The Art of the Travel Guide

“I’m certain of one thing – there will always be travel.” Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet guides*.

When I book a new trip, the first thing I do is source a travel guide for my destination and by today’s screen-dependent standards you could say I’m a little old-fashioned – having a hard copy guide is a must. In the weeks (or sometimes months) before I set off, my new guide sits appealingly on my coffee table where I can delve into it for a spare moment. And even if I have no imminent travel plans, whenever I visit a bookshop I never leave without browsing their travel section. With shelves literally teeming with inspiration, by the time I’ve left there are at least ten new places added to my dream destination list!

Having a travel guide certainly fuels that excited pre-trip anticipation and if I happen to be apprehensive about travelling somewhere solo, my travel guide introduces and acquaints me with the unfamiliar place at the other end of my journey. Whether it’s a short mini-break or a longer trip, for me, one of the most important aspects of travelling is the time I take to familiarise myself with that destination. Reading up a little on the history before I go, and even after I’ve returned, gives my experiences of the culture, people, events, entertainment and sights a lot more context.

I once worked as an editor for a travel guide publisher and I’ve retained an interest in the rise, stagnation and rejuvenation of the travel guide market in recent years. I’m happy that the talk of uncertain times – particularly in the aftermath of the global economic downturn, when falling sales threatened sustainability – has been replaced with the welcome return to form for the travel guide with increasing sales and healthy competition among publishers. And thanks to that competition, there is more variety than ever when you search for a guide from those crammed bookshop shelves or browse online.

Personally I tend to pick guides that are compact in size and weight, and of course good value for money. I don’t buy bigger guides which, no matter how well written and helpful they may be, I might only use briefly on a weekend break. I also don’t want to lug a heavy guide around with me while I play tourist, or have something in my hand that so obviously brands me as an out-of-towner. I like a neat, easy-to-reference guide, one that has a useful map which isn’t larger than my own body when I open it out in full and, most importantly, covers places and itineraries that suit my trip and personality.

I now have a flourishing collection of travel guides for my bookshelf; each one has pride of place as a memento from my trips. Even after I’ve returned I love browsing through them; sometimes I want to find out more about somewhere I visited which I perhaps didn’t have time to fully absorb when I was actually there and other times I just want to reminisce. I like to loan them out to friends if I can and I love the fact that my little guide will make several journeys to the same place with different people creating their own travel memories.

The list below details all of my favourite travel guide brands. Each one offers something a little different, yet they all add so much value to a trip. As I always say though, it’s nice to not strictly follow the tourist trail your guide will direct you towards – remember that your guide is exactly that: a guide. Don’t be afraid to pick and choose from what you read about to suit your interests – just because something is described as a “must-see” doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be for you. And remember to be wary of restaurant reviews in particular; from my own experiences often when a place is listed in a guide it sometimes becomes overly popular and touristy, taking away from what made it unique and interesting in the first place. Keep your eye out for other places, more local places, ones you won’t find in your guide – they often offer the most surprising and alternative experiences that no travel guide can ever find for you.

Until next time. . .

Emma @theartoftravellingsolo

Lost In

I am besotted with the Lost In series, so much so, I am attempting to amalgamate their full collection of books for my travel guide shelf – Vienna, Berlin, Stockholm and Paris so far. For a city-break enthusiast like myself, I love this sort of travel book. I say book because Lost In doesn’t quite establish itself in the traditional travel guide genre.

Each one brings together interviews with prominent locals artists, chefs, fashion retailers and creatives who offer their insider tips and knowledge, as well as that unique perspective on their home city that you won’t find in regular guides. I sometimes pick up a Lost In to complement a more practical travel guide and I like to read it during my evenings while on holiday, absorbing the stories and transcripts of the discussions with characters rooted to the charm of the city I am visiting.

The Lost In series doesn’t have the maps and more mundane information about a city that you will find in other travel guides, but nonetheless there are some real gems to be found especially if you like to go a little off the tourist track and live more like a local as I do. They are also lovely keepsakes that you can revisit long after your trip. It says a lot that I want to travel anywhere that Lost In has produced a book for, just so I can have every edition!

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Visit lostin.com/

 

Lonely PlanetIMG_1223

When I worked in the travel guide business, Lonely Planet were top rivals and I have a suspicion they still are for most travel guide publishers – the range and scope of their guides is simply astounding and they do what they do, very well. LP guides are affordable, contemporary, constantly evolving and backed up by a wealth of online resources to help you plan your perfect trip.

I am a big fan of their small pocket guides that fit easily into my day bag while out and about. Their maps are coherent and I find them much easier to use than others. LP also offers an array of ebook downloads if you prefer to carry your travel guide electronically and despite my love of an actual hard copy, there have been times where it has been incredibly efficient to download just a chapter or two from a guide to suit my travel itinerary – as I said, there’s no point lugging around unnecessary weight, no matter how much I want to build up my collection!

Because of LP’s popularity, I have sometimes found that if something (particularly a restaurant) is written about with great enthusiasm by their local author, it then becomes overrun by a wave of tourist popularity – sometimes to the detriment of its original “hidden gem” status because, well, it’s no longer hidden. In general though, you can be certain that given the array of content in each LP guide, there will always be a perfect alternative.

Visit lonelyplanet.com

DK

DK’s reputation for quality travel guides is rightly founded on their beautifully illustrated books, which no rival travel publisher has quite been able to match to date. Although synonymous with the more traditional travel guide, one that particularly appeals to a slightly older audience of travellers, I have to say I really like their newly relaunched Top 10 guides which are smartly laid out, easy to use and offer some of the best pull-out maps you’ll find on the market.

At just £7.99 they are a great price especially because of their high print standard and durability, giving them longevity conducive to an extended life on your bookshelf, long after a journey is complete. Their recently redesigned website is also a bonus travel resource to accompany their extensive collection of print guides.

Visit dk.com/uk/travel/

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Timeout

Timeout has a superb range of guides that stand out for their in-the-know content about everything and anything happening in the trendiest cities on the planet. Perhaps not the type of guide that you’ll keep on your shelf forever (Timeout doesn’t quite match the glossy pages and covers of DK say), plus their content changes quite frequently, but they are still great guides for one-off use and to pass on to friends. With easy-to-find information on the best restaurants, neighbourhoods and entertainment events, Timeout is perfect for the modern city traveller.IMG_1224

I do think other guides give a better backstory and history to the culture of a place, but for those who want their travel info served fresh, fast and with no frills (there’s a Ryanair pun in there somewhere I’m sure!), then Timeout fits the brief. Their fantastic website covers most major cities and is unrivalled in terms of the continual updates they post on what’s trending right now in their cities of choice.

Visit timeout.com/city-guides/

36 Hours

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36 hours fly when you are just stopping by a destination or en route to another location. Personally if I’m only going to be somewhere for a short time I want to cut to the chase about where to stay and explore, what art to see, where I should shop and of course what and where I should eat.

The 36 Hours series of travel guides are published by TASCHEN (one of my all-time favourite publishers of beautiful books on fashion, design and lifestyle) and are inspired by the popular New York Times column, proving that a journey doesn’t have to be long to be memorable.

I adore their cover art, photography and illustrations and I hope they will continue to expand their travel series in the future. These books are the epitome of what I love about travel guides – the potential they offer to inspire, intrigue and ultimately romanticise the very idea of travelling somewhere, exploring a new location and everything it has to offer. Definitely one for the permanent collection.

Visit taschen.com/pages/en/search/36-hours

Fodor’s

Fodor’s boasts guides to over 7,500 destinations all of which are available in paperback for traditionalists like myself, or ebook format for the more digital savvy traveller.

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Their latest guide launch, 25 Best covers some the world’s top city destinations with handy “25 of the best. . .” lists. The colourful photography and maps are ideal for travellers interested in owning a guide that balances a vast combination of itineraries and destinations to suit all budgets and preferences. Their website is also a fine travel resource tool and worth a glance for some inspiration and planning advice if you need it.

Visit fodors.com

Rough Guides

Another no-frills series, Rough Guides have a backpacker-orientated feel to them but nonetheless even though I’m slightly past that phase of my travelling life, I still enjoy their series of guides which cover nearly every destination imaginable. Their layouts and illustrations are straightforward and you’ll be certain to find expert advice for the budget-conscious, yet inquisitive traveller.

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Rough Guides has one of the best social media platforms around to accompany their traditional printed guides, mainly because their market is made up of travellers who have been born and bred in the digital age – a new wave of adventure seekers who want to source their travel information quickly via the web, Twitter or Facebook say. They have great articles written by a wide network of authors and whatever you are interested in, you’ll be certain to find something of use on their website or Twitter feed.

Visit roughguides.com

 

Wallpaper City Guides

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© PHAIDON 2017

Phaidon is one of the top international publishers of sleek and contemporary books (mainly in the art, design, food, fashion and architecture genres) and their travel series Wallpaper City Guides match their persona perfectly. The stylish Pantone covers were in themselves enough to hook me when I first discovered them and I would line my travel guide shelf with the full collection if I could!

What’s more, these guides lie more in the realm of the Lost In series that I boasted about earlier. They are less traditional in their approach to travel writing and offer more of a local experience for city travellers. I am a huge fan of their knowledgeable emphasis on contemporary design and architecture, as well as how they showcase the coolest retail outlets and art exhibitions around town – all things that sit highly on my wish list no matter where I go.

Their series covers over 100 destinations and I want every one of them!

Visit uk.phaidon.com/apps/wallpaper-city-guides/

 The Monocle Travel Guide Series

I’ve discovered this series relatively recently after finding a copy in my Airbnb room in Vienna last year. What I love about the Monocle guides is that they offer you the chance to be a local for however long you are visiting. They detail the little things that are unique to a place and its people as well as what and where is trending among those in the know; along with some of the more traditional experiences that shouldn’t be missed.

In essence, they offer those insider tips and knowledge that you often won’t get elsewhere. Monocle guides are much more specific about the great shops and restaurants that shun the usual crowded alternatives and overall one of these guides will expertly show you that even if you are somewhere you’ve been to before or think you know, there is always, always, more to discover.

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Visit monocle.com/shop/books/travel-guides/

Not For Tourists

I have started using the London version of Not For Tourists because it offers some fabulous secret destinations and hangouts even I as a resident have never heard about. Covering mainly North American destinations, Not For Tourists is a great resource if you are going to the States and they have some guides for key European cities like Paris and London.Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 12.43.08

© Not For Tourists Inc

What you’ll find with these guides is that they are designed for people who live in those cities and so their tips, tricks and reviews are sourced for locals meaning you’ll definitely be in touch with the latest happenings in some of the most fast-changing environments. Their city maps are a handy resource to download to your phone before you travel.

Visit notfortourists.com

 

Cereal guides

Cereal is a sophisticated and modern magazine that I occasionally treat myself to and I was delighted to come across their equally suave set of city travel guides recently.

Again these guides offer a different take on some of the best-known city locations and I hope they intend to expand on their current small collection. The magazine itself is published twice a year and has city-specific chapters with stories about local people, places and products that make for a fascinating read if it’s somewhere you intend to travel to, have been to, or perhaps never thought of going to. Their style of photography and writing is slick and contemporary – exactly what suits the modern traveller, solo or not.

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© CEREAL

Visit readcereal.com/city-guides/

What about you… what’s your favourite go-to guide for planning your travels?

 

  • The Guardian February 2017

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