Should you take a Guidebook on a Backpacking Trip?

Should you take a Guidebook on a Backpacking Trip?

This is actually a more important question than many people realise and your answer is likely to have a huge impact on the type of trip you end up having. For probably 90% of backpackers the answer is Yes. Not only do they take them, many travellers turn their guidebook into some kind of mythical piece of literature (their Bible) and basically their whole trip is formed by the contents of it. For the other 10% (the hardcore lot), the sheer mention of the words ‘Lonely Planet’ instigates peculiar feelings of anger and contempt for anyone who thought it necessary to bring a guidebook.

lonely planet shoestring guide

The truth is there are many different types of traveller and many different approaches you can take when you head off travelling. Your decision on whether to take a guidebook depends on what kind of trip you want to have.

Think about taking a guidebook if…

You are travelling on a really tight budget.

A good shoestring guide provides you with plenty of suggestions for places to eat, drink and sleep that won’t break your budget.

You are visiting countries that aren’t typical backpacking destinations

In places popular with tourists there’s generally lots of information in English about things to do, places to see and getting around. On typical backpacker trails like the one in South East Asia, you’ll meet lots of travellers, share ideas and chances are most of them will have a guidebook you can borrow if you’re desperate. If you’re going to Kazakhstan that won’t be the case so a guidebook might be useful.

It’s your first-time travelling and you’re a bit nervous

A guidebook is a bit like a safety net that will help you out if things go tits up. First-time backpackers almost always take one, just try not to fall into the trap of using it at every mundane opportunity as you’ll miss out on many of the unexpected thrills of travel.

Which Travel Guidebooks are best?

girl reading on beach

Lonely Planet Shoestring Guides

These are handy for anyone travelling on a really tight budget and by far the most popular amongst backpackers. Lonely Planet offer regional shoestring guides for four regions which are very handy if you’re looking to get by on a tight budget. The only unfortunate irony is that although they are ‘budget guides’ they are often very expensive to buy.

Other Options

Most travellers seem to consider Lonely Planet to have the best guidebooks for backpacking. However others find their guides a bit bland and predictable. Some others to consider include:

Rough Guides




Most of the above guidebooks are available in electronic format if you prefer. Other E-travel guides that you may like include:

Funky Guides – That’s Us!

Lets Go – Student Travel guides for various world destinations.

In your Pocket – Excellent pdf city guides for Europe.

Problems to consider with getting e-books as opposed to paperback ones include the possibility of your chosen electronic device getting damaged, stolen or lost which isn’t at all uncommon when you’re travelling.

Secondly the time you need your guide most is arriving in a new town and looking for somewhere to stay. Batteries have a nasty habit of dying just as you arrive somewhere new especially if you have been listening to music or reading throughout the journey in.

Don’t take a guidebook if…

You want to interact more with locals than other travellers.

It is bizarre how many backpackers travel half-way across the world to visit countries with vastly different cultures only to spend 99% of their time with people who basically come from a very similar background to their own. Not bringing a guidebook will help stop you falling into this trap and you will end up inevitably interacting more with locals.

You want a truly unique experience.

Backpackers in South East Asia and Latin America typically visit the same places, stay in the same hostels, get drunk in the same bars and have sex with each other. Why? Because that’s what their guidebook advised them too (okay maybe not the last one but it’s an inevitable result of the first three). Sure all of this can be great fun but it’s not really much of a personal adventure when everyone else is doing the same thing. Ditch the guidebook and the trip becomes yours.

This article was published in October 2013.

  • Rhis BigLife

    I just finished the backpackers guide to south east asia. So good as a starter book. Definitely helped me with some prep!
    I’ve decided to put all travel books on my kindle 🙂