I spent the weekend visiting a friend in Lawrence, and after lunch, we headed to Border’s to look at the travel section. Sitting on a bench directly in front of the European section, I couldn’t believe just how many travel guides there were. I don’t know how anyone could pick out a travel guide, short of throwing a dart randomly at the shelf.
There were maybe 20 different travel guides just for London, and I can bet that probably 90 percent of them tell readers to see Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Do you really need a travel guide to tell you that? You also don’t need a Paris travel guide to tell you to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.
I prefer travel guides and travel writers who give me credit for already knowing about the big tourist sites. I know that if I’m in Rome, I need to see the Vatican. But at night, after the museums close, where should I go for a drink? Where’s a good place to eat? Are there any tips and tricks on how to avoid lines, where to catch the train and when to hit the town’s flea market?
That was a major consideration when I was planning my travel magazine for the journalism elective credit. I wanted something that would give students studying abroad a taste of authenticity, telling them that they were living in these places and actively participating in day-to-day events. I wanted the magazine to take the snippets in travel guides and expand on them.
Which brings me to my personal favorite travel guide: Let’s Go. My friend and I used the European guide on our backpacking trip. It helped us find an incredible variety of non-touristy restaurants, including a beer house in Munich, a wienerschnitzel restaurant in Salzburg, a tapas bar in Barcelona and the best Italian food I’ve ever had in Florence. We learned what days to avoid hitting the museums, were warned of sites that were tourist traps and also found some great bars. While the major attractions were all covered, most of the book discussed practical considerations.
My goal when traveling is to never (or rarely) be tagged as a tourist. To me, a tourist is gaudy, rude, loud, uninformed and gawking. I had a terrible experience with a pushing, shoving and rude group of American tourists (all in their 40s and 50s) at the Vatican and swore I’d never be like that. I’ve had Britons ask me for travel advice on the Tube, and in Madrid, German hostelers asked me about places to eat, auf deutsch. I’m flattered when people assume, based on my attitude, carriage and actions, that I know what I’m doing. And a lot of that is down to knowing what travel guides cater to travelers, and which ones cater to tourists.