I used to be anti-guide book. I used to be just certain of the research that I could do online and intuition. My first two trips abroad were with school groups, so by the time I was going to Europe for vacation, I was certain of my worldliness and self-appointed expertise.
When I went to Vienna for my first solo trip, I bought a copy of Lonely Planet’s Vienna. Vienna, compared to Paris and Berlin, was something of a mystery to me. I didn’t know much about it and it was not nearly as popular of a destination as Paris.
My guide book saved me a lot of heartache while I was in Vienna. I finished different museums quicker than I intended or I nixed sites. With my guide book, I was able to improvise on the go and find new activities to do. Without consistent access to WiFi, it was helpful to have lists of activities and sites with a pull-out map.
If I’m going on a trip with another person, I probably wouldn’t worry too much about having a guide book with me. I figure that traveling with a partner at least gives you the option to collaborate or talk while figuring out what to do. Traveling solo is a whole different beast, so I would buy a guide book for any solo trips I will take in the future.
So far I’ve only bought Lonely Planet guides, which I like for their sheer density of information. I’ve also used Rick Steves books in the past, which I also like. They are a little more opinionated and curated than Lonely Planet. Rick Steves’s travel writers will give more subjective opinions (ex: “don’t go there, try this one.”), which can be helpful for beginner travelers.
All guide book publishers have their little niches and angles. Many of them will cover the same destinations and cover many of the same sights at those destinations, so the difference here is in the details.
Popular Guide Books:
- Lonely Planet: One of the most popular books with probably the largest number of destinations. These are packed full of information and don’t editorialize, preferring to provide the readers with tons of information. They do offer specialized lines of guide books, for specific types of travelers, who want more or less structure. If you can’t find your destination from another company, Lonely Planet will be your best bet.
- Rick Steves: This line only has Europe destinations. Rick Steves is a little more opinionated than other guide books, with a specific viewpoint on how travel should and can be. He does provide walking tours in his book that you can follow along with.
- Frommer’s: This guide book line tends to highlight the highlights of a destination, meaning that if you are looking to get off the beaten path a little, this would not be a good one for you.
- Fodor’s: Like Frommer’s, these books tend to do the highlights. They will give you the top 25 of a location, which is nice, but they lack the off-beat help that a Lonely Planet will be able to give you.
- Rough Guides: This is the book for anyone who wants something off-the-beaten-path. It is oriented towards more of an adventurer: hiking, off-roading, anything athletic. While that is not my speed, I know that others will find this series useful.
- Moon Travel: Like the Rough Guides, this is for adventurers, especially people who like camping. That’s a valuable well of information since this kind of travel will not be covered at all by many of the major travel books.
- DK Eyewitness: This is an aesthetic masterpiece of a travel book. These travel guides will have hand drawn pictures of different architectural wonders or of different sights. It’s more expensive than the others, which can be pricy too, but they are worth it if you want to see cross-sections of the Sydney Opera House.