Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dear Guy with the Lonely Planet Guidebook:

I watched you drop your big backpack, sit down and pull out a 500-page Lonely Planet Thailand book at the Bangkok Airport last week.
You reminded me of me, 16 years ago...  
I was on my first big backpacking trip through Europe. I had an oversized backpack, a paper plane ticket, and a ‘Lonely Planet: Europe’ book that I held onto as I travelled through Italy, Spain, and France. I referred to that guidebook so much, I started calling it ‘the Bible’. Lonely Planet told me what to see, where to stay, where to eat, and offered miscellaneous travel tips with a touch of snarky humor.

Perhaps it served as a nice security blanket for a young traveller still wet behind the ears, but I’m not sure how they sell books anymore. Everything that the big travel guidebooks ($25-40) include can now be easily searched online for free—where there are more pictures, maps and videos of... well, everything. Also, no offense to Lonely Planet (which has plenty of LP Thai info online), but once you ditch the book and make your search more personal, your trips tend to get much more interesting.

Here are 5 reasons why you never need to buy a travel guidebook ever again:

Top 10 Lists: Not sure where you want to travel? Start with looking at broad lists like: 40 Places to See Before You Die, or Top 10 Cities to Visit in your lifetime. Then, once you’ve narrowed it down to Croatia or Vietnam, search for ‘10 best places to see in Vietnam’. (It’s really self-explanatory, right? I mean, the traveler I'm addressing this to was young, so why do I feel like I'm writing this for my grandma?)

Google images: I'm pretty sure you've heard of it. In ancient times, I used to check out the DK Eyewitness Travel books or travel magazines to see pictures of places I was curious about. Now, once you have a list of places, a quick search on Google images shows you the good, the bad, and the ugly. Does the place have only one good postcard angle, or is it a true gem? You be the judge if the water is clear enough or the architecture hits your travel fantasy G-spot, then book a flight.

Skyscanner: Of course, there are tons of sites where you can book flights. Expedia is a big one. I like Skyscanner. It’s frighteningly easy—much more convenient than driving to the closest STA or travel agent and buying a paper ticket (Is that even possible anymore?).  New scientific fact: Tuesday is the best day to book tickets online. I remember standing in foreign train stations, straddling my huge backpack, combing through the “Places to Stay” section of Lonely Planet. I’m sure it made me stick out like a sore thumb-- but no longer (unless you're dressed like Rick Steves). On, there are pictures of the rooms, details, and ratings that are based on a variety of opinions and experiences (not just a few LP authors). Also, the hotel/pension pages are connected to Google maps so you can see exactly where they are and get clear directions.

Eating:  If you really want to plan ahead and get online food recommendations, check If you’re vegetarian, check out Happy Cow. However, I recommend going Anthony Bourdain-style: walk around, look for crowded restaurants, ask locals, and take risks.
It’s more fun.

Americano Abroad

Pictures were taken in Koh Phangan, Thailand. 


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