Should we resurrect the travel guide?

They say print is dying, taking down bookstores with it. Maybe I’m a contributor to the problem. I see bookstores as places for browsing and coffee, not a place for buying a book. If I’m spending money on a book, it’s usually one I’ve discovered in the bookstore, but later bought online.

After all, books are an expense. And when it comes to travel, I save money every way I can. Cutting corners and splitting pennies means getting the vast majority of my trip-planning information from the (free) internet. If I’m totally lost at first, I’ll browse the bookstore’s travel guides, making notes to myself and then find the rest of the information online.

I think of guide books as an unnecessary expense that only the less tech-savvy, “older” crowd used — not to mention the weight they would add to my bag.


At least I used to think that. Before I found myself at the Barnes and Noble cash register paying full price for a brand-new, 2016 edition travel guide to Costa Rica. I was a bit shocked at myself, but I was there out of desperation.

I had spent hours browsing pointless articles online. All of my usual Google tricks for planning trips were failing me. It seemed like the information on Costa Rica was all coming from either an unreliable blog or an advertisement. There was very little helpful information on the practicalities that keep me up at night: things like how the buses work, the travel time to Santa Elena, and where to get the best views of La Fortuna.

img_6181I knew I wanted to dive in a little deeper on this trip: my husband and I had never stayed in one country for this long. I wanted to know what animals were around. What the people like to eat. And it only took a couple of weeks of attempted online research before I realized my attempts weren’t getting me anywhere.

When I finally picked up those brand-new pages filled with all the information I wanted in one place with an index in the back, I knew I’d made a mistake writing off guide books.

Not only did the guidebook help me finish planning my trip, it made it into my carefully cut-down packing list to fit into my carry-on backpack. I would actually have to haul the weight of the book on my shoulders – yet I still found it worth it.

Of course, I didn’t take every word of advice. We skipped most of the recommended restaurants, in favor of our find-it-as-you-go style and cheap street stops. However, the couple of restaurants we did try were fantastic. And the one accommodation we found through the book was beautiful…oh, and they didn’t have a website.

One section identified the monkeys we heard screaming in the night. Another part gave us specific tips on how to handle the roads with our rental car (we regretted not taking certain pieces of advice from this section). It filled the time on long bus rides with fun facts about the area we were traveling through.

It was invaluable. Of course, I had my phone and I had the internet. But having all of the information in one place was less overwhelming, and more accessible in a way.

…while my entire culture is online, there are still countless others around the world that aren’t…

Becoming desperate enough to buy that book reminded me that the internet is not all-knowing. Absolutely anyone can put information and opinions on the internet; it takes a few more credentials to get a book published. And it reminded me that while my entire culture is online, there are still countless others around the world that aren’t. Sometimes you need information from someone who went there and found out how much the burrito cost.

Since that trip, I’ve traveled again without a guide book. In fact, Costa Rica was the only trip I’ve taken with a guide book so far. It’s not a necessity to every trip, but it’s not an ancient relic either.

Of course, if I had read this post before my own experience, I might have scoffed at the author for their weak researching skills. Others might read this and be surprised anyone plans a trip without a book. Wherever you are on the scale, at least pick one up before you go. You have my permission not to buy it, but maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

And if you find the process of scouring a dozen shelves filled with books about the same place to be exhausting, here’s a few quick tips and thoughts on picking one:


*full disclosure: I used Frommer’s for my Costa Rica trip…and I loved everything about it.*

Happy travels!