03 October 2010

Guidebooks vs the web

Guidebooks – past their use-by date or still an important part of travelling? We never tire of debating this, especially as more apps arrive that promise to take the place of physical (and heavy) books.

I was intrigued by an article in the Observer celebrating all the wonderful apps you can use if you happen to pitch up in a place without a guidebook. The writer makes some very good points, but misses a few others. The most important is, of course, access to the web. While he mentions the fact that roaming costs are coming down in Europe, they're still terrible for European users visiting North America. And not everywhere has 3G, as I recently discovered in Montenegro. (Luckily I had my trusty guidebook to read when the hotel's dodgy internet access conked out again and again.)

If you're travelling throughout the UK and you have an iPhone, it can be enlightening and entertaining to explore a new place using only your phone (not so much on a BlackBerry, though). But when I'm walking through a continental city and I want to stop for a coffee, out comes the guidebook for a relaxing read – and one I can share with the people I'm with. I have turned up in places unexpectedly and tried to find decent maps and info on my BlackBerry, but found it a frustrating experience.

There are arguments against guidebooks, of course, one obvious one being that they go out of date in seconds. But I take great pleasure at looking at my shelves of books that remind me where I've been and where I'm off to next. As far as I know, there isn't an app for that.


  1. Benji is clearly a 'digital native' - as his piece makes clear, he's always been into the web... so I'm not surprised by the viewpoints he has. Personally, I'm with you. I like the tactility (tactileness??) of a guidebook. I like to underline stuff and flip from one page to another. I think guidebooks will change as a result of this new technology (for example fewer hotel reviews - who needs them with TripAdvisor?) but I don't think they are dead. Not by a long chalk. (Of course as someone who has written a few of them myself I am also a bit biassed!)

  2. I can see why Benji loves the web. So do I. It's incredible how much it's changed in only a few years, and how it's affected travel and made our jobs so much easier. But I don't think it can replace books now or even in the near future. There are far too many things that can go physically wrong with technology that you don't find with books (unless you drop them in a pool). TripAdvisor is handy, but it can be more annoying than helpful sometimes.

    I haven't written any guidebooks myself (thought I've edited them), but I share your bias towards them, Jeremy. Long may they continue.