Travel scientists have unearthed that a human subspecies called backpacker, or traveller, has been observed across many of the furthest flung corners of the globe reading guidebooks more than interacting with locals.
“So do you want to come with me for breakfast?”
“Any preferences? I saw a street stall at the corner selling what looks like an awesome fruit salad”
“Well… actually, if you look here at page 267, the guidebook mentions this place… I’m sorry, we have to eat there.”
“Well… because it’s in the guidebook!!”
If there was a Travel Exorcist, dear guidebook, its power would compel you; because you can be the reason why such a conversation has become a standard among travel circles. I am sure that, whether you are born a Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Footprints, Moon, Bradt or any other, you and the authors and editors who put your attractive paragraphs together are not the only ones to blame.
I think it is mainly because of the authoritative halo you emanate: with a country’s name printed boldly across your front cover, you are a dangerous spell. You can possess people who think they are travelling freely, and instead follow your suggestions blindly, fearing an almost certain death when going out of your carefully prepared itineraries and suggestions. Some even eat only in those restaurants which you recommend!!! Dear guidebook… what have you done to travelling?
Obviously, this is not a stereotype: many travellers say that “if it’s in the book, I do not go there”. Sometimes, the guidebook spell creates an inverse, mesmerizing process of discovery.
Personally, I like to have a guidebook with me to thumb trough when I am in those interminable bus rides, to use as a quick reference and a place to start looking for cheaper accommodation options when lacking internet connectivity on the road. I have a few suggestions to give the Vagabonders out there, in order to exorcise you from the evil powers of guidebooks:
Be your own master
There is no written rule you have to follow without thinking with your own brain. Sure, many suggested places are actually in the book because they really are must-see destinations. However, this does not mean that your experience has to be totally crafted after a book’s index.
Use other people’s experience for your own good
A guidebook is intended to “guide” you through an experience, which is ultimately your own. Do not rely too much on hotel and restaurant suggestions, because most of the times guidebook authors do not even sleep in the place for one single night. Use the internet to have a recent idea of prices and customer reviews, or just put your backpack in a cloak room, get to your area of choice, and do walk-ins.
Travel is time sensitive
Research for a guidebook has been generally done at least one year prior to publication, and although destinations do not change, prices and standards do, a lot. Therefore, take everything with a grain of salt, and do not rely on guidebooks’ information as it was the Holy Bible. I have used 10 year old guides to conduct awesome trips. Brian Thacker travelled on a 35 years old Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, and even wrote a book on that trip!!
Do not fear the reaper
Citing Blue Oyster Cult, I want to remember you that you will not get lost, die, or get shot if you do not follow a guidebook thoroughly. Most of the times, the best travel experience come when you leave the book in your hotel room, and you wander the streets, randomly. I may also add that, by walking around holding a guidebook, you look totally uncool!! And the touts will love you so much you will damn yourself at the end of the day… such an easy target!
Do you agree with me, or are you already hunting down the next restaurant mentioned at page 47?
This article originally appeared on Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding