That is the question.
When I started traveling, I would not have gone anywhere without a guide book. But with experience, I’m starting to think maybe they are not that essential.
WHY YOU SHOULD PACK YOUR GUIDE BOOK
MAPS – The feature I used the most on my guide book are the maps of the city. Having a really bad sense of direction, I can’t go anywhere without it (full disclosure – I can still manage getting lost with a map).
NAMES – If you go somewhere you don’t speak the language, names can sometimes feel very alien and impossible to remember. How do I know if I’m saying correctly that I want to go to Sauðárkrókur, and not actually insulting the guy ? If you have your guide book in your pocket, you can just point out at the right word.
DON’T COME HOME DISAPPOINTED – If you get home and read on a forum that right next to where you were there was that amazing event going on, or a beautiful waterfall two steps from the trail you walked on, you’re going to be mad at yourself for missing out on it. Planning is the best way to insure that don’t happen !
WHY YOU SHOULD LEAVE YOUR GUIDE BOOK AT HOME
WEIGHT – That’s an obvious one, but even the tiniest guide book will still be a weight in your backpack !
SOCIALIZING – I told you that taking your guide book will insure you don’t get lost in the cities, but maybe striking out a conversation with locals or fellow travelers will not only put you on the right track but also help you make friends !
OFF THE BEATEN PATH – The problem with guide books is that everyone have them. It is reassuring to go stay to the hostel recommended by your guide book, but keep in mind that everyone will do the same ! I’m guessing you don’t want to travel to end up in the same place than every traveller from your own country, right ?
In conclusion, I have to admit that I still love to have the guide book of the country I’m visiting with me.
First, because I love to read them when I start planning. It’s the moment when I begin to see where I’ll go and how I will get there. Planning can sometimes be almost as exciting as the travel in itself !
Second, because I like to keep my guide book afterwards. I don’t buy souvenirs or trinkets, but my shelf with my guide books is a great memory. They’re in really bad shape, the corners torn apart, full of little notes I made to myself before or during the trip. If someone asks me what places I’ve been to, I just point to the shelf !
Despite all this, I try to keep my guide book in my bag while traveling as much as possible. Sometimes the best conversation where started with a simple « Sorry, could you tell me how to get to… » !
One last tip : there is some very valuable information inside a guide book which are emergency numbers in case you get robed, get sick, have trouble with your visa, need to go back home in a hurry, etc … If you choose to not take a guide book, remember to write down those numbers and addresses somewhere else !
What is your relationship with your guide book ?