Photo: Kristof Bellens/Shutterstock

If Guidebooks Could Talk

by Alyssa C. Martino Jan 2, 2010
Choosing the right 2D companion for your travels

I once hopped a Florence-bound train at 5:30am on a Saturday just as light peeked its head above Termini station in Rome. I was lucky enough to have several new friends by my side, including one acquaintance who we’ll call “Cathy”.

Cathy’s value as a travel buddy initially seemed promising. She was talkative, outgoing, and intrigued by culture, art, and most importantly, il panini oozing with mozzarella, basil and olio.

As we searched for an internet café to look up our hostel address, Cathy shrieked:

“WHOSE job was it to remember the address??”

Slightly mortified by her reaction, my friends and I spent the rest of the weekend dodging Cathy’s snide comments about our poor planning.

In retrospect, I understand that Cathy was by no means a terrible person; she was a bit more high-strung than I am when on the road.

For our friend Manny, who was extremely quiet (passive even), Cathy provided a rare equilibrium by taking charge—the kind necessary in messy, unplanned travel situations.

If we all look for different qualities in a travel cohort, wouldn’t we seek that same compatibility when selecting a guidebook?

For some travelers, these texts are the only form of companionship on the road; providing advice, consoling, entertaining, challenging, or even providing some calm during their journeys.

If you like to travel with…

Significant Others/Current Fling

Lonely Planet LP is definitely interesting, attractive and casual enough to keep your attention (at least for the moment). With a commitment to detail, the guides feature various neighborhoods and a highly useful color-coded system to decipher its extensive knowledge on culture, dining, and tourist hot spots.


Fodor’s– Everyone enjoys occasionally gallivanting around with Mom and Dad. They front the bill, allowing some small luxury into your travels. I never would have made it to Villa Borghese or that great restaurant in Trastevere if it weren’t for Mom’s aesthetic eye or Dad’s zeal for wines. Even more importantly, there’s something special about traveling with family.

With its glossy pages and intimate accessibility, you’ll feel right at home the whole trip.


Frommer’s – With its majestic cover and thick, course pages, Frommer’s may not be as glossy as LP or Fodor’s (re: if you’re a fan of picture books, then beware, Frommer’s are few and far apart).

Then again, Grandma and Grandpa are always thinking of you.

The G-rents have a wealth of knowledge and knee-slapper anecdotes waiting to be unleashed. They may be set in their ways, but those ways may just open your eyes to something you wouldn’t have noticed riding solo.

Professors/Academic Chaperons

Blue Guides – I couldn’t even open this one. The cover is totally unwelcoming and impersonal; I felt like I was about to open The Old Man and the Sea. Serious snooze alert so beware, as this might be your only companion for months.

Still, while traveling abroad I was always impressed at my professors’ approachability and enthusiasm once they opened up.

Maybe you just need to get them slightly drunk off wine at a Tuscan vineyard before you can appreciate their company?


Rough Guides – It’s hard to hate on travelers when you are one! But everyone has “flaws.”

Known for their carefree attitude, vagabonds frequently lack the foresight to plan excursions, meals, or even (oops?) lodging.

So maybe I’m stereotyping. Regardless, deep down there’s a reason for all the disorganization: adventurers want to be immersed in local culture—how can you find what’s real other than by simply stumbling upon it?

Rough Guides provides this authenticity.

Other Writers/Friends

Matador Travel Community – Don’t worry, no one bribed me to write this. If you’ve got access to a computer while traveling, Matador’s extensive network of seasoned travelers, wanderlusts, and have provided a web of travel advice: from how to travel ‘green’ to the best gadgets to how to take better notes and photography.

It’s like traveling with yourself—except the reading material is much better!

Community Connection

Have you considered tossing your guidebook altogether? Check out 6 Simple Ways To Travel Without Your Guidebook and 5 Reasons Wiki Travel Guides Are Better Than Guidebooks.

What’s your favorite guidebook? Tell us below

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