In praise of… paper guidebooks

Okay, I hear you ask, why go for paper guidebooks rather than those on a Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Android phone or tablet, laptop, desktop or one of the other electronic book formats?

Because I (and a few others judging by recent comments on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum) prefer to use paper guidebooks rather than techno ones. I have a couple of guidebooks on my Kindle and one on my Mac Mini, but there’s at least two book shelves full of paper guidebooks either on the landing or in the office at Wisepacking Towers.

I’ve been using Lonely Planet books for about fifteen years now and still have that first one upstairs – Andalucia. It proved to be useful during a week’s walking holiday as it gave me some background into the area, the customs, the food and a few places to head off too on the day off from walking (apart from The Alhambra).

I’ve also bought a few Rough Guides too and a couple of DK Eyewitness guides for good measure. I’ve doubled up on guides a few times now whilst planning independent or semi-independent trips abroad. The first occasion was after booking a very last minute week in Paphos – the booking was made on a Thursday and the flight out was the following Sunday.

As we were also in need of hot weather clothing (we’d been planning a camping trip to Wales, but the heavens were well and truly open – and the forecast was for even more rain), we headed over to the retail park at Birstall, got some extra white t-shirts, sun hats etc and called in on Borders Books to get a couple of guidebooks.

The haul ended up being Lonely Planet’s guide to Cyprus and the comparable volume from Rough Guides. We both took a look through each guide and came up with a list of where we wanted to go and where we fancied dining out at. As the holiday flights included hold luggage and we had accommodation booked, that’s virtually all we used them for.

We did make discoveries of our own too that added to the nature of the trip and booked a couple of day trips run by a local company. Yeah, the only coffee shop we found in Paphos with air-con was Starbucks, but at the temperatures were hitting 43C, some principles had to be set aside for a week.

Although we’d booked that package at short notice, we’d also tailored it to our own tastes because of some of the recommendations in the guidebooks and also because we’d stumbled upon places ourselves. We’ve used the same idea on other accommodation/travel packages to Prague and Bergen, but as far as the latter goes, most of the places there were a known quantity as I’ve spent so much time across there.

So, I’m hooked on paper guidebooks… Why? Because they’re so much easier to use either at home or whilst away in the country we’re exploring. We headed over to Portugal last year and whilst I did download a sample of the LP Portugal book onto my Kindle, I bought both the LP and Rough Guide to that country, as I’d seen a few user comments about that edition of the LP Portugal guide that weren’t too complimentary (I’m pleased to say that the 2014 edition of Lonely Planet Portugal is much, much better!).

I’ve found it easier to use the index to find the page or section that I’m looking for. I’ve marked pages by adding Post-It Notes in the right place and used a fluorescent yellow highlighter pen to indicate places of interest, places to stay or places to eat. If those places have featured in both the Lonely Planet and the Rough Guides books, then so much the better as two recommendations are better than one.

I’ve become frustrated at the time it takes to find and then pull up the right pages on the Kindle and on the Mac Mini, so much so that when I’m doing any research for a holiday, it’s now predominately done by reading the guidebooks first, marking up the pages or making notes and then either copying the appropriate pages to take with me or shoving the guidebook into my bag as a reference source on the ground that doesn’t rely on a wi-fi or phone signal or a battery charger to work.

Using the book has another advantage. Yes, it still marks you out as a tourist if you’re not looking at it in your hotel room, but it also acts as a bit of deterrent to those thieving toe-rags who like to relieve people of bright, shiny pieces of technology. The book may be heavier, but it’s funny how there are times when the book just falls open in the right place either of its own accord or because you know which one of the Post-It Notes you need to aim for!

Yes, I use tech sources to book accommodation, find out about local events or to find up to date travel times, but that’s all done at home before I head off. I’ll also do a weather check on the BBC website to get an idea of what to pack too. Once on the road though, it’s books, eyes and ears time – with a little bit of asking for help locally thrown in for good measure too!

Can the paper guidebook be improved upon? Only in one respect at the moment. As travel becomes that thing you do, it’s become noticeable that guidebooks have moved to feature more upmarket places to stay, eat or frequent and it’s the establishments at the lower end of the price scale that are disappearing from the pages of the guides.

Personally I’d rather stay, eat or visit affordable places rather than even look at the menu of a place bearing the name of a celebrity chef, try to get into a super club or pay over the odds to go around a theme park!

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About Keith Rickaby

Fiftysomething writer and occasional photographer who has worked in the tailoring trade and the outdoor/travel clothing, equipment and footwear game. Past lives include working as an outdoor instructor, managing three bands and doing PR work through an agency or my own contacts. Was a student in the mid-90s and whilst I'm originally from the North East, I'm now firmly based in't Yorkshire...
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