I should probably set my stall out at the start; I am a bit of a Lonely Planet fan. On the whole I trust the books, and I trust what they’re telling me. Lucy and I have about half a shelf of them at home, covering a large part of Asia, Europe and Oceania.
However, while on our tour of Asia we encountered many a problem with our beloved travel guides. It started with our Sri Lanka guidebook. We met so many different travellers (of all budgets) who had a similar experience to us. Mainly that a lot of the information in the guide was wrong! Whether it be that maps were incorrect, or hotels didn’t exist (anymore?), or that entire areas were quite the opposite of what had been conjured up by the wordsmiths of the Lonely Planet payroll. It was just plain wrong from cover to cover. They have since released a new edition, so hopefully that will be better.
Now, I would like to point out a couple of things that are obvious from any guidebook;
– All prices will have gone up since publication. This is obvious. Once an area/bar/hotel is in The Book, it is basically given the green light to put it’s prices up in the knowledge that it will have a steady stream of foreigners heading through it’s door every day.
– The guide books are written to inspire people to go to places. They are opinion pieces, based on the writers’ or editor’s preferences. For example, if a certain writer has a young family, they will have a different set of necessities to a lone travel writer.
-No matter how much everyone proclaims that they are independent, they are not. That is a fact of life. Sadly, I’m sure that some establishments are in guidebooks because they offered a free room to someone sometime, and they then told someone else, who then passed this on, etc etc. You know how it is!
-The catch-all books such as “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring” or “Western Europe” have been abridged to within an inch of their (shelf)life (BOOM BOOM – see what I did there??) and so have hardly any salient information on some quite amazing places.
-Finally, guidebooks are always looking down at you! They are the East-London hipsters who only drink wheatgrass shots at No Name Bar at 3.30am, and cycle everywhere on their original Penny Farthing that they fixied up in their Dalston backyard. They are judging you for not being cool enough, or “travellery” enough to discover these places on your own. As we’ve said before, we don’t like these types.
Anyway, the Sri Lanka guide felt like it had been rushed out to coincide with the end of the civil war in the north of the country. It felt badly research, if at all in some cases. Overall, it was the most disappointing guide I personally have ever used.
The weighty 1200-plus pages of our India guide however, were on the whole pretty good. The accuracy was generally good, and in fact while we were in the country, we met travellers with the new edition which listed Hampi (our favourite place) as the number one attraction (above the Taj Mahal!).
For backpackers, it has to be said that there are two main guides. Rough Guides are the main competition to Lonely Planet (in the English language at least). For some reason, I have a real aversion to the Rough Guides that I have read so far. Maybe it’s the over-zealous use of the colour orange? Maybe it’s the writing? But most probably it’s the fact that they have adverts within the book. Often these adverts just happen to be next to the review of said organisation. Really?! Are you kidding me? Do you think I’m stupid? The adverts just put me right off. I can’t trust what you’re telling me if you’re being paid to have a full page spread on where to stay right next to it?
So, despite my knowledge that The Lonely Planet are probably lying to me, I know that Rough Guide are definitely lying to me! I’m stuck in a bit of a quandary with regard who to trust.
So, at twobackpackateers.com we have considered the option of starting our own guidebook. We’ve come up with a couple of names; “Crowded Earth” maybe, or just simply “Someplace Somewhere”. Anyway, until that little number becomes a litigation nightmare, we’ve got some top tips for anyone who has cared to read this far.
1. Listen to what people are saying. Especially if you have similar interests. Chances are if they liked somewhere, you will probably like it as well. Word of mouth is, after all, the best way to get the message.
2. If you like somewhere, support them! Tell people about the great guesthouse, or the amazing restaurant! Don’t try to keep it to yourself because what happens if that place goes under?
3. When looking for accommodation, have a look at the maps in your guidebook. Often there will be an area, or sometimes street, where a lot of the accommodation options are. Chances are, there are many other guesthouses/homestays/hotels around that area that aren’t in the book. And often they will be cheaper than what you’re looking at in the guide!
4. The rise of Tripadvisor is an incredible resource. Use it! We did – Lucy spent hours, and I mean hours searching through reviews of various establishments. Also, those reviews wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for people giving a bit of time to give their feedback. So try to give your feedback too. Even if it’s the minimum Tripadvisor allow, do it!
5. If you don’t have a guidebook for a certain country do not fear! Often, most of the hostels you stay in will have an edition for you to peruse. Sometimes, you can get hold of a copy through a book swap. This is how we got our Myanmar (Burma) and Cambodia Lonely Planets. Recycling at its very very best.
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