So, you have found inspiration for a trip, but are not quite sure how to tackle it? Maybe a guide book is the right answer – or is that sooo last century, with all the free online help around? I think there are still good reasons to pay for some help in travel planning and Lonely Planet guides are still my go-to guides…
As you can see from the photo, I might be a little biased. Lonely Planet guide books were my preferred choices when traveling around the world by myself. Even though I haven’t bought a book book in a while, I still get Lonely Planet guides in their electronic form regularly to prepare for traveling.
Who are they? Lonely Planet (LP) was started over 40 years ago by Maureen and Tony Wheeler, after they traveled overland from London to Australia and wrote about it. Since then, LP has sold over 120 million guides, giving them approximately 20% of the guide book market. They started with an independent traveler on a budget in mind and you can still find that “traveler mindset” in their books today, even though they have expanded and their guides now cover all budgets. They have over 400 employees and 200 authors to write and update more than 500 guides to cover 195 countries around the world, so you will be hard pressed to find places worth visiting not mentioned in one LP guide or the other.
Why should I care? What makes Lonely Planet different from other guides is the accuracy and usefulness of the information they provide for independent travelers. Early on in my travels, I had two guide books for Egypt and was planning to visit the pyramids outside Cairo by public transportation. The first book said that the public bus leaves from the square at the Egyptian Museum – which is true. If you have ever been to the Egyptian Museum, you will realize that while it’s true, it’s not very helpful: The square is huge with thousands of people running around and hundreds of buses coming and going, giving you little chance to find the right bus. The LP guide described the white bus, what’s written on it and where on the square it was leaving, allowing me to visit the pyramids that day and not ending up in some oasis in the middle of the African desert!
LP also prides itself to be impartial. With many online reviews today being fake, written in exchange for a “perk” or flat-out money or by the owners of the hotel/restaurant, having reviews of people who are not allowed to take free accommodation or meals in return for a favorable review is a good thing. While I found places recommended by LP to maybe be overrun by LP readers or more expensive due to the recommendation, I have never found reviews to be blatantly false…
I also learned that LP has some of the best maps of guides around. Why would you care in a world of Google Maps? Because Google Maps is not much help off the beaten path. I had plenty of occasions across Asia or Africa where Google Maps (or Apple Maps) would not get me anywhere near the destination (and I’m not talking about times without local cell phone coverage) – but the Lonely Planet maps still do! So, if you are planning to go of the beaten path (and I’m not talking New Jersey or Oakland here), LP maps are your friend.
LP also provides you with good sense health and safety information. If you listen to the advice of the US State (insert your own government here) Department or the hype of the media, you would be too afraid to leave your house for the rest of your live. I had to laugh when our travel agency send me warnings about my upcoming trip to Germany: It sounded like a war zone with dangers at every corner. If you have ever been, it’s probably one of the safest places to travel with capital crime rates at about 10% of the US! LP wants you to travel and travel safely. Their advice makes you a smarter traveler and with that a safer one. The advice is specific to the location and helps you to avoid problem areas or typical scams easily. When I visited Rio de Janeiro, one of the points was to not visit Copacabana beach at night. I didn’t go, but sure enough, I met two Austrian travels who had gone the night before and were robbed at knife point! I did walk around Ipanema and Copacabana at night without any issues! Reading what’s usually a single paragraph plus a healthy dose of common sense has kept me safe for years and I have enjoyed my travels to lots of not-so-safe places without fear.
Ultimately, LP guides are helpful to travel independently to unfamiliar destinations. If you have a single destination in Europe or the US in mind, you can probably do just find with Kayak (read review here) , Tripadvisor, hotels.com (review here) and Agoda (review here). But if you are going to a new country or region and plan to travel around for a bit, LP can be a great starting point to research the destination and come up with a draft of your travels. Their online forum, Thorn Tree, can help you find out more details from fellow travelers or even meet other travelers along the way for more tips and tricks.
What else do I need to know? Lonely Planet guides are structured around regions, countries and cities, basically by destination. They do have an “Inspiration” section that starts with your interests (the experience you seek), like beaches, adventure travel or art & culture. This is in my opinion the most important part: Figure out what you want, do your research and than take your trip! I always cringe when somebody recommends the “best beach I’ve ever seen”, without telling them it was their honeymoon – which might be helpful for other honeymooners, but probably not a 20something looking for a party beach! You can find articles on various destinations that offer the experience you are looking for on this trip and you can start to narrow down possible destinations. In the “Shop” you can not only find the traditional printed guide books, but also electronic versions to download as a pdf. So, you can take them along on your tablet or phone and are not weighed down, even on a long trip with 5 or 6 guides. Even better, you can download individual chapters, of if you only plan 2-3 places in one region, you can safe yourself some money. I haven’t bought a paper guide book in years – I read the guides on a tablet to prepare my trip and also download them to my smart phone for last-minute checks for an address, a map or restaurant recommendation.
INSIDER TIP: Lonely Planet has frequent sales, offering discounts of up to 50%, a fixed price for full guides or combos or 2 for 1 deals. If you want to buy a guide right now, they have a “limited time” offer of a 30% discount across all of their products (check here). If you are not in a hurry, I’d sign up for the email list to get notification of their deals (immediate 20% discount) and shop during the next sale! The sign up is on the bottom of the “Special Offers” page in the link above.
With all that, go find some inspiration, find your next dream destination and download a guide or two at a discount. Have fun and travel safely!