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PDF Future of Travel Guidebooks

PDF Files Future of Travel Guidebooks? Travel tip #34To travel with a guidebook or not to travel with a guidebook, that was the question I asked myself as I stood before a Lonely Planet rack of a foreign language bookstore in Istanbul. I asked Chay this question, too.She scrunched up her nose and walked away.Chaya [...]

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PDF Files Future of Travel Guidebooks?

Travel tip #34

To travel with a guidebook or not to travel with a guidebook, that was the question I asked myself as I stood before a Lonely Planet rack of a foreign language bookstore in Istanbul. I asked Chay this question, too.

She scrunched up her nose and walked away.

Chaya is way too cool for guidebooks.

Perhaps, I am not so cool. I am going traveling in the Middle East with very little money and a pregnant girlfriend. I want all of the information I can get. But I was still not willing to pay 52 Turkish Lira – $30 – to get it.

We walked out of the bookstore empty handed.
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Istanbul, Turkey- March 5, 2009
Travelogue Travel Photos — Travel Guide
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I will just download the PDF files of the countries that I want the Lonely Planet guidebook information for. I can do this for around $12, and then print it all out for the cost of paper with the printer that is sitting happily in the apartment that I am staying in.

PDF printouts are the future of travel guides. Continuously updated PDF guides are the future of the future.

But, then again, I know that I will just print out these Lonely Planet guidebook pages, look them over, and then scoff at how crappy they are.

Perhaps there is no better occupation for the traveler than complaining about guidebooks. It is well warranted in most cases, as most of the major brand guidebooks that I have used have been severely unimpressive. In point, for the amount of money that Lonely Planet and Rough Guides brings in, their products are not nearly as good as they should be. But where is the alternative?

Simple, do not use a guidebook. 70% of the time I travel without a guide. I oftentimes find it far easier to talk to people and to find my own way around a country than to bobble my way along another person’s tracks trying to read my way around the world like some sort of grade school lesson.

The main problem with guidebooks that I can find is that they are typically written by expats or people who have obtained university degrees, and not travelers on a real budget. The second problem that I find with guidebooks is that they are written for their audience – people with money who go on vacations – and not long term budget travelers. With these two points considered, everything else makes sense.

I believe that there is a market for making travel guides for real budget travelers. Maps are never more helpful than for the people who actually use them: travelers going their own way. But who would go into business trying to sell something to people who don’t want to spend any money?, I write with a laugh.

But the PDF guide has promise. You can just pay for the information that you want, print it out, and go on your way. If the info is crappy, then you can just chuck it page by page. Perhaps not having incur the cost of printing thousands upon thousands of print guidebooks, companies like Lonely Planet could perpetually be paying GOOD researchers to constantly travel the world, ever updating the information in the guides.

If a guide book could be continuously updated by various individuals – and not just one jackass – then I think they could be a very useful travel tool. If the guidebook writers were required to travel by the information in their own books and cross checked each other, then I could begin to trust the words on the page. But this sort of continuous cross checking requires money, and I hope that this money could be freed up as PDF printouts of guides becomes more popular.

But I think I am a little overly optimistic.

As far as the current state of using travel guidebooks goes, I recommend this:

Travel sometimes with guidebook and sometimes without them. Traveling with a guidebook will show their weakness, and traveling without one will show you their advantages. Know how to utilize the strengths of a travel guide, and how to disregard their weaknesses and find the morsels of useful information.

Solid rules lead to a hard mind, walk the extremes of either Never or Always leaves simple sense by the wayside. So I use travel guides when I think they will benefit me, and go without them when I assume that they wont.

It is not necessary to use a guidebook in every region of the world. Oftentimes, especially in well traveled regions, it is far more interesting and cheaper to find your own way. If traveling slowly in a county that typically has a lot of cheap hotels and/or I can communicate well in the local language, I generally will not think of using a guidebook. But if I am traveling through expensive countries where I want a roof over my head and/ or I do not know the language and am not familiar with the landscape, I will consider picking up a guide.

If I can find a guidebook cheap, I will pick it up and consult it. If I can steal a previously discarded guidebook from a hostel, I will steal it. I have no ideological qualms against travel guides.

In point, if you like using guidebooks, then use them. If not, then traveling can be more interesting without them. You don’t need a guidebook to travel the world, but the more information you have, the more paths you have before you, and the better you will be able to travel.

Advantages of using a guide

  • Maps- especially the city maps. Having all of your maps in a single location is good.
  • Show where cheap accommodation is- Cheap hotels often tend to cluster together. Sometimes the guidebook can point you to these neighborhoods. I often use a guidebook to show me a cheap neighborhood, and then I find my own hotel.
  • Basic travel information- Guides show you where to find transport and many other things without having to search. They sometimes make traveling a little easier. Having this basic information in a guide also cuts down on internet time, as I would not have to do searches in vain to find this information otherwise.
  • Information in one easy to access location- This makes the information vastly more usable. It is a benefit to be able to pull a map out of your pocket and figure out where you are.


  • Removes you from circumstance- If you have all the information you need in a book then you do not need to ask directions, you do not need to communicate with people as much.
  • Leads rather than suggests- It is easy to follow your guidebook like a dog on a leash. Often only the tourist cities of a country are incuded in a guidebook, and these are often the places that you will not need printed information to navigate. Through the simple act of exclusion, guidebooks keep you on the tourist trail.
  • Expensive- $30 is often too much to spend for anything. This is too much money to pay for every country you go to, and the multi-country guides often only have information on the main tourist attractions.
  • Heavy- Goes without saying, books are heavy to travel with.

Benefits of PDF guides

  • Only pay for information you want- You can download them by chapter.
  • Lightweight- No heavy binding, don’t have to lug around pages you will not use.
  • Should be cheaper- I have major qualm with Lonely Planet because their PDF guides are scarcely cheaper than the print and bound ones. It cost just about nothing to let someone download some files. I hope that these PDF files will become cheaper as they become more widely used
  • Completely disposable- You can throw the pages away as you use them. If you ever want to print them again, you can just reopen the file and print away.

I hope that PDF guides could free up more money for the guidebook companies to put into research.

But I really hope that another group of travelers could get together and make a series of PDF guidebooks that are meant to be use by travelers, guidebooks that are researched by people with the same means and budget restraints that the audience they are written for. Travel guides that are written by travelers for travelers.

Hint, Hint.

Travel Guides: to use or not to use

PDF Files Future of Travel Guidebooks


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Filed under: Eastern Europe, Europe, Turkey

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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