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The Lonely Planet Effect and How to Avoid It

Chaya looking at a LP guide with monks in Laos
Chaya looking at a LP guide with monks in Laos
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If a hotel or hostel is in the guidebook add 25% to 50% onto the published price. This is the Lonely Planet effect. When a hotel gets listed in the major guidebooks a virtual army of tourists and backpackers flock to it like pilgrims to a holy site. With so many clients gathered around their reception desks like  pious Muslims around the Hajj, the price of accommodation inevitably rises. You can’t blame the hotels for doing this, supply and demand is the rule of the world.

A positive mention in the Lonely Planet — or any other major guidebook —  is the best advertising a travel business can get: especially if the word “cheap” is printed in proximity to the hotel’s listing. Warning: if the LP says something is “cheap,” it won’t be by the time you read it. The Lonely Planet is the greatest gentrification device of the travel world. As a general rule, add 25% to 50% onto the price of a travel guide listing.

Guidebooks can still be useful for the traveler though. In point, the Lonely Planet and their ilk can provide travelers with a great list of the hotels to avoid. They also show areas in cities and towns where cheap accommodation is bundled. Often, an unlisted hostel standing eave to eave with a LP recommended one will be vastly cheaper. By taking the guidebook bait you can often be lead to an area where you can find cheap accommodation on your own.

But the best way to avoid the Lonely Planet effect is to not use a guidebook. There are tons of other travelers out there equipped with these little books, so if you ever want to consult one they are usually never very far away. Simply talking to people in the streets can often turn up cheaper and often better accommodation than the guidebooks anyway. While it is true that guidebooks are pretty cool because they are consolidations of travel information for your destinations all on one package, they often end up serving as a lazy man’s security blanket.

Almost all the information in a guidebook can be found elsewhere, you just need to do the leg work to get it. Print out maps, take notes from other travelers, collect hotel business cards and fliers, copy out sections of guidebooks when needed, milk hotel and hostel receptionists for information on the road ahead, make your own travel guide.

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I stopped including the names of hotels and apartments that I stay at here on vagabondjourney.com. Although I am nowhere near as powerful as the Lonely Planet I have from time to time gentrified my own hood. Whenever I write about a good hotel, other travelers follow. Sometimes they begin arriving before I depart: “Hey, you have a blog, don’t you . . .” In Puerto Angel on the Oaxaca coast I raved about a good hotel I stayed at which at the time I showed up was sitting empty up on top of a hill. In no time I began filling the place. Many of the guests that I unintentionally referred emailed me or left comments on the page. Apparently, after gauging the new frequency of arrivals the owner raised the price — a lot. In San Cristobal I would occasionally refer friends in town over to a good apartment house that had rooms at a great price.  I published the address and phone number of this apartment house in our San Cristobal travel guide. Upon my return to San Cristobal I intended to move into this place, but I balked when I found out that the price had been raised drastically. Supply and demand.

Chaya looking at a LP guide with monks in Laos

I will no longer participate in the Lonely Planet effect — I can’t afford to be run out of my own haunts. Rather, I will continue to provide instruction on how to find cheap hotels and apartments so travelers can just do it themselves. I know that 90% of travelers are not going to walk around a town knocking on doors and asking people in the streets about cheap apartments and hotels in the area — most tourists want things quick and fast without needing to work for it. There is an uncountable number of guidebooks and websites for this type of traveler — I don’t need to be another. Rather, vagabondjourney.com is for the independent independent traveler: for the people on the road who don’t need a guidebook or a website telling them where to go, what to do, and how to live. It makes my day when a long term reader stops reading and starts traveling. I’ve done my job when I’m no longer needed.

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Filed under: Accommodation

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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