Why do Lonely Planet readers bother to travel?

I saw them yet again just the other day. Tourists befuddled by a new destination.

Don’t get me wrong, when I go to a new place, I get confused too – but at least I try to sort myself out by chatting to the locals.

These tourists thought that Lonely Planet would cure all of their travel confusion.  How do I know what they were thinking?  Simply because they weren’t thinking!  They were walking along the street with their Lonely Planet tome open, reading the directions and not looking where they were going.  Instead of enjoying their new destination, they preferred to read about where they were, rather than to experience the place.

I must admit that I quite like Lonely Planet books.  They make for terrific reading before you head off on a trip, and before the introduction of the internet they really did contain some splendid information.  The trouble is, some people think that their Lonely Planet is a traveller’s bible, yet, they are nothing of the sort.

There was a time, many years ago now, when I was something of a specialist on travel to China.  Quite often I’d get people come into the travel agency with their Lonely Planets and would try to tell me all about China, when they hadn’t been there for themselves.  When I tried to explain that the magical dirt cheap hotel with the amazing views of West Lake was no longer there, it was now a five star international resort, because the major hotel chains know a great location when they see one, and they also knew how to grease the palms of the right party apparatchiks, I would get a look of absolute bewilderment because I dared disagree with Lonely Planet.

The problem with many Lonely Planet books, and most guide books to boot, is that they are generally out of date even before they leave the printers.  You can’t trust their quoted prices because they were what were charged years ago.  By the time a contributor does the trip, writes up the notes, submits them, gets them edited, fixes up the errors, gets the cartography and images sorted, undergoes proof reading, and finally gets the book ready for publishing, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge, and much of the stuff they’ve written about is no longer current.

Which gets me back to those who worship at the altar of Lonely Planet – why would you bother to take one with you when you travel?  Lonely Planet books are heavy, and if I was carrying a heavy backpack full of necessary items like clothes, documents, toiletries, medication and camera gear I wouldn’t want to be lugging around a whopping great book as well!  Read your Lonely Planet to do your research when planning your trip – then leave it at home.

These Lonely Planets are a public nuisance, especially when people are on the road with them.  Travellers bump into things because they are too busy following the Lonely Planet to look where they’re going.  They argue with hostels, restaurants and ticket sellers because the price has risen since their damn book was published, and they reckon they’re being ripped off!

And what’s lonely about an army of travellers wandering around exotic locales reading the same stuff? I don’t want to replicate someone else’s travel experience, thank you. I want my own experience!

Lonely Planet – it looks great on a bookshelf, but never ever consider taking it out of the house and on the road with you.

2 comments to Why do Lonely Planet readers bother to travel?

  • Fiona

    I do read the travel guides and pick out things I want to see and places I would like to go but i would have to say that some of the best experiences have been those that happened by chance.

  • Excellent comment Fiona, guide books are terrific for planning your trip. But once there, seek out local sources who have the most up-to-date information. Regards, Grumpy

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