Travel guides & how to use them to prepare your trip.

I’m an old fashioned book lover. Wherever you’ll meet me, somehow I’ll be carrying a book. Maybe a notebook or a sketchbook. Maybe one of those fantasy novels that I devour by 120 km/h. Or maybe a thick guidebook spattered with sea salt and street food. Preparing a trip is already half the fun of going, dreaming away at all those sunny beaches, stunning skylines and magnificent nature you’ll encounter on the way. Depending on the sort of trip, I’ll carefully pick my guidebook. – others carefully pick their clothes, I’ll pick my guidebook. To each their own, I suppose? – An ode to my favorite travel guides.

Lonely Planet

Of course, what did you expect? One of the most popular series of guidebooks and probably the most extensive one as well. Ideal for when you’re going to explore roads less travelled and areas off the beaten track. To me, they’re my first aid in travel planning. I have a couple of the big and heavy continent guides which serve as my number one guideline: which country? – or countries, if it’s a longer trip of course – Depending on the country, I decide a rough outline of the trip and I try to figure out what the major sights are. Again, Lonely Planet is very helpful here, since they mainly cover the bigger highlights. Once I kind of figured out my future itinerary, I’ll switch to reading travel blogs and continue my research online.

Reading this, you might think I’ll be hyper prepared and ready to beat every dull moment with some sightseeing or a must do-moment. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I like to know what’s going on and what I absolutely can’t miss, but that’s it. No bookings, no hostel/hotel preparations. – except for city trips, you don’t want to spend half a day looking for a place to sleep on a trip that lasts two / three days –  Especially when traveling long term, time and space seem to fade away, together with the words ‘planning’ and ‘preparation’. Here I’ll use it as a reference for hostels or to figure out what else I could see in the neighbourhood. As a solo traveler it’s also nice to read a bit when you’re lunching alone. Or when you’re taking a break from walking around when your feet are killing you slowly.

Rough Guide

Yep, similar to number one. Though according to me, Rough Guide is a little bit more focused on budget traveling and transportation. So I use Lonely Planet mostly when I prepare a trip and Rough Guide to take with me.

100% Travel Guides

I absolutely love these. Sadly, they’re not – yet – available in english. – to my fellow dutch/flemish speaking people: yes, we are the lucky ones – There’s a good reason why they’re my favorites and why I’ll always bring one of them with me on a city trip in Europe. Simply because they’re written by people actually living in the city or area you’re visiting. Which means the trendiest, cheapest and coolest places are described in the 100% guide. Plus, those are the places where the locals go. No more expensive shitty pasta in Rome or flashy bars cramped with tourists. Nope, you’ll be spending your evening in a club on top of an early sovjet looking shopping centre between the Hungarian youth in Budapest. Or find the quirkiest vintage shops in Amsterdam. And the most beautiful old coffee house in Vienna. Delicious Sachertorte included.

The 500 hidden secrets of …

Another great guide. Mainly covering Belgian cities, so the ideal tool for me to discover more unknown pearls in my own country. To start with Ghent. The city where I studied and apparently still not discovered all the hot spots. When you’ll open the Ghent guide, you’ll notice it’s split up in top 5’s: the 5 best bakeries and cake shops. The 5 most beautiful shop interiors. The 5 best urban walks. The 5 most interesting bridges. The 5 most intriguing possible hiding places of the stolen Van Eyck. While I thought I visited most of the city, I didn’t even covered half of it. And on top of that, almost all my favorite bars, restaurants and clubs are in it, giving me even more and better options to explore more. The perfect guide for everybody spending a longer time in Ghent, Belgium or the Netherlands. – for now, the guides only cover cities in Belgium or the Netherlands –

The New York Times 36 Hours

This is a tricky one. I don’t think anybody will bring a 36 hours on his trip. Especially not budget travelers or backpackers traveling long term. The guide is focused on the best things to do in a city or area, in 36 hours. Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cheap, which is a big concern when I’m on the road for a while. Still, I like the guide. Maybe because of the pictures and illustrations. Maybe because it makes me want to pack my bags and go on a trip far away, just to spend 36 hours in paradise. Maybe because they really cover the most excellent places.

Which guides do you use to plan your trip? Do you even bother using a guide?

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