Guidebooks are back: a welcome return for the ultimate backpacker accessory

Posted on 22 April 2016

Hostels - Guidebooks

This is what a WINNER’S bookshelf looks like

Once upon a time, travel books – Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Fodor’s – took the world on holiday. They were the backpacker’s compass, the hosteller’s tour guide, and the sofa-traveller’s inspiration. Any time you walked into a hostel dorm, they were there.

Travel books ruled the world at the end of the 20th century, and anyone who was anyone had a bashed up, dogged-eared copy of Indonesia, Canada, Australia, Europe or Africa placed not-so-subtly on their bookshelf. The more battered yours was, the further you’d travelled and the more interesting you were.

Then the internet happened. Boom. All of a sudden, the travel guidebook was out in the wilderness. But according to media research company Neilsen, sales in the UK and the US recovered a little in 2015. Britain’s Financial Times paper reported:

UK sales of guidebooks to foreign destinations were up 4.45 per cent compared to the previous year. ... In the US, guidebook sales had fallen almost 7 per cent in 2014, but in 2015 recovered to grow 1 per cent.

Sure, it’s a small rebound. But it shows the travel guidebook is still alive, and that’s enough for us. Here’s a reminder of why good old print guidebooks rule…

1. They keep your memories alive

Your travel guidebook will stay with you for the rest of your life. Other souvenirs will come and go, but your battered old copy of your trip of a lifetime, with all the jottings in the margins and tickets shoved in the pages, will last the course. Try to beat that, Internet.

2. Got maps? They have

It’s all well and good relying on 4G … but what happens when it disappears and you have no Internet? You’re out there, alone, with nothing. How will you find your way to the hostel? Flip out your trusty travel guidebook map and follow the path … that’s how.

3. Flick, browse and stumble

Have you ever read the history bits on a web page? You go online to find out perishable info – average prices, travels costs and stuff. But do you go online to read up on the culture and history of the place you’re visiting? Probably not. Books are different. When you’re relaxing over a beer in a cute little square with just your travel guidebook for company, you’re way more likely to wander through its pages and absorb all that background information.

4. They’re an awesome convo starter

Did we say you only had your guidebook for company? Well, let’s say there’s another traveller in that cute little square, and that they have a similar guidebook in the same language, and that you suddenly realise you’ve met a fellow traveller. Bingo. Way to start a conversation.

5. Not a roaming charge to be seen

With a book, you put your money down and you get everything in the palm of your hand. No roaming charges, no internet café fees, no ranting and raving at crappy network coverage. It’s all tucked in the side pocket of your rucksack, easy to access and costing you precisely nothing.

6. It’s a book!

The smell, the weight, the… flickability. (What? It IS a word.) Books have that glorious hipster-slash-retro quality, and anyone carrying one instantly becomes much more interesting than the guy gawping at a phone. Embrace it.