Getting Around the Guidebook: Techniques for Researching your Trip Without Spending a Fortune

by Nora Dunn on 14 April 2008 8 comments
Photo: Jon Nicholls

If you are planning a big trip with multiple countries on the itinerary, purchasing a guidebook for each one of them can get pricey. Not to mention the fact that you’ll be spending a lot of time reading and researching your destination next. If only you could find everything you specifically want to know in one or two places…wait a minute…you can!

 

Tourism Boards

It’s a beautiful thing. Tourism bureaus are entirely dedicated to showcasing a country or city to the public to increase and sustain the tourism industry. They exist to promote local businesses, and in my experience the staff are very friendly and accommodating.

If you don’t want to wait until you land to visit the bureau, they have more than enough information to get you started online. You will learn about culture, customs, visa requirements, places to stay, eat, and see. Many will also facilitate the booking process for you too.

 

Where to Find Tourism Boards Online

You can find the local tourism bureau a few different ways:

 

Insider’s Tip:

Look for the “press” or “media” links on these websites. These sections are developed to assist visiting media in streamlining their trip and provide useful research information to fill out their articles or videos. It’s often a little tricky to find, but the search is well worth it.

It is here that you will often find consolidated fact sheets with a lot of the information you’ll want to make your trip all the more fulfilling. You’ll also find press releases, interesting news pieces, links, and “insider” information.

 

 

Convention & Visitors Bureaus

These organizations are loosely associated with the tourism offices, and are another great resource for unbiased information on your destination. They are often not-for-profit establishments, and can be connected to the business improvement associations in the community.

Again you will find lots of useful information and links plus some insiders tips. Their focus is a little more specialized as they concentrate on exhibitions and conventions. But all convention attendees from out of town need to know where to go on their free time, and these sites can provide some great tips.

 

How to Find Convention & Visitors Bureaus Online:

  • Perform a google search for the destination + convention & visitors bureau (eg: Thailand + convention & visitors bureau)
  • Visit the Directory of Worldwide Bureaus

 

 

International Destination Marketing

This is a resource associated with convention & visitors bureaus. It consolidates information about bureaus around the world, and also provides some handy resources on your destination of choice.

If you click on the Travelers section, you will find the Official Travel Guide, with lots of useful information for your trip, ideas, and even portals to booking elements of your trip.

 

 

About.com

I have recently discovered About.com as a research mechanism, and am consistently impressed with the depth of information provided. Their travel section is quite comprehensive, and allows you to find information according to location, but also according to your activities of choice or the type of travel you enjoy.

I am planning an upcoming trip through Southeast Asia, and through research on About.com, I have added a few new items to my itinerary, including a summit climb of Mt Kinabalu (SE Asia’s highest mountain)!

 

 

The above tools will provide a lot of what you would find in a guidebook, but without the author’s biases or inconsistencies. Feel free to plan an existing trip, pick your next destination, or just plain daydream. You can print off what you need for the road, including maps, fact sheets, and language primers. You can also book trips, get ideas, and step off that plane in the know and ready to conquer the world.

 

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Guest's picture

I've had a great experience with WikiTravel. It often has the favorite "locals" restaurants, and gives a great run down on the basics of a destination.

Guest's picture
Alli

Why not even check the guidebooks out from your local library? When we went to Europe a few years ago, my mother checked out books on London, Paris, Germany, Spain, and Austria, and took them to Europe with us. If you misplace them, you'll just buy them from the library, and if you don't, you've just saved yourself the money!

Guest's picture
Guest

I did the same thing a number of years ago. I lived in Germany as a soldier and I used the library on base to do my research for all my travels in Europe. I used to check them out and even use the included maps. I saved a lot of money doing this. Of course now with the internet and a printer you can take all the info with you. But back then the frommers and boris were a must.

Guest's picture
MsKyle

I don't know -- if I'm going to another country, and spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to fly there and stay there and sight-see, I'd rather have information from a trusted independent source than a tourism board or convention bureau that will push the sites of their biggest advertisers and moneymakers. And although websites like About and Wikitravel are very useful, they're hard to consult once you're actually on vacation unless you have internet access while you're away.

Obviously guidebooks are biased in their own ways, but I'm willing to pay $20 (think about it -- that's 1% of the price of a $2000 trip) even a few times over to get reliable, portable information. And if your public library has up-to-date guidebooks (mine has a great travel books section) you don't even have to pay the $20, you can get the information for free (so long as you don't accidentally drop that guide to Venice into the Grand Canal).

Right now I'm planning a trip to Switzerland for this summer, and I'm consulting a lot of online and print sources (I've bought one guidebook and checked out three others from the library so far). Plus I'm taking recommendations from friends and family who have visited the region before. I'll definitely be taking at least one or two of those guidebooks with me when I go, and I'll consider that money (and luggage weight) well spent.

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Jenny

I always consult virtualtourist.com and tripadvisor.com before and during holidays. The forums are particularly useful as locals and people who know the area can answer the questions that guidebooks can't.

Guest's picture
Guest

For every one of my international trips I have used Trip Advisor (tripadvisor.com) to find places to stay and how to get from point A to B. I would highly recommend them because it is a site driven by people like us who are looking for some honest reviews and comments. If you have a particular question you can post in forum or look at past forums to help you make decisions.

Guest's picture
Barbara

I am a big advocate of checking out the US Dept of State travel warnings before going on a trip. Getting guide books, either at a cheap price or searching online various places still doesn't give you up-to-the minute warnings. Doesn't usually take more than a couple minutest to peruse the site.

as far as guide books go, the Access travel series is nice because it's a street-by-street guide of major cities, and all of the restaurants, shops, museums, etc are submitted by people who've been there. Not too expensive either.

Guest's picture

Nora, the problem with all of your suggestions is that they're all mainstream and are aimed at the masses. If people are relying on a brochures they're picking up at tourism offices and convention bureaus, they're going to be going where everyone else is going and only getting the "touristic" experience.

I disagree with using the press information too. I look at this stuff all the time (I'm a travel writer) and generally it's only more mainstream suggestions presented as insider advice.

Wiki, ditto, is mainstream, aimed at everyone, and the sources aren't always reliable. I can't tell you how many times I've found inaccuracies in relation to destinations I know intimately.

And as for your state department warnings, most of the time they're wrong. They try to play it too safe. The FBI site is another that's full of inaccuracies, it's laughable.

As for tripadvisor... you can't trust everything you read... you need to make sure that the person who's opinion your trusting has the same kind of taste and preferences to you. And how do you know they know what they're talking about? How can a person who only goes on holidays for 2 weeks of the year 'know' travel? compared to say a professional travel writer who stays in hotels for 300 nights of the year. I'm sorry, but I'm going to go with the professional over the amateur for travel advice, just as I would for advice regarding my health, my car, my finance, etc.

And by saying this I'm not saying 'guidebooks rule'. They don't - always. They can often be out of date. The author who writes one may have vastly different standards of taste to another, may not be as thorough at updating as another, may have no attention to detail and no skills at discernment. With any guidebook - just like with tripadvisor - you need to make sure you 'click' with the author, that you like the same kind of restaurants, the same kind of hotels, the same sorts of sights, etc.

But it's that taste, strength of opinion and skills of discernment that I want - what you call "biases" - who really wants bland information? Who really wants to be sent to a place that every other tourist is sent to so that you're sitting in a restaurant that has no character and personality and is only full of other tourists?

That's why my main resource - as both a travel writer and a traveller - is always locals. However, not just any locals, but locals I can trust with knowledge and expertise. So if I want to find the best restaurants, I research one restaurant thoroughly and once there - if it meets my expectations - I chat to the waiters, restaurant manager and even the chef and find out where they like to eat on their day off. At a bar, I ask the bar tender, at a boutique I like, I ask the manager or shop assistant for recommendations for other stores like that one, at an art gallery I ask for tips for other galleries showing similar art, etc.

You're getting expert advice this way that's also free and at the same time you're getting to meet fascinating locals. Stay clear of the tourist offices and guidebooks, and simply talk to knowledgeable, friendly locals. And you'll make friends along the way!