Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A guide to guidebooks

Guidebooks can help find canal side dining in Venice. Photo by Vickie Kelber

Guidebooks can help find canal side dining in Venice. Photo by Vickie Kelber

A guidebook can be invaluable when traveling. But, which one? There are so many choices. Some guidebooks are focused on different target audiences; some discuss history and culture; others just travel details. Some emphasize a few major places, while others discuss an entire country. You don’t want a book about France if you are only visiting Paris. And, when traveling, weight is always an issue.

To decide which book is best for you, ask yourself what you want from the guide and then visit a local bookstore to browse through the travel section to see which ones meet your needs. Alternatively, websites such as Amazon.com let you “search” through books online. Usually, you can browse the index, table of contents, and a few sample pages.

Fodor’s, an old standard for travelers, now appears “vanilla” compared to newer guides filled with color photos. It is still dependable and rates hotels and restaurants, categorizes them by price, and provides recommendations. Fodor’s has various series of guidebooks, such as pocket guides, city guides, and specialty travel. A consideration for packing light is that Fodor’s website now lets you purchase and download only select chapters from guidebooks. For example, if you are going to Barbados, you can purchase only that chapter from their Caribbean guidebook.

Frommer’s is another dependable standard whose various series include general guides, pocket guides, day by day, born to shop, and family travel. The classic guidebooks provide lists of Ten Bests for various categories and recommend itineraries based on the number of days you will be in a location. While I like

Guidebooks that emphasize culture will describe the pageantry of bullfights in Spain. Photo by Vickie Kelber

Guidebooks that emphasize culture will describe the pageantry of bullfights in Spain. Photo by Vickie Kelber

Frommer’s books, I have found that, if you are visiting smaller, less well known towns, they are not always included.

Based on what I have seen, Rick Steves guides seem to have replaced Fodor’s and Frommer’s as favorites for travelers. While his maps are a bit more primitive and his opinions strong, he provides some very practical tips. In Rome, his book was the only one that mentioned an obscure shortcut to one of the monuments and saved us a lot of walking. He tends to organize his guides by tours of a particular neighborhood or museum. The books may not be as all-inclusive as some–he doesn’t necessarily cover all of the sites in a city–but what he does cover is very comprehensive. Steves’ books contain some black and white photos. A few of his walks are available free online as podcasts which can be loaded onto an iPod or MP3 player. Fodor’s, Frommer’s, and Rick Steves websites provide much useful information when planning a trip.

Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are popular with back packers, but their appeal is not just for the budget traveler. They provide good cultural insight, tips for independent travelers, in-depth tours of various sites, and they also cover smaller towns. Lonely Planet has an “on a shoestring” series and many of their books can also be purchased by individual sections which can printed or stored on an iPod. Most of their guides are available in digital or mobile format. The Let’s Go series targets students traveling on a budget.

Berlitz and Michelin are names long associated with travel.

Guidebooks can help find outlets to purchase Turkish carpets as well as explain the process. Photo by Vickie Kelber

Guidebooks can help find outlets to purchase Turkish carpets as well as explain the process. Photo by Vickie Kelber

In addition to phrase books and dictionaries, Berlitz offers a handy series of pocket guides to worldwide destinations. The Michelin green guides tend to be road-based and are not as helpful if you are relying on public transportation. Although this is changing, most of their guides list cities alphabetically rather than by regions. Their star rating system is famous, as is their skill with maps.

Cadogan guides provide in-depth history, detailed tours of sites, and comprehensive directions to locations by both foot and public transportation. They present suggested itineraries with recommendations for refreshment stops along the way and give insight into traditions and culture. Some of their attention to detail can be invaluable as when we had to locate an English-speaking doctor in the middle of the night in Prague.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides have become the favorites of many seasoned travelers, despite their weight! They are full of color photos; in some cases providing a street by street pictorial map. Using their guide to Venice, you would be able to identify all the major palazzos on the Grand Canal; or in Prague, you could locate buildings that you may not be sure of because of the unfamiliar symbols of the Czech alphabet. The back of the book lists hotels, restaurants, shops, food and drink, and other practical information, as well as very detailed street by street maps. With their beautiful photos, they make a nice souvenir remembrance. DK Eyewitness Travel Guides also offer a compact series.

Insight Guides and their pocket series also contain many beautiful photos, as well as pull-out detachable

Some guidebooks may explain what Italian cooks do with zucchini blossoms which can be found at local markets. Photo by Vickie Kelber

Some guidebooks may explain what Italian cooks do with zucchini blossoms which can be found at local markets. Photo by Vickie Kelber

maps. They provide good background on locations, including history and culture. However, their recommendations for hotels and restaurants are not as comprehensive as some of the more traditional guidebooks. They also include a Top Ten series for many places.

Footprint guides are pocket guides with maps, good details, and public transportation directions to get to specific sites.

Recently, I rediscovered Thomas Cook guides. Cook’s Timetable was invaluable when I Eurailed through Europe years ago. The Travellers’ series is clear and concise yet thorough, with detailed suggested walks and useful tips.

No pun intended, a novel approach is offered by Approach Guides. They are only available as downloads and tend to focus on history and culture. Sound-guides.com offers downloadable guides to a very limited number of cities. Some museums and other sites offer free, or reasonably priced, downloadable guides and apps.

Which guidebooks are my favorites? I’ve used guidebooks from all the series mentioned above. I like Fodor’s and Frommer’s, and enjoy Rick Steves. I find Lonely Planet, Cadogan, and Rough Guides have more to offer, and the Eyewitness and Insight Guides are engaging. Pocket guides have also been appreciated, while Thomas Cook has become important in planning our upcoming trip to Russia.

Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.

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