Saturday, 14 April 2012

Will We Miss Guidebooks?

For the last few years, travel guidebook publishers have been facing the fact that more travellers find their information online these days, and have been jumping through hoops to figure out new ways of publishing. In an email exchange with a new friend, Liz Cleere, when I mentioned something about this she said: 'Such a shame. Our boat is stuffed full of guide books, because even though I have a Kindle, I find a book more user-friendly when I'm trundling round a country.'

It reminded me how much I like the physical guidebook and how valuable they have been, especially when travelling in places where I really felt out of my depth - where the language and the culture have been completely new to me. I immediately thought about the Lonely Planet guide my old friend Gav and I took around Asia. It had already helped me find my way around South Korea. It was a bulky old thing - until, on a beach in Japan, a deer found it in my backpack and started eating it. Thankfully, Gav did a sort of matador impersonation with the other backpack to fend off sharp antlers and managed to gain repossession of the guidebook. The deer had only eaten North Korea, so we were saved for our journey through China.

Old guidebooks tell stories through their well-thumbed pages, the turned-down corners, the ripped-out map pages, the comments in the margins... And they can be worth their weight in gold. When you think about it, they provide extraordinarily good value. No-one's likely to steal a guidebook, where a digital device might be more tempting. Don't you think it would be a shame if we could no longer buy guidebooks?