I’ve sometimes heard travelers brag about not using a guide book. Not me. As a woman traveling alone, my guide book gives me a sense of confidence and security. It allows me to revel in anticipation before the trip starts, leads me to other travelers who will tell me of places that are not in any book and gives me a heads-up about places that I personally will not enjoy. Getting the most out of your travel guide book means making it your comfortable and indispensable travel companion.
Getting the Most Out of Your Travel Guide Book – Step 1: Choose the Right Book
Moon Guides, Rough Guides, Lonely Planets – there are a lot of good guide books out there. Making the best choice for you depends on how you travel and how you’re going to use your book. I enjoy the hardback feel and the beautiful photos in Eyewitness guides when I’m planning a trip, but it would never work for me on the road. When selecting a guidebook make sure that it is appropriate to your brand of travel – your budget, your most likely mode of transportation etc. Over the years, I’ve developed brand loyalty to my favorite line of travel guides. They are not necessarily the best guidebooks out there, but the fact that I know their layout – know that there is a “Getting There and Away” section, and that “Sleeping” and “Eating” come after “Sights” saves me a lot of time.
Getting the Most Out of Your Travel Guide Book – Step 2: Create an Itinerary
I have never followed any of the suggested itineraries in a guide book. But I have partially followed all of them. I use the itineraries, and the “best of” lists at the beginning of each section to find out what places I want to visit. (Looking at tours online can also help you get an idea of a country’s not to be missed destinations.) This gives me a loose plan for my travels.
Most days, I may or may not stay in hotels/hostels recommended in the guide book. But if I’m arriving in a new city late at night, I like to have plan. In this case, I use my guide book to identify my lodging and call ahead of time.
Getting the Most Out of Your Travel Guide Book – Step 3: Prepare Your Book for the Road
“Hey- how come your Lonely Planet is smaller than everyone else’s?” a fellow traveler in Central America asked me. It was due to a premeditated and benign act of butchery. I’m a big believer in packing light. So knowing that I was only going to travel in three countries, I carefully and precisely cut my book in half. I then made a few post-surgical adjustments- reinforcing the binding with packaging tape and covering the back-page with clear contact paper. Finally, since the part of the book I would be carrying did not include the index, I used to Post-it flags to mark the different countries, maps, and other pages I knew I would want to access frequently.
Getting the Most Out of Your Travel Guide Book – Step 4: Bring Accessories
Next, I pack a few small items (most of which are useful to have along anyway) as accessories to my guide book:
- I take some extra Post-it flags and stick them in the inside cover. Chances are good that there will be other pages I will want to flag.
- Always carry a writing utensil. My favorite is a two-sided pen – ball point on one end, highlighter on the other.
- Pocket knife – you’ll use this in Step Five, and also to open your wine, cut pieces of fruit, spread cheese on bread, etc.
- Scotch tape – also for Step Five. You don’t need the bulky plastic dispenser, just a small roll of tape.
Getting the Most Out of Your Travel Guide Book – Step 5: Use and Abuse
I’m sure many of the librarians out there probably sentenced me to hell after Step Three, but that was just the beginning. After all, this is not a coffee table book. It is meant to be used and abused. Wanting to feel lightweight and unobtrusive as I explore a city, or a ruin or a museum means carrying as little as possible. So the night before I open my book to the map page (and possibly a few other pages relating to my present local) and carefully score them with my trusty pocket knife. Then I tear these pages out and carry them in my pocket as I explore the city. No need to look like a tourist with my nose in guidebook, no need to obtain another, bulky, difficult-to-fold map. I am ready to go.
When I leave this city I will tape the pages back into the book and cut out the pages for my next destination.
Hope you’ll take a page from my book and make the most of yours!