Lis’s Travel Tips Series

There used to be two fundamentals that the would-be tourist needed – a good travel agent and decent guide book. I’ve given up on the first and struggled to find a guide book that works in the Internet age. That’s why I ended up starting to write this series.

Several years ago I was planning a trip to South America – I wanted a flight from New Zealand to Buenos Aires and I wanted to try and see Easter Island, of Thor Heyerdahl and the big statues fame, on the way there or back. The travel agent called me – concerned that I wanted to stay on a South Pacific Island that her sources said had no beaches!

So  the development of the Internet did not kill travel agents – their own incompetence did that. I’d be happy to pay for a good agent that knew more about traveling and the destination I’m interested in visiting, than I did  – but that hasn’t happened for years. The Internet means that you can find almost anything – if you know how to search.

Why I Had To Write My Own Travel Guides.

Guide books have also had their moments for me. I distinctly recall walking for hours in Buenos Aires, trying to find a relatively cheap hotel as listed in the then premier guide to Argentina – not one, not three but all six of the listings I tried to find were either shown incorrectly on their map or long gone. I finally applied my intelligence and found a random hotel on a different floor (did I mention that each hotel was at least four floors up with no elevator?) which was both cheaper and more pleasant than anything I had found listed  in that guide book. I never considered a guidebook a “Bible” ever again.

Recently I bought a Kindle and found the ultimate answer for the traveler who loves to read – lighter than a paperback, robust enough to survive in my day bag, cheaper books available anywhere there is Internet, one charge lasts a  month, and can even be read in bright sunlight! So having bought the Kindle I went looking for travel guides. Bummer there weren’t many – those that existed were either a) awful cheap, barely in English with little useful information, or b) an copy of the paper version which has been dumped into the eBook format without any thought about how the reader would actually navigate and use the book on the road.

Lis’s Travel Tips feature topics and destinations that I know are popular with travelers. Typically each guide will run to the equivalent of about 50 pages – not fat by guide book standards – but how many of those page in the 1000 plus guides do you actually read? My guides don’t have long lists of restaurants and hotels – you don’t need them – the Internet will do that better than any guide, even an e-guide can do.

Why eBook Travel Guide Books Need To Be Different

So lets talk about what you need in a guidebook. Traditionally a guide book will include numerous pages of hotel and restaurant listings. After that moment in Buenos Aires I stopped slavishly following their recommendations. Instead I look for some key facts about hotels in guide book listings:

  • are there lots, or just limited accommodation options, they are all full at certain times of the year;
  • they are concentrated in a certain area;
  • they best location for those without vehicles, for those who want to be near things like nightlife, the beach, the main attractions;

Paper-based guidebooks (and I suspect the eB0ok version of the dead tree books) have a lead time of around of about two years. Hotels close, open, change their name, change the prices (usually upwards if they are mentioned in a popular guide) and their standards (usually downwards when they are mentioned in a popular guide). And then there is the quality of the review of the establishment – do you seriously think the researcher has stayed at each of the 17 accommodation options mentioned in the Patong beach section? Nope – he probably didn’t stay at any of  them. But one of my favorite hotel review sites lists over 250 hotels on the same beach -and most seems to have reviews from guests, recent guests at that.  Now there can be issues with the standards people use to judge a hotel – but when you average it over hundreds of reviews and one hotel is ranked at 8/10 and another 3/10 – which one are you going to book? How are you going to believe the guide book – which is really only one writer’s opinion – or the reviews of hundreds of guests people.

What you need to know when you arrive somewhere is what areas are there to stay in: what are the pros and cons of each areas for different types of traveler,  so you can make an informed choice on what will work for you.

If you are new to town you have probably arrived at the airport, or maybe the main bus station. You need to know how to get to where you want to go and what options you have. Once you have arrived you need an idea of what to do and where to eat and drink – but frankly most of this you will find by walking down the street and looking through the pile of maps and advertising brochures most tourist operators will give you – for free.

Well that’s what I want in a guide book anyways – and that’s what I couldn’t find – so I’m just going to have to write the book!