On traveling without a guidebook

On traveling without a guidebook

My past travel persona has relied on guidebooks for the basics: what to see and do in each neighborhood, how to escape the tourist traps, and a bit of information on the history behind everything I see. I referred to them before, during, and sometimes even after a trip, completely ignoring the fact that they blatantly identified me as a tourist. 

But lately my travels have involved less pre-research and more on-site decision making. The tomes I once used as a general indicator of what a new destination has to offer became permanent pieces on my bookshelf, slowly losing significance with each passing year. I don't regret using them, and sometimes I still click to reference the PDF versions saved on my Smartphone, but because I now opt to travel to less-visited destinations, I have no need to purchase a book that would offer little to no advice.

With an open mind and a lighter carry-on bag, here's what I have learned since I bid adieu to my heavy travel companions.

Planning the day over coffees in Dublin, Ireland.

Planning the day over coffees in Dublin, Ireland.

My luggage is lighter.

This isn't the strongest argument for ditching guidebooks as most are available through mobile apps or PDFs and thus only take up space equivalent to the size and weight of a Smartphone. But as an avid reader/writer, I prefer the hard-copy versions of written works, and whipping out a guidebook gave me something to peruse when I stopped for cups of coffee at local cafés. Now I use those moments to gaze at hotel- or airport-issued maps, get my bearings, and observe and write about my surroundings and experiences.

I'm free to re-route as I go.

Flipping through a guidebook's pages helped me feel prepared for each trip and provided me with self-assurance that I wouldn't miss the best and most impressive sites in any given location. But on occasion, the guidebook's descriptions filled me with high expectations, leaving me underwhelmed on site and often wondering what I could have done with the time I spent waiting in line to enter a cathedral or museum. 

Asking locals for advice led me and a friend to this hilltop restaurant in Split, Croatia.

Asking locals for advice led me and a friend to this hilltop restaurant in Split, Croatia.

Now I plan as I go, and I find that (especially in a city), it requires very little effort to follow the crowds, signs, and your own intuition to spot the must-see attractions. I also make a point to chat up locals, as awkward or difficult as it may be, as they typically have the best suggestions for hidden spots and true immersion.

Wandering off the paved road took my travel companions and me to Cala Roja, Ibiza.

Wandering off the paved road took my travel companions and me to Cala Roja, Ibiza.

I find unexpected treasures.

One brand of guidebook that I used to use had mapped-out self-guided tours to help travelers hit the highlights in a condensed amount of time. While this may benefit city hoppers, I prefer a slower type of travel that involves less following and more wandering. 

When I travel alone, I edit this slightly to ensure that I don't wander too far from civilization, but when traveling with others, there's an added sense of adventure and a longing to be explorers rather than visitors.


What are your arguments for/against guidebooks? Leave your comments below!

A musing morning in Venice

A musing morning in Venice

The enigma that is Éire: Ireland in photos

The enigma that is Éire: Ireland in photos