance between the digital and print mediums when traveling that bridges a gap between the two worlds, “I buy digital chapters as needed and print only what I want on paper.” “Relying on online is hard in places where you need free Wifi to get online and as mentioned above, a lot of sites recycle the same material.” She also peruses TripAdvisor to identify bars and restaurants she might want to try, and searches online for local expat magazine websites which tip her off as to who’s hanging out where, what’s hot and special events planned during her travel dates.
Shannon is a die-hard guidebook fan but did find an aspect of digital technology invaluable while traveling Myanmar in early 2013 with his wife Donna. “We brought her smartphone with us for the first time and really enjoyed writing trip emails from the comfort of our hotel room instead of smoky Internet cafes.”
While further debating the merits of digital technologies and guidebooks while traveling, Shannon thinks it’s possible he may change his style of sourcing information in the future but is still deeply tied to guidebooks in their traditional form. “I’d be pretty sad if I had to go on my next travel adventure without my trusted LP.” “I suppose I could be talked into a tablet type device that combines the functionality of a camera, GPS, and a PDF-searchable and markup-able version of the LP.” “Can’t beat the cost of a paperback book though, and looking at the state of the collection of Lonely Planets on our bookshelf, this device would be in for a hell of a lot of wear and tear.”