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Vagabond Journey

Travel With Guidebooks From Your Library

Most libraries in the USA and other parts of the world allow users to check out books for at least a month at a time. One month is generally longer than 99% of vacations or other incidences of travel. In point, there is absolutely no reason for any person with access to a well stocked [...]

Most libraries in the USA and other parts of the world allow users to check out books for at least a month at a time. One month is generally longer than 99% of vacations or other incidences of travel. In point, there is absolutely no reason for any person with access to a well stocked library to purchase a travel guidebook. In my experience, even the libraries in small towns in the USA have a selection of Lonely Planet guides to the popular destinations of the world — the places where most tourists go — and if they don’t have the guide you need stocked they can often order it from another library. So why drop $20 to $30 on something that you can get for free? Check travel guides out of your local library, travel with them, and then return them when finished.

Colombia Lonely Planet guidebook from a library

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I walked into a cafe in Villa de Leyva this morning and found a tourist sitting at a table looking through her Lonely Planet Colombia. I burst out laughing when I saw the Dewy Decimal tag that was stuck to the book’s spine.

“Are you going to be able to return that guidebook on time?” I joked.

“Yes, it’s not due until the 14th, and I will be back to Spain before then.”

A seriously intelligent move.

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Tips for checking out a guidebook from a library

Reserve the book for your dates of travel or sign the book out a couple of weeks in advance.

  • If your library does not stock the guidebook title you want, have then order it from a library that does.
  • If your duration of travel is going to be longer than the amount of time that you can sign a book out from your library, just renew it online from the road. If this doesn’t work out, keep in mind that the late return charges of most libraries are often pretty low and, unless traveling or many months, will generally not come close to adding up to the cost of a new guidebook.
  • If the travel guides in your library are reference material and can’t be checked out, then make photocopies of the pages you want. This can also easily be done from the road by borrowing a guidebook from a fellow traveler and taking it over to the nearest business that advertises photocopying services (not difficult to find in most countries).

In all, unless you want to keep your travel guides forever, are in a hurry, or fear traveling without one, there is generally never a reason to purchase a new guidebook. Look for other means to get the travel information you want, use your public library.

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Filed under: Travel Gear, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 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 3400 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Rochester, New York

7 comments… add one

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  • Dyanne@TravelnLass August 31, 2011, 4:39 pm

    Good advice Wade, but…

    I must confess, I (who once was the leading cheerleader for libraries and rarely purchased any book, much less a travel guide) am now utterly addicted to my Kindle. Seriously, who has room/weight for leaden paper books in their backpack? And so far I’ve managed to find plenty of reads (including Let’s Go Europe 2011, etc.) for free.

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    • Wade Shepard August 31, 2011, 6:53 pm

      Good call!

      Those travel guides do take up a decent amount of space and add weight to a load — even if you do use them for free. Reading them on a Kindle may be worth the expense — especially on multi-country trips.

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  • Bob L September 1, 2011, 11:20 pm

    Just take a photo of the pages that are worth keeping. Can be quicker than photo copying and much cheaper. You can look at them on your computer, phone, camera or whatever. Sure, paper is easier to read, but with it in your camera, you always have it available, well, anytime you don’t mind showing your camera to everyone.

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    • Wade Shepard September 4, 2011, 3:34 pm

      This is truly a spy move, Right on for snapping a few shots of a fellow traveler’s guidebook for the next town you’re going to is clutch. Ultimately, all you need is a shot of a map and the hotel page. Hey, I may start doing this!

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      • Bob L September 5, 2011, 7:30 pm

        I am not sure, but I think it might be your site that first got me into the habit of photographing maps and things. I think you had a post about taking a pic of the hotel and their business card or something like that. Now, when I go someplace, I will photo a map of the area in case I am away from my normal map. I will photo those tourist maps on poles, subway maps, anything that might come in handy later. If I see a flier or ad for something I might want to go to, take a pic. Keeps me from carrying around too much paper or even thinking too much about what to grab and what to leave.

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  • liz September 7, 2013, 2:40 pm

    Now most libraries lend e-books so when we went to Mexico recently I could borrow the book on my kindle – no weight and free!

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    • Wade Shepard September 7, 2013, 9:44 pm

      Now that’s cool. You can also borrow the books remotely, right?

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