Travel Guides: Use Them or Lose Them?

My husband and I take a Homeric odyssey by car each July and two to five smaller trips during the rest of the year–sometimes I fly solo and sometimes we go together.  Putting together our road trip takes Herculean effort–luckily, I love to do reserach and organize itineraries and schedules.

Orchestrating parties, trips, and other seemingly daunting tasks, especially when under a tight deadline, is sport for me.  This love of planning compliments my travel obsession and that’s why you’ll find me pouring over travel books, magazines, and websites all through the year. 

For our annual road trip, I have a giant accordion file where I stuff pages ripped from magazines and articles printed from the internet.  By May, the file is usually filled to bursting with places to visit, stay, or see and sheaves of restaurant suggestions.

In the pre-internet era, I called on my dear friends Fodor’s, Frommer’s, and Let’s Go to get ideas and information about my trips.  In the last few years, I’ve relied more on websites to guide me, though I did take out two or three books from the library for this year’s trip (old habits die hard).

travel books

A few of my travel guide books--one is a library book.

I do a fair amount of research on Trip Advisor, though recently they’ve had some issues with review integrity.  I tend to read reviews with a grain of salt and just use the website for ideas.  I also post reviews to help other travelers on their way.

I plan about 75% of our trip beforehand, leaving the remaining 25% to chance and suggestions from locals.  I’ve found, through trial and error, that if I plan too much we don’t have enough downtime to relax and if  I plan too little, we get bored.

By now you know that I’m a curious person and like to know if other people have better or more efficient ways to do things that I do, so I’m turning this over to you guys.

  • When you travel, do you use travel guidebooks to set your course or do you just use the internet for research? 
  • If you don’t plan at all (*gasp*) please tell me how that works too!
  • Do you have a great local gem (in the US or Canada) that we need to check out next year’s road trip?  (We’ll pick our Summer 2010 destination in August so toss out some ideas!)

*There have also been scandals in the book form of travel guides–see Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? by Thomas Kohnstamm for details.

16 responses to “Travel Guides: Use Them or Lose Them?

  1. I love to plan my trips, too. I rely on books (I love the Access guides for US cities) and websites, mostly The thought of taking off without hotel reservations and a general plan of what I want to do practically gives me hives.

    Seattle is a wonderful place to visit (Pike Place Market, the ferries, lots of bookstores), but that would be a heck of a road trip.

  2. I don’t get to go to that many places that I’ve never been before, but when I do, I do look at travel guides and ask friends for suggestions. I like to leave some downtime in our schedule too.

  3. When I went to Spain with my aunt, we took 4 travel guides, but by the end of the trip, 3 had been left in various train stations and bus stops for the next traveler to pick them up, the only one that remained was Rick Steves. He was awesome! His books had the best tips and tricks for experiencing Spain. I don’t know how his other books are, but I highly recommend his Spain volume.

    Ocracoke Island, NC is a good place for a stop, but it’s kind of off the beaten path!

  4. We’ve had good luck with Frommer’s books. If you’re considering the Pacific Northwest – take a look at ‘Best Places Northwest’ over many years and editions it’s been useful for us for this area.

    We tend to use a combination of Frommers books, Trip Advisor and friends. We don’t like to overplan – it’s unusual for us to have more than one meal and activity planned for any given day.

    Our goal for vacations is generally downtime. Give me a view of moving water (river or ocean) and a deck so I can read and enjoy a glass of wine and I’m happy. The Hubster says his favorite parts of vacation are beer with lunch and an afternoon nap.

  5. I use to buy Trip Books – I loved Lonely Planet. Since I’ve met my boyfriend our trips seem to revolve around pre-booked sporting events and leaving the rest to chance. This can stress me out, especially when we roll into Seattle at 11:00pm because we only planned to drive to Vancouver and there are no hotels to be found because everyone else is there for baseball game too. Ugghh.

    Anyway, I gave you a plug today:

  6. Makes me sweat to think about not planning!
    If it is a huge trip, I do the book thing. But for small ones,I mostly use the internet.

  7. I love planning trips…sometimes I over plan, but I love the process of researching locations on the internet and then buying or borrowing the travel guides to plan out stops along the way.

    My friends always leave all of that to me…then they each get something in the trip that is on their must do list. Hubby likes it to because he just points the rental and drives.

  8. My hubs and I are going on a weekend trip this coming weekend! We’re heading up to Traverse City, MI to take in some wineries, the beautiful lake, and some great shops and restaurants. We haven’t been there before but we’ve been hearing a lot of things by word of mouth, on message boards we each go on, and online. I haven’t looked at any books yet, but it’s a short enough trip that I don’t think we need to.

    As for planning, we’ve picked which wineries we want to stop at, and narrowed down a few restaurant choices but will make final decisions on where to eat and what to do for a couple afternoons for once we get up there. I don’t like to over-plan.

    I would suggest a trip up to Traverse City (I’ve heard such great things…plus Mario Batali has a place there so it must be good right!?) and Mackinac Island! soooo fun to ride around the island on a bike 🙂

  9. The intersection of Vermont and 20th Streets in San Francisco is a must-see for your next road trip. Also – little known fact – Vermont Street is the ACTUAL crookedest street in SF. I know of a place nearby where you will find fantastic food and a comfortable bed…

  10. I plan ahead but I typically rely on a good travel guide. I like Moon a lot. I feel that their guides are very readable and complete.

    I will then hit the websites to search for additional info or to see if they have a city pass to save on museums and the like. I have kids so most of the places we hit focus on kid friendly activities. We really liked Portland but Denver, not so much. I loved Salt Lake City too.

  11. I’m with you on the planning aspect. It’s almost my favorite part of traveling. I like your list of books. I also use Off the Beaten Path (Readers Digest) which gives us some quirky places to visit. Now that my husband and I are retired we travel almost all the time.

  12. oh yes, I’m a total planner! I usually read travel guides as well. I use the Internet for logistics, but still like turning to books for sites to see. I agree. . .I have to leave a little wiggle room for unplanned activities. Otherwise, I get a wee bit stressed if we don’t see all that I want to see!

  13. My husband and I like to wing it! However if it is a “big trip” we use the internet etc., and actually make reservations!

  14. Travel guides…I get frustrated, because I can’t go every place I see…and travel guides make everything look so appealing.

  15. I like to get an idea of what things there are to do where we’re headed, but once that’s done, I prefer to play it by ear. I like a lot of downtime when I travel 🙂

  16. My husband does the bulk of the travel planning as he can’t stand it if he doesn’t. He is a HUGE fan of TripAdvisor. However, I try to balance him by being open to things that aren’t planned. However, our trips are mostly centered around a 4-year-old, which kind of limits what we look at to do!

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