Maybe there should be a guidebook for guidebooks for the market for travel guidebooks is abundant and ever increasing. To give you an overview, we have done the hard work by reading and following a lot of guidebooks - including getting lost because of incorrect maps and looking for hotels that don't exist anymore. The result is this fairly comprehensive review of guidebooks listing each of their key pros and cons. Keep in mind, however, that quality and style can vary within the same series. And remember, this is almost religion.
Take the road less travelled
Bradt travel guides have been around for 30 odd years, often for destinations less travelled, like deep Africa and Central Asia. The main focus is on background information such as history, culture, religion, and local customs. The books are thus very text heavy, offering a detailed introduction to the country along with a lot of text boxes with great did-you-know kind of info as well as a reasonable amount of practical info on accommodation, places to eat, etc.
Pros: In-depth guide to often less travelled regions for those who are willing to read a lot.
Cons: The pictures vary a lot in age and style from faded slides to colourful travel agency images.
DK Eyewitness travel
The visual guide
The Eyewitness is a well done visual guide that informs and inspires with pictures rather than words. Besides the pictures, there are quality graphic illustrations offering insights and details for places and sites that other guidebooks skip.
Pros: Good for the culture, history, and architecture interested traveller with an eye for details and who doesn't have the need for getting to grips with the practical stuff.
Cons: No in-depth information due to the absence of heavy text pieces; stays well within the confines of the beaten track.
American published Fodor's makes several kinds of guidebooks with the heaviest one being the main and most prominent. In contrast to many other guidebooks, it is researched and composed by writers actually living in the country rather than by travellers passing through. The focus is on sightseeing, hotels, eating and, in general, entertainment aimed at a middle to upper budget with a rating system covering key sites. Also included are a useful suggested itineraries for each region which is convenient for travellers not planning on getting off the beaten path.
Pros: Gives you a great overview of where to go and what to do once there.
Cons: Short on history and culture info.
Well researched travel information
This is the business' grand old man established way back in 1924. The force has always been South America, but today more than 150 countries are available. A very well researched guidebook with an emphasis on the practical stuff of how to get there, where to stay, eat, shop, etc. with a wide range covered and budgets to suit. The guidebook covers both the main sites as well as things and places well off the beaten track with plenty of maps to accompany you.
Pros: Your life line while travelling.
Cons: Light on background and site information.
For the upscale traveller
This is the American Frommer's attempt to create a have-it-all guide. The audience aimed at is the better off travellers, even business travellers, with a liking for outspoken opinions and resultant advice. They certainly won't try and turn you into an edgy traveller even offering recommendations on all-inclusive package deals. If you are within the target group, you will get a brick of a guidebook with a neat and clean layout.
Pros: In-depth food section with many recommendations.
Cons: Can be skimpy on travel details and the maps are poor.
The classic guide
This is the guide that takes you through a country's history, culture, religion, geography etc. in an inspiring picture dense manner. A very nice feature is that all sites mentioned in the text appear with a number/letter that is easily visually located within one of the many included maps. It is a guide that is best read before the trip from the softness of the couch or for travellers on a tour.
Pros: A visually pleasant and attractive guide to the whole country and its well known sights.
Cons: Somewhat "Old skool" in style and many of the pictures are not from yesterday.
For the young at heart
The American published Let's Go guide's self-proclaimed title of being the backpacker bible might not be entirely true other than it is surely being aimed at backpackers. As was the case 50 years ago, every guidebook in the series is still researched by students bestowing thus its necessary credo and appeal to the young traveller, as well as the young at heart traveller .
Pros: The only true backpacker guide today.
Cons: Seems to be outdone by other guidebooks in terms of actual information and maps.
The travel bible
LP hardly needs any introduction. It is THE travel bible and for a good reason. Well organized, seductive layout with text boxes, a lot of very good maps, acceptable amount of background information and a great range of options for things to eat, do, and see. It is especially strong on the getting around information. This guidebook is the benchmark in the business and is for a good reason the most used guidebook.
Pros: You know what you get, and that's high quality.
Cons: Their success suffocates their recommendations on anything, and the few pictures can seem lame considering they own an image stock agency.
Less known in-depth guides
From a small publishing company based in Hong Kong, this range of destination guides cover an unusual mix of less known destinations such as Kamchatka and Uzbekistan and major tourist magnets like New Zealand and Egypt. The guide's strength is the background information on history, culture, local customs etc. sufficiently complemented by a decent amount of practical travel info and inspiring pictures.
Pros: Information on sights in-between the key sights - something rarely found in other guidebooks.
Cons: Few destinations offered and not many bookshops stock them.
Strong on North America and the Pacific
Moon travel guides cover Europe, Asia, Australia, the Pacific and the Americas with an emphasis on the last two. They normally have an adventurous twist, be it trekking, biking, skiing or some other active stuff. Their sleeping section extends sometimes all the way down to rock bottom, with camping options for those carrying a tent. Their guidebooks are often written by one single author, which means style and quality varies from guide to guide.
Pros: Excellent layout with quality maps.
Cons: Lack of practical information on getting around.
National Geographic traveller
Eye candy before the trip
Another spin-off from the guys with the great pictures. This is more armchair reading than a practical on-the-road travel guide. The focus is not on real in-depth travel info, rather it is an innovative guide triggering the travel bug in you. It includes a nice not-to-be-missed list and similar neatly structured tips useful for the travel planning. Do we need to mention that the pictures are superb?
Pros: Great visual inspiration with some of the best travel pictures.
Cons: Only a few destinations in the series and they are not going to help much with any practical stuff.
Well written guides for grownups
What started out as a backpacker guide is today a bit less rough. It is a heavy guidebook with many pages that are stuffed with excellent information especially useful when planning. The well researched background info is neatly incorporated into sections with listings of the typical travel information such as where to eat, sleep, drink, shop, etc. The range of destinations covered is wide, but it does stick to the more popular ones. It is a guide that is meant to be read and not just used as a reference book.
Pros: Detailed information on almost everything in most places.
Cons: Not easy to use as a reference guide.
Journey guides for adventurous travellers
Trailblazer publishes out of the ordinary guidebooks including guides for train journeys around the globe, trekking and walking, and perhaps unsurprisingly, remote and unusual regions and places are their specialty. The guides are packed with all kinds of maps in addition to the practical travel information and typical background stuff. There is even a handful of pictures (both color and b/w) to purely inspire. They are particularly known and famous for the Trans- Siberian Handbook and The Silk Road guide.
Pros: Considered as one of the best guidebook, if they cover where you are going, that is.
Cons: Not frequently updated and some city maps can be a bit too simplified - but then there are many of them.
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