I plan lots of trips. I’ve taken 26 trips to different countries in Europe and Africa in the last 15 months. I still have 4 trips to 3 other countries and an island before I move. I usually have about 1-2 weeks’ notice that we’re traveling to a city in a foreign country because I’m tagging along for a work trip for my spouse Mike. I wistfully read posts that start with “I’m going to such and such country in 2 years and I’ve worked out a perfect two week itinerary already” Most the time my travel planning consists of find a plane ticket that works with my husband’s – so we only have to take one car to the airport, find some accommodations in the city/area we’ll be in. I then check out guide books from the library, and read on the plane on the way to the destination. You think I joke? This exact situation has been my last 5 trips.
For my upcoming trip to Sicily I’ve actually had the luxury of having more than a week to plan. It’s made me analyze how I go about choosing where I want to go and what I want to see on a trip. When we were younger I can tell you without a doubt the only guide books we read were Lonely Planet The joke was if you couldn’t figure out where something was in a lonely planet guide book find the train station and then follow their maps/directions from there. Lonely Planet guidebooks tend to be focused towards the younger backpacking crowd.
When I was younger I would see people with a Rick Steves guide book and think “wow old people’s guide book, they really think their seeing the most authentic stuff” and I would scoff. Well I’m here to eat those words. Living in Europe and having to plan at the last minute I’ve found the guru of travel Rick Steves to be my lifesaver. He explains how to manage your time, he has great walking tours, and good hints and tips for trying local food or experiences. I especially love his free app for Europe he has all sorts of podcasts. My favorite being his walking tours of European cities. Even my good friend Rick doesn’t have all the answers. I’ve found there are even places in Europe that Rick Steve’s hasn’t been so then I’m stuck picking another guide book. I’ve found the UK based Rough Guides to be somewhere between Lonely Planet/Rick Steve’s and I’ve been happy with the overview that they provide.
My personal favorite guide books are Blue Guides. (Insert eye rolls from all my friends who think 8 hours in a museum is to long) My spouse and I are real historical nerds. We also don’t like taking tours. Blue Guides began in 1918 they were published by two Scottish brothers. They focus on art, architecture, and history for the independent traveler. My first experience with a Blue Guide was during my first trip to Italy in 2002. We spent 8 hours in Pompeii following the 26 page tour the book laid out. We were hooked. The blue guides essentially have a blurb on most historical piles of rocks everywhere in Europe. As much as I love my “Blue Bibles” they aren’t so great when it comes to shopping recommendations or helping me out when I’m looking for my favorite local hole in the wall food joint or bar. I tend to head to Trip Advisor or Facebook to help me out with those recommendations. I also belong to facebook groups like Girls Love Travel or Girls Love Travel foodie to get more specific information. If I am going to be spending a lot of time in one country I try to find books about food in that country that I can delve more deeply into. Some of my favorites include Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, and Italy Dish by Dish. I hope to review my favorite food books in a future post.
One quick tip if your Amazon Prime members. Amazon Prime reading which is separate from Kindle Unlimited will let you check out up to 10 prime reading books at a time for free. They have most of the Lonely Planet guides available for free through Amazon Prime reading. I still use them to give myself an idea of where I’d like to focus my time.
My favorite way to decide if a guidebook type is right for me is to head to my local bookstore and see what that brand of guide says about the area I live in. Do I agree with what they think is the important and fun stuff to see? Do they give good restaurant recommendations? I know this can be hard especially if you’re trying to compare something in the United States to traveling in Europe. It may help you narrow down if you are more of a Frommer’s and Fodors type of traveler or a Rick Steves and Lonely Planet kind of traveler.
The other thing to really think about is why are you traveling to a particular place? I’ve had many house guests here in Italy over the last 18 months. I ask them a series of questions to try and figure out where we should focus their time. Are you focused on seeing famous places? Do you like cities? Do you prefer the countryside? Are you food focused? Shopping focused? Are you looking for a vacation on the beach or an educational trip? Particularly here in Europe you have to ask do you have a particular time period in history that you would like to focus on. I tend to be driven to see Roman, Greek, and other Archaeological and Historical sites, Pre-1900 Art Museums, World War 1 & 2 sites, Castles, famous libraries, in the countryside we like to take 1-3 mile hikes that gets us out into nature and I am food focused. If I am in a city I like to take walking tours to see the things that make up that city. Knowing what we are interested in helps me to better plan my time. We have skipped many “famous palaces” because my spouse Mike just isn’t into looking at fancy furniture.
In Hungary we stepped out of our comfort zone and visited the public baths. It was a unique experience and if it hadn’t been for Rick Steves Budapest book walking me through the experience I would have chickened out. To this day it is one of my top things I have done in Europe.
How do you decide where your going to travel? Do you have a favorite guide book?