Every time Laura and I take a trip, one of the last things we do before we leave is load up on guide books. Our adventure to Half Price Books and the library has become somewhat of a ritual: searching through the stacks for our next big adventure. They have become our personal locals, telling us everything we need to know: like little magicians who turn our dreams into realities. Let me show you why.
I know what you’re thinking: nobody needs books anymore, that’s what the internet is for. And to be fair, the internet is where I find most of the places that I add to our bucket list. But here’s the problem, the internet is a collection of millions of articles, each with its own bias and focus. You can find broad and detailed articles on countless destinations. But what the internet lacks is the comprehensiveness of guide books. If you find guide books that you like and trust, you avoid missing the smaller (but most important) details that might slip through the cracks from doing your research piece mail. Remember, these books sell because the people who wrote them know their stuff. Most of them alert you of cultural faux pas that save you from awkward situations, or guide you around tourist traps to help you have the experience you are looking for. My favorites will break down large cities into their respective districts and have a coordinating map so that you are familiar with the city before you venture out. Which are my favorites, you ask? Ooh, let me tell you.
Let me start off with one of my new favorites: Wallpaper* City Guide. These beautifully designed pocket guides are power packed with all the information you need to tackle a city easily and with confidence. Besides the color-coded regions of the city, and the beautiful fold out maps highlighting everywhere you want to see, my favorite feature of these books is the “24 Hour” tab, which gives you an immersive city experience if you only have one day. Did I mention that it’s beautifully designed, or that there are plain, lined and graph pages for notes in the back? This is a book I will definitely be bringing along with me on my future trips.
My second recommendation goes to Rick Steve’s. I have not fully jumped on the Rick Steve’s train, but I like what I’ve seen so far. Rick is one of those guys who knows his stuff, and it shows in his books. One of the most useful pieces of his books is his tours. He has different tours for different lengths of stays, and they are laid out to maximize any amount of time that you have in any given location. I found these very useful on our two week trip to Europe, where there is so much that we wanted to do, and with Rick’s help, we had enough time to get most of it done. The only reason I shy away from Rick’s books is because I can get easily bogged down with words and details especially if there are not pretty color pictures to keep me focused (although Rick does have pocket guides in full color which I still haven’t checked out)
Laura’s first recommendation goes to The Unofficial Guide. These books are the like the more intelligent older brother of my full color pocket guides. These guides have almost everything you could ever want to know about where to stay, what to do, how to act, and what to eat. The reason that Laura is practically a goddess when it comes to Disney knowledge is because she basically memorized the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. They are not for the faint at heart, but are clearly written and easily understandable. One of the most useful features is a methodical rating system that can be invaluable in your decision making process.
My personal favorite goes to Fodor’s (the full color one, of course). Fodor’s is the perfect mix of detail, color, design, and organization for my tastes. It starts you off with a quick overview of the city, with history, districts, and other details that are important to know. The book is then broken into the city’s respective districts, describing what to do or where to go. Once you have begun to plan out what you want to see, then you hit the “Where to Eat” section, which is broken into districts as well. Then you plan where to stay and the rest of the trip details. My favorite feature are the maps. Each book comes with a thick fold out map with all the restaurants and attractions that are found in the book, as well as a public transportation map. There’s a district map at the beginning of every section and an atlas in the middle of the guide which are easy to read. Fodor’s has become my favorite because it takes your plans from a dream to a reality methodically, is easy to read, and keeps your attention.
The most important piece of advice I can give is not just to read guide books, but to find the guide books that you love, and that fit your personality and travel style. And if you find one that you trust, stick to it, and let the rest be supplementary.