The Death of the Guide Book?

Howdy all. Today’s topic is actually a bit sad for me. Whenever I had a destination in mind, I went straight to the guide books and I would research the crap out of it, pardon my French! Of course, the way we research before we travel has changed so much since I first started in 1999. It was 2000 when I discovered Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree, and fast forward 20 years and the internet is the most valuable tool we use in our lives for, well, pretty much anything really!

Guide book Istanbul to Kathmandu – used in 2004

So back to 1999. I don’t know if the youngsters 😉 reading this post can imagine travelling back in the day on a long trip with a guide book. Imagine a trip where you go from country to country, I packed something like 24 countries into seven months back in 1999 on my first round-the-world adventure, so I had an incredible number of guide books that I bought or (naughty!) I photocopied before leaving from the library.

I mostly used Lonely Planet, but I had the ‘Let’s Go Europe’ which I used for that particular continent. I had the Lonely Planet Thailand and India to start, my first two destinations. They were huge, chunky books which really weighed me down, but you know, they didn’t have e-versions and you couldn’t pull up much information on your smart phone that didn’t exist back then. On top of the ones I have listed I had photocopies of the relevant pages of the Russia Lonely Planet. I may have had the USA Lonely Planet. I know I OWNED a Canada Lonely Planet, but I don’t think that went with me. I had the Egypt Lonely Planet – which I left accidently in Egypt, but it was way out of date and was next to useless, and I had the one for Iceland. That’s got to be like five kilograms of guide books!

Still I find guide books useful in planning a trip, and at times once I’m travelling. I’d rather not have one in my hand I guess, but well, who would? Guide books are to me a starting point, something that pulls you in and prepares you for where you are going and gives you inspiration as to what you might do there. And they are beautiful books (well not so much Let’s Go which was prominently yellow) too. And just buying the book fills you with excitement. This year and last all I could do was watch YouTube vlogs, read blog posts and buy guide books for places I still can’t visit. But I still got a little rush when the Lonely Planet India came through the post!

But sadly, with so many websites doing hotels now, reviews galore and in general the way the internet and to a lesser extent social media provides information and inspiration, the guide book has really taken a back seat in the process of travel and preparing for travel. I mean I would literally, on my first trip, get to a city and open up the book to see what hotels were in my price range and try that hotel to see if they had vacancies. Today, well you know how we do it these days. This means a lot more options are open to me – not to say that I always stayed at guide book recommended places, the more I travelled, the less so. When I started getting in the Lonely Planet was key to a business’s success if it was a hostel or hotel. Getting in the book meant you were sure to greatly increase backpackers coming through your doors.

Today it’s all about ratings on Trip Advisor, Expedia, Agoda and the cohort of websites. But these websites ALL feature a lot more places than a guide book ever could. Things to see and do also, would be very popular with a good guide book write up.

And maps were a huge thing in the Lonely Planets, you depended on them and when they weren’t accurate – happened more than once, the map in the old Egypt LP of Alexandria was not even close to correct – well it really stuffed you up. Today turn on Google Maps and get led straight to the place you want to go.

With the pandemic hitting, Lonely Planet I don’t think has released any new books. So all information is really 2018 or earlier, but it still gives a dose of inspiration on the long winter days when you can’t go anywhere. But will they continue to publish? I don’t think so. I heard somewhere that they were done but they are still operating and selling books, perhaps they are just excess stock, I don’t know. But what I am saying is this – all the information in that book IS available online. You can get your exchange rates, weather, hotels, transport guides, maps, health information etc from the internet now and never even think of getting a guide book.

And yes, the pandemic has more than dented travel, but this was coming a long time. Is there a future for guide books? I haven’t seen a ‘Let’s Go’ in over a decade. Bradt are rather good at covering places that are a little out of the way in greater detail than say, Lonely Planet and perhaps because of the niche nature of their market, they might just keep going. Lonely Planet have closed big offices including Melbourne (where it started) over the last year and a half and I don’t think are researching right now. Apparently Tony Wheeler has stated he still thinks there’s a role for the company, but I just don’t know. The Thorn Tree forum for whatever reason has been read-only since the first quarter of 2020.

Are guide books finished? We will see. I know if you want to head to Pakistan, well then there’s just one guide book to check out, and that’s friend of the blog Tim Blight’s book Pakistan Traveller! Thanks for reading – what do you think? Is it the end for the ol’ guide book? Or do you still see a need for them?

Thanks for reading today! Take care, and May the Journey Never End!


13 thoughts on “The Death of the Guide Book?

  1. I hope guide books remain. They can be very helpful as long as you don’t have to carry tons of them. The American Automobile Association (AAA) used to prepare triptiks for members that had very accurate maps with routes highlighted and lots of info on things to do, places to stay and places to eat. Triptiks were fantastic.

    1. well now you can download all you need onto a device, and just print the important pages, well, that’s a great solution to the weight problem. but i do like to collect the physical books too – Lonely Planet often will sell both digital and physical books together. so use the physical book at home and take a digital version when you fly out.

  2. ThingsHelenLoves

    I hope the guide book can endure. I published some similar thoughts on a post a while back and several people commented that they still use and enjoy them so hopefully there is hope! The internet is fabulous for in-the-moment info but you can’t beat a physical book for the cultural background, the history and so on.

  3. I asked myself the same question when I recently bought guide books for Rome and Athens, honestly I didn’t read them that much compared to the internet searches. I may not buy any more, which makes me a bit nostalgic for the old way of travelling.

  4. I hope guide books stick around. While the internet can be such an amazing research tool, it can be tricky to sift through what advice is purely for affiliated marketing purposes and what advice is genuine.

  5. In 2019, in Nepal, we met a writer for Lonely Planet and were surprised when he said guide books sales were higher then (in 2019) than they had ever been. He said the internet caused sales to drop for a few years but people were returning to guide books. The biggest change was they were buying ebooks instead of paper. We do use the internet to plan for our trips but I do miss having a good guide book with pages that I’ve marked excitedly. Maggie

    1. yes the ebooks are a great idea. its the logical way to go and its important that the websites in them for locations, hotels etc work (found a few that dont). Interesting to see what lies ahead

  6. I like travel guide books.but you are right,when I started travelling I needed them because I didn’t have s smartphone but nowadays I do all of my research online.However,guide books can still be used as a regular book?a way to escape real life,dream about future destinations?

    1. yes i think they can. and i always still find hotels and places not on the main websites in the books that I can then dig further online to find out more. but they arent the first ones listed when you search if you know what i mean

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