HOW TO USE LONELY PLANET BOOKS TO PLAN YOUR TRIP
read what Lonely Planet books do and don't provide to help you plan your next trip!
Lonely Planet books, sometimes on a shoe-string, key language phrases, or a discover focus, are popular travel guides, published among other travel book selections such as Fondor’s Travel Guide and Rough Guides. Depending on the size, some books can cost between $20-40 CAN dollars, with “The World” book toping at $42 CAN. With the books ranging in region, to country, to city, the questions become, are the books worth it? which one is best? can I really travel with all these books? For this review, we will go through what the Lonely Planet books provide and do not provide for your backpacking plans.
What Lonely Planet Books Provide
Now, with Kristen writing here, I have a disclaimer; Trevor does the majority of the trip planning such as what to see and where to go because he just knows… everything… about everywhere… and I, to quote How I Met Your Mother… have a knowledge gap when it comes to country / regional history and all of the unique things to do. For example, obviously I know about Michelangelo’s David statue… but I had no idea it was in Florence. The Lonely Planet books give me a place to start, with ranking the best things to do, their location, and suggestions on how to get there. Granted, Trip Advisor does this too, I however prefer starting with a book. If you like having a book that lays out everything for you in one place without having to search the internet for it – often not knowing what to search for – then Lonely Planet can help with this.
Lonely Planet as for directions / transportation plans too can be helpful. Often they have pull out maps and a location map for the tourist attraction, and can provide tips about train stations, bus stations, and ferries. In some cases, if you are trying to get to an off the beaten track or isolated location, Lonely Planet will tell you how to get there, which is often, the only way to get there. For example, getting to Montverde in Costa Rica requires taking a bus from the Coca-Cola station in San Jose, which before Trip Advisor really took off, thanks to Lonely Planet, we were able to plan our trip to Montverde with including a stop in San Jose. But yes, again, this information too is available on Trip Advisor (now), and in some cases can be more helpful. In comparison, Lonely Planet provides an opinion or an option on how to go about your trip. If you find that taking the train is not going to work and there is no mention of a bus, then consult Trip Advisor.
In addition to transportation information, Lonely Planet suggests travel plans / routes, such as if you only have seven days in Italy, if you have three weeks in Poland, or if you have two days in Geneva, which routes to take and the top things to see and do. This can be a huge help with starting your trip planning. We often refer to travel websites such as Gap Adventures and look at their travel plans / routes designed to see what we want to include, leave out, and which order to go in. Lonely Planet does this too and gives you an idea on if you have a couple days to a couple weeks, on how to plan your route. We have found that planning a route includes a specific strategy that involves budgeting. What I mean is you need to play around to see if it is cheaper to fly to Paris from Ireland as opposed to Rome, if the train makes too many connections from a specific location (or only travels over night), and thus results in needing to pick locations in a particular order to minimize spending and time, and maximize adventure. Reviewing other companies travel plans / routes can help get the ball rolling in figuring out the best strategy to plan your route. Picking the cities is easy, deciding the best order is strategy.
Further, because writers for Lonely Planet have often stayed in these locations for very long periods of time (often around a year), the books provide many reviews on dining, accommodation, and local events, festivals, and shows. Including the Podwale 25 disaster, the dining recommendations have been hit and miss – with us being the .5 / 5 star who did not like Podwale … anyway, again, Lonely Planet gives us a place to start, same with hotels and events, the recommendations can be different than the top 5 rated items on Trip Advisor and thus giving you more options.
In all honesty, we've had moments where we had no idea how to take a bus in a city, which city to go to next, and moments of panic asking ourselves "how do we get out of this mess?" Having a Lonely Planet book on hand has saved us many times!
What Lonely Planet Books Do Not Provide
You can probably see a theme here – what does Lonely Planet do that Trip Advisor doesn’t? Mostly, they provide a lot of the same information in book form, however, having a physical book on us has saved us in moments where we didn't have WIFI and needed an answer to something ASAP - like where the heck is the bus station in San Jose, Costa Rica. There are however some key misses of Lonely Planet that makes resources such as Trip Advisor very helpful.
When it comes to reviews on dining, hotels, and events, Lonely Planet can be limited. For example, Lonely Planet hardly includes any hostel recommendations, often with only the top rated hostel in the city being included as the “budget” accommodation, which can have major misses such as too expensive, a difficult location, or lack of private rooms – depending on what you are looking for and how your prioritize your accommodation needs, recommending one hostel will not help you. Same goes for dining, because Lonely Planet tries to reach a wide readership, dining ranges from $$$ to $ in cost ranking, where for us, we rarely eat at $$$ restaurants because of our budgets, which again limits their recommendations to us.
Assuming due to page space, Lonely Planet misses the details for their recommendations. For example, whether or not the accommodation has specific items such as a blow dryer, access to a washer / dryer, or other items you might need after traveling for a month, are not mentioned, making you having to do extra research anyway.
Finally, again perhaps due to page space, Lonely Planet can be limited in their recommendation of companies, such as tour companies or private transportation companies (such as getting from Zagreb, to Plitvice (to stop for the day) and then on to Zadar). Some of the best tours we have had have been from stumbling upon a one man show, does the tours on their off days, and just loves their city kind of websites – in addition to the free walking tours where you pay based on tipping as opposed to a flat rate upon entering. When it comes to planning tours, use Trip Advisor or ask your hostel – your hostel will often have deals with specific companies and transportation from the hostel, making life that much easier.
Which Type: Region, Country, or City?
If you are traveling for a long period of time in a specific region, buy the region – such as Central America, Eastern Europe, South East Asia, etc. If you are spending one month in one country, buy the country book. If you are going on a two-week holiday to one city (such as New York, Barcelona, or London), buy the specific city book. See the pattern? It really depends on how long you are going and your range of travel. If you’re doing 7 countries in one region, get the region, 7 books on each country plus specific city books will not help. When we did Eastern Europe we bought the Eastern Europe book plus the Turkey book since before leaving, we had planned to do a lot more in Turkey than we ended up doing.
And yes, we bring the books. Well, Trevor does – I’m too busy saving room for souvenirs…
To be honest, for us, buying a Lonely Planet book is now part of our backpacking ritual and amplifies the excitement for the trip ahead. When I got accepted into a 2 month visiting research program in Geneva, Switzerland for 2017, the same day Trevor went and bought the Switzerland book - there's something about buying the book that gets us so excited to travel! Overall, the Lonely Planet books give you a place to start and sometimes, depending on the country or city, this can be a huge help. Lonely Planet does not do it all, and nor can it. Unless you are buying the country books and spending a lot of time in one city, you can’t really expect to get a lot out of the country book when it dedicates 1 page to a city that you might stop in on your way to the next city. If you are going to invest in the books, be aware of their limitations, however, acknowledge what they can do; the Lonely Planet books get the ball rolling, they help you set up a plan, they give you information that you might not have known to Google about or prepare for, and can in isolated cases give you key information that might be missed had you not done your research. Really for us, these books are part of the fun and have become part of our book collection of all the places we’ve been and all the places we want to go – I have China, Japan, and several South East Asia ones sitting on the bookshelf right now waiting, and whenever I see them I think, man I can’t wait.
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Thanks for reading
Kristen G. E.
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