Leaving the Travel Guidebook at Home


Do you cling to your copy of Frommer’s, Fodor’s or Lonely Planet guidebook while traveling in a new city or do you just wing it? I’ve done it both ways but never really thought about it until I read Franz Wisner’s funny and vulnerable memoir, Honeymoon with My Brother. Fed up with out-of-date information and being led to restaurants packed with tourists, Wisner pleads that ditching the guidebook offers a more authentic experience while traveling. I have to say I agree with him as I have converted from a guidebook devotee to a girl who wings it and I think I did it unconsciously.

Before I moved to London in the Fall of 2007, I bought a Rick Steves’ London book because I wanted to see absolutely everything the city had to offer. When my two friends and I arrived and settled into our home and jobs, we used Rick to help us make a list of all the attractions we wanted to see and it was a long list. So at the start of every weekend we would pick two or three things that we wanted to do and spend Saturday and Sundays accomplishing our goals, using the book all the while for hours, locations, and prices. I had the best time with my friends throughout those six months that make me miss London so badly.

Flash forward to my solo trip to Scandinavia this past spring and there was not a guidebook in sight. Instead, I read all my favorite travel blogs, asked friends of friends for recommendations, and luckily I had friends in both Stockholm and Copenhagen who were able to take me to restaurants, bars, and neighborhoods I never would have discovered on my own – places that were devoid of tourists.

Like in London, I did make a list of the things I wanted to do in Stockholm and Copenhagen but unlike London I didn’t do everything on the list. There was no guidebook to guide me so I made sure to guide myself. I chose to do only the things I wanted to do. I didn’t rush from attraction to attraction and I deviated from my list when I felt like walking down a different street. I opened myself up to hostel mates to hear what they were discovering and sometimes followed in their footsteps.

I don’t regret a thing about London but what local truly traipse from tourist site to tourist site all weekend long? I was born and raised in San Francisco and went to Alcatraz for the first time last year after 25 years and there are a handful of other things besides that prison that I would recommend a San Fran newbie experience first – undoubtedly something more authentic.  It’s perfectly fine if you are more comfortable traveling with a guidebook because we all travel differently, but I’ve lived the tale to tell it – you won’t get lost if you leave the book at home. If you open yourself up to others and trust their advice, you could find something far better than you could ever ask for.


6 thoughts on “Leaving the Travel Guidebook at Home

  1. I have to say I agree and I disagree. Reading travel blogs is a great idea to prepare yourself for a trip. But if you don’t have friends in certain countries, how would you come up with your list? I think online or print travel guides can work alongside blogs (and friends) to get you excited for a trip, learn something about the culture, geography, and maybe politics, and zero in on the must-dos (for you). I absolutely agree that it’s too hard to fit everything in (even though I want to try!), so it’s a good idea to plan on relaxing a little and also exploring certain neighborhoods by foot and see what you find!

    1. That’s true that it can be hard when you don’t have friends. I think that’s when networking can be really helpful – just mentioning your trip to whoever you meet can put you in touch with people who have recommendations and using a mix of print and online is definitely a good idea. I certainly enjoyed doing less this time around and just enjoying it all.

  2. Loved this Joya. I’ve found somewhat of a balance. I don’t travel with a guidebook anymore. Rather, I pick one up before I travel, read it through, and jot down some notes in my notebook and then leave it behind. I like hitting some of the highlights from it, but I often like gauging a place based on what locals have to say. They are the real experts of a place.

    1. Thanks Spence! I think a mix is a good idea. Guidebooks have all the information you could need to provide a framework for your trip but asking locals will help you fill in the gaps with the good stuff.

  3. A lot of people would find this uncomfortable. But I understand your suggestion and I believe it is better that way. Instead of relying on our travel guidebooks, I think it is more exciting to interact with the town folks and ask for directions as well as suggestions. I might as well make most of the experience and not learn only about the place but about the people as well.

    1. I think it can be intimidating too especially when you are traveling alone but there is nothing wrong with using both advice from a book and from a local.

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