Every penny counts when you're planning to go backpacking. You soon learn to sacrifice nights out, new clothes and the only gastro dining you get to sample is a dash of Worcester sauce to your beans on toast. But hey living the life of a pauper for a while will be worth it when you have a good wedge of cash to get you around the world, right?
Surely then, during this self-imposed frugal lifestyle paying sometimes as much as £30 for a travel guide book would be classed as utter madness?! These books don't just make a dent on your wallet but weigh down your military precision packed backpack. When preparing for a long trip abroad the aim is to travel as light as possible, streamlining everything, not chucking in heavy guide books lugging you down. In this modern day where everything is online are travel guide books worth it?
Personally I've always had a guide book before each long backpacking trip I've taken. It adds to the excitement as you flick through pages full of information, colour and inspiration of the things you're about to experience. As well as proving helpful when you find yourself in a tricky language barrier spot with the easy to read maps, names of hostels and difficult spellings of addresses to point to for unsure taxi drivers. I also like the idea that one day I'll have a bookcase full of well used guidebooks. Their dog-eared pages and creased spines serving as reminders of the places I've been and loved. Plus there is nothing better than the feel of a proper book, you can highlight sections, fold pages down and jot notes to help you make your way around the country.
But yeah, they are pricey, heavy and full of recommendations of 'off-the-beaten track' spots that are now teaming with tourists (who have all read the same hidden gem information). Surely you can get more up-to-date real reviews from blogs or travel forums?
If you don't want to splash the cash or carry the weight of a travel guide book you may get lucky and find a copy in one of the hostels in the destination you are staying in, however these may be out of date, scribbled on or the all-important pages ripped out. Wah!
An alternative is to download sections, chapters or maps from the best known guides onto your tablet or e-book. This has worked for a few backpackers I've met and I'd recommend doing this for short city breaks but when you're away for a long trip and visiting numerous countries, the cost of these chapters add up so you may have just bought the book in the first place?
Why not bin the book altogether and get around via word of mouth recommendations, go with the flow and follow whatever path you want. Not having the safety net of a guidebook to fall back on means you have to use your head and your heart when making decisions about which route to take on the road. You may stumble on a real undiscovered paradise location or you may end up in a notorious ghetto, either way it will make for a great story when you return home!
What do you think? Are guide books the ultimate costly and heavy comfort blanket or an essential item you simply cannot travel without?