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A guidebook writer's guide to travel guides (cont'd)

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The Major Series

Blue Guides (
Bradt (
Cadogan (
Companion Guides (
Eyewitness (
Fodor's icon (
Footprint -
Frommer's (
Insight (
Karen Brown's (
Knopf Guides (
Let's Go (
Lonely Planet (
Michelin Green Guides [sights] (
Michelin Red Guides [hotels/restos] (
Moon Handbooks (
National Geographic (
Rick Steves (
Rough Guides (
Time Out (

Each of the many travel guidebook series out there caters to a specific audience: middle-class adults and families (Frommer's, Cadogan, Rick Steves, Moon Handbooks, Footprint), students and backpackers (Let's Go, Lonely Planet shoestring series), adult budget travelers (Pauline Frommer's guides, Rough Guides, Time Out, Lonely Planet Handbooks), and upscale travelers (Fodor's, Eyewitness).

Some focus on the sightseeing, art, and history (Michelin Green Guides, Blue Guides, Companion Guides, Insight). Others focus on hotels and/or restaurants (Michelin famous Red Guides, Karen Brown's B&B and Inns guides—though, since KB now charges the hotels she lists for placement on her Web site, the series can no longer be considered true travel guides but rather an advertising venue for a carefully selected clutch of hotels).

Some series go for glossy presentation and lots of pictures and diagrams—but often at the expense of information (Eyewitness, Knopf, National Geographic).

Others focus on a style or means of travel: driving tours (Frommer's, Passport); walking tours (the "Memorable Walks" series from Frommer's, [ City ] Walks from Henry Holt); or shopping (Frommer's Born to Shop).

Leaf through many; buy the ones you like.

You can find most travel guides at Barnes & Nobles ( If you have a hard time finding a specialty guide, try (, an association of independent travel book shops around the country. Most shops reside in major cities, and are run by inveterate travelers who have personally road-tested half the books on the shelves. Bonus: most also carry a wide selection of maps, travel gadgets, and accessories (like moneybelts and electrical adapters).

Pointers & pet peeves

People always ask me what guides I travel with. That's irrelevant (though to be fair, I will tell you in a moment). You should always pick the guide that best suits your own tastes, travel needs, and interests .

I'm a fan a family-run restaurants, modest little hotels with funky charm, history and art and cultural context, and getting to know the locals wherever I go. (I also ain't rich, so that dovetails nicely with my personal travel philosophy.) These tastes inform my choice of guidebooks.

Though as a journalist I've covered more than my share of upscale restaurants and five-star hotels, they really aren't my cup of tea (nor are they in my price range), so for personal trips I don't ever bother with, say, a Fodor's or an Access guide.

At the same time, I'm not a fan of hostels, nor of hanging out with students bent solely on partying their way through Europe, so I've no use for Let's Go and its ilk. There's nothing wrong with the student-oriented guides in of themselves—or the students for that matter; I'm just talking about the type who'd rather stay back at the hostel's pub getting drunk and hooking up with fellow travelers than head out to explore some residential neighborhood. I'm just saying the books aren't for me.  

For first-timer travelers

For first-time travelers-or for those traveling for the first time to a new destination—I recommend a one-two punch of Rick Steves and Rough Guides —the perfect combo of solid travel philosophy, good guidance on where to spend your precious vacation days, and the background and cultural context to make all those sights and museums come to life.

Personal favorites

Now I know I promised to list my faves. But I cannot stress enough the importance of buying the guide that's best for you. Remember: I travel for a living, so I have a fairly good grounding in the basics, and that also informs my own choices (as do my personal tastes, budget, etc).

That said, here are the books I tend to buy first when planning my own trips, more or less in order of preference (though, remember, I usually buy several). "H&R" stands for "hotels and restaurants."

For some destinations, certain kinds of trips, or when a title is particularly well-done, my personal second tier of choices include:

One final note: the author of any book can make a world of difference . For example, you'll notice Frommer's falls into my second tier of choices for my own travels, while Rough Guides and National Geographic are among my first choices. However, on a recent trip to Hong Kong, I discovered that the Frommer's Hong Kong was far superior and more up-to-date than either the Rough Guide, Nat. Geo. book, or Lonely Planet I also had with me.

(This realization also came as a relief to me, since the Frommer's book happens to be written by a friend of mine and I knew I'd have to tell her what I thought of it—but even if Beth weren't a buddy, I'd still heartily recommend her book over any of the others.)


Intrepid Travel

This article was last updated in October 2006. All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2010 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.