Throw away the guidebook? Hardly, research is a good thing

Some snobbish travelers like to say they don’t use guidebooks, they don’t do research and that you do should plan less, forget the map and let your happy, happy soul lead you to travel bliss.

Here’s thought: throwing away the guidebook, being willfully ignorant and walking in circles is a recipe for getting ripped off, missing out on the richness of cultural history and wandering about in a haze of cluelessness.

Now maybe you’re tired of the Lonely Planet guides leading you to the same crowded destinations, maybe you’re tired of visiting a list of historic landmarks — that’s fine, but the idea that willful ignorance is a way to escape the crowds and “really get in touch with a place” is just ridiculous.

As with just about everything, research is an essential part of travel, whether that means finding cheaper plane tickets, a good place to stay or learning about a new culture.

The trick is to balance research and spontaneity in a way that works for you.

I’ll admit I’ve advocated ditching the guidebook in the past, but mainly because alternate forms of research can be much more helpful and up to date.

If you’d like to see how a seasoned budget traveler plans a trip, Matt Gross, the NYTimes’ Frugal Traveler, recently detailed his research tools and in the process points out some great tools and ideas.

My favorite tips from Gross’ list are the suggestion to create a Google News Search alert so you can read the latest headlines from your destination, and to search for user-created guides in Google Maps. The Google News idea in particular is a great way to get a sense of what’s happening in a country before you arrive.

Be sure to read the entire blog post for some other ideas and a few websites that you might not be using.

And yes, it is possible to over-plan a trip. Just as it’s disingenuous to say that guidebooks don’t help and research will limit your your experiences, don’t let your well-researched plans trap you in some martial routine.

Luckily it’s easy to change your plans and adjust to what you find as you travel — that’s what real spontaneity is about.

[photo credit: LollyKnit, Flickr (who gets bonus points for going beyond just guidebooks)]

Posted by | Comments (4)  | May 6, 2009
Category: General

4 Responses to “Throw away the guidebook? Hardly, research is a good thing”

  1. Betsy Says:

    Since moving to Sofia, Bulgaria last year, I’ve taken mini-breaks to almost too many cities to count, usually carrying on extra socks and a camera and no guidebooks at all. I’ve perfected the last minute pre-break internet research tour to fit into my lunch periods at work. Read my quick guide to easy prep at:

  2. » How do you organize your travel research? :: Vagablogging :: Rolf Potts Vagabonding Blog Says:

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