Travel GuideBooks: To Read or Not To Read

Submitted by mumunmumun on 14 March 2014   •  Opinion

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I bought my first Lonely Planet guidebook in 2009. Vira, Reno, and I were going to travel through Sulawesi and I figured, we’re gonna need the Indonesian book when traveling through such a huge island that has little information online. I also thought, I might as well buy a travel guidebook as I plan to travel Indonesia for a long time. I wasn’t the only one who thought this. Almost all the travelers stripping through Sulawesi at that time had a copy in their hand.  

reading till I drop

 

Five years later, I’ve found my rhythm, especially when it comes to traveling through Indonesia. I know how to work the field on my own pace, not being ambitious, and just giving space for surprises that I meet upon each destination. I rarely touch my travel bible for traveling, let alone bring it with me on my trip. I survived and often have a blast.

Thus, it came to mind; do I still need the book? Do travelers need guidebooks? Can we be fearless on our journeys?

When it comes to traveling and guidebooks, it comes down to ‘how’. How does one travel? Are they dictated by guidebooks? Do they use guides just to estimate a rough travel plan? Are these books just their last resort? Or are these books nice additions to one’s bookshelf, which could reflect that one travels a lot? Mihihihi… . In this sense, many have debated what travel guides actually do to the whole essence of travelling.

 Various guide books

Personally, I think there’s much good in guidebooks. Not everyone has the luxury of traveling with no budget, no time limit, and no plan for that matter. Some of us need to make a living by doing our accounting, run businesses, and make our morning coffee in cafes when on the road. These are important people! Having said that, most of us travel with a plan, and a plan needs pre-departure information. Hence, the guidebook! Thanks to guidebooks, we can travel independently (without tours), have efficient travel experience, and make the most of it. Even the most advance travelers like this like to do a little research about their destination before taking off. God knows we wouldn’t wanna drink from a bowl of water purposed for washing your hands, right? You might wanna read up on how Indonesians have that bowl for that intended purpose. There are some things that we need to know before we go.

But some travelers have the tendency to follow guidebooks blindly. Many travel enthusiasts have debated that this has reduced the essence of traveling. What is the point of traveling when you have someone tell you where to go? How would you learn the culture of the people and even who you are, if you’re not letting yourself go free? Why travel the beaten path?

Traveling without a guide liberates you. You’re spreading your arms to the world, ready for whatever it brings you. You learn, adapt, and get inspired over and over again. But, there’s also nothing wrong with hunting down every information a guidebook throws at you. If you choose to follow books titled with formats like ‘Around … in/with … days/dollars’, it’s still OK. Think about it, it’s no different to those traveling the footsteps of Jesus from the bible, retracing the Silk Road, or visiting sites of a Chunking Express. It’s traveling. So, what’s the debate?

It’s all about preference. Guidebooks are guides. It helps you on you journey, just like reading about a place, reading it online, or even asking about it to the local people. The essence of guidebooks are that they help you find you way, help you with information you hadn’t already know. Whether it’s a printed book or online articles, it’s po-tay-to po-tah-to kind of thing. They don’t necessarily have to tell you what to do. Even if you do follow them blindly, it’s still legit. Whatever guide you choose, it will consequently have you miss out on the other cool things a destination is offering anyways.

 Open guidebooks

So, I ask, what is it with people that have resentment for guidebooks? I doubt there is any traveler these days that doesn’t read about their destination before their departure. Just because you don’t read them, doesn’t mean you’re without the notion of finding information before you go. If so, they are living their life through a haze or they’re on a bandwagon on somebody else that has done their homework. The use of guidebooks doesn’t degrade the essence of traveling. It’s the people that think it does, that do.

PS: For Indonesian readers, even Ahmad Yunus and Farid Gaban, the two notorious travelers and author of ‘Meraba Indonesia’, mentioned they used the Lonely Planet travel guidebook. So let that be some extra food for thought.


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