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How to Choose a Guide Book

Posted on January 7th, 2012 by Apinant Hoontrakul

For many travelers, tour guides are a must as they help us plan ahead and navigate in a foreign land. But when walking into a book store you will see many different tour books claiming to be the best travel guide. If you are going to study abroad in France, you might wonder how to choose a guide book that is right for you with so many options; you will find books on traveling Europe, books specific to France and others for Paris alone.

Guide books can be a valuable tool saving you time and money while you are abroad. No need to waste the first day of your trip trying to figure out which hotel to go to or looking up what subway line when you arrive. How to choose a guide book that is good and reliable is not just about choosing the one that is accurate and up-to-date, but also knowing what your needs are and what sort of traveling you will be doing.

Travel guides can cover an entire continent, a single country, combination of frequently traveled countries, a region in a particular country or even just a single city. So let’s say you will be studying abroad in France and you will have time to travel within the country and to neighboring countries as well. Will the best guide book change if you are going to stay in Paris and perhaps take a single trip to London? If you will be doing the latter, you may consider buying two city guides rather than a book on France and Britain so that you’ll get more city-specific information. Contrast that scenario with backpacking Europe where it makes sense to purchase a European travel guide.

Make sure the guide is up-to-date since the world is constantly changing. Restaurants and hotels open and close frequently, prices can change (e.g., food, train ticket, etc.), and even maps or bus schedules change regularly. Using an out of date guide can cause head aches especially if you are stuck scrambling to find a hostel last minute, or find yourself running out of money because you budgeted your trip based on outdated prices.

There are also different formats available including traditional guides, visual guides, and electronic guides described below:

  1. Traditional guide books  – contains mostly text with few pictures, 3 of the most popular guides are Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Let’s Go.
  2. Visual guide books – are usually filled with pictures printed on glossy paper. Visual guides are great for specific locations where it can show exactly which sculptures to look at with specific details. In some cases, however, they may lack more in depth information on more practical topics like logistics. They are also heavier to carry around because of the glossy paper they are usually printed on.
  3. Electronic guide books – Many smart phones now  include apps that acts as an electronic guide book for many different cities around the world. Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, for example, have travel guide applications for iPhone and Android phones. While they have the potential to be very useful, in my experience, mobile app guidebooks are not yet as user friendly while traveling as opposed to a traditional paper book.

So that brings us back to the question, how to choose a guide book? When choosing among the different options choose a guide that fits your needs (budget, interests and location), is up-to-date as possible, and that is written in a format that you find easy to use.

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