In Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day, Doug Mack takes a decades old travel guide and puts it to the modern-day test. Arthur Frommer's 1963 edition of Europe on 5 Dollars a Day (we still have several of these in our collections available for your perusal) was the book that got regular Americans, including Mack's mother, excited about crossing the Atlantic for the first time. Mack decides to use it without consulting any other guides to get a better sense of how much has changed, both in terms of recommended places to go and the price points (spoiler alert: nothing costs $5 anymore), as well as the overall cultural assumptions of Americans going abroad.
The travel guide can be a lens through which we see and experience other cultures and histories. Throughout Wrong Turns, Mack is conflicted about what he thinks he might be missing as a result of sticking exclusively to an outdated book. He also becomes overwhelmed by kitsch and tourist bait. He yearns to experience the great sights and tributes to history, but somehow without the cheapening effect of witnessing it all as just another tourist, snapping the same photos as everyone else. Towards the end of his grand tour, he seeks out suggestions online on forums and from his social media circle. But this strategy isn't quite met with success, either. In the end he finds the value in being a little lost, and not always being comfortable, as some of the most eye-opening and rewarding parts of travel.
If you are planning a trip, or want to go somewhere new but aren't sure where, you have to start with a guide book. I'm not just saying that as a librarian! There are so many different publishers of guide books, and they all have their own style and tone. Take out a few and decide which one best matches your personality, budget and sense of wanderlust.
Better yet, download them to your e-reader of choice. Chances are you will want to take your favorite guide with you. Since books can weigh down your luggage (and you wouldn't want to leave a library book in a hotel room halfway around the world) e-books are convenient and easy to carry. You can also highlight and make notes of what you want to do. Kindles and other e-ink readers are great for reading, but a tablet device will be better for viewing photographs and maps.
Whatever you do, get the current year edition if possible when looking at listings and reviews, or else double-check online before you make plans.
Berlitz / e-books
Insight Guides / e-books
Known for its language courses and learning tools, Berlitz also offers guides and pocket guides to many countries.
For the scholarly traveler who wants to know more about the art and architecture of a place than the standard guides provide, with basic travel information kept to a minimum. The first guide was London and its Environs, published in 1918 and available online through HathiTrust.
Provides slightly more depth and historical background than standard guides.
DK Eyewitness Travel / e-books available through GVRL
Highly visual guides with extensive color photos and illustrations, these guides are well suited to kids and young adults.
Fodor's / e-books
Random House's line of travel guides, written by locals and covering travel thematically as well as geographically.
Frommer's Guides / e-books
The grandfather of budget travel, as detailed above. In the essay "Eating and Sleeping With Arthur Frommer," available through New York Times (1851-2009) and her collection Wallflower at the Orgy, Nora Ephron wrote a critical profile of the man, who is still blogging about travel on his website fifty years later.
Written and updated by Harvard students, and geared toward the youthful and low-budget traveler (when hostels and dance clubs are your priorities). Guides also feature a "Beyond Tourism" chapter that lists volunteer, study, and work opportunities abroad.
Lonely Planet / e-books
The largest travel guide publisher. Covers most countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, clearly and comprehensively with low and mid-price recommendations.
Michelin Green Guides
Tourist guides with history, customs, art and culture of a place, along with highly respected recommendations and star ratings. Like the Red Guides, there is a three-star system for recommending sights: "worth a trip" to "worth a detour," and "interesting."
Michelin Red Guides
Covers restaurants and hotels; bestows their famous stars to the very best. Begun in France as a guide for motorists, sponsored by the tire company.
Geared toward the outdoorsy independent traveler, Moon started with guides to Asia and now provides ample coverage of the Americas and much of the globe.
National Geographic Traveler
Travel guides full of the gorgeous photography you would expect from NatGeo. Why even bother with the plane ticket? Most guides include suggested walking/driving tours.
Not For Tourists
While designed for residents and workers in a particular city, these guides can still be useful to tourists. Includes recommended businesses, restaurants and sights in addition to the essentials like grocery stores, parking lots, banks, and pharmacies.
Rick Steves / e-books
An American everyman and fixture on PBS stations (you can also see him on Hulu and YouTube), Rick Steves takes a easygoing and pragmatic approach to traveling Europe. His books are constantly being revised and sights re-rated (zero to three pyramids, with three being "can't miss.") Rick Steves also publishes a book on general travel skills called Europe Through the Back Door. See also Travel as a Political Act, Steves's non-guide book about why he thinks Americans should travel.
Rough Guides / e-books available through GVRL
A British series, with a slightly different perspective than American guides. Initially geared towards backpackers, now covers all budgets. Greater context on historical sights. (Rough Guide also publishes guides to culture and technology that display in these search results.)
Another British series (New Yorkers might be familiar with Time Out New York though) with an emphasis on entertainment, youth culture, and the best places to eat and drink.
Wallpaper* City Guide
Recommendations from the magazine of the same name, which is focused on design, fashion, and entertainment.
On the Web
Part of the Wikimedia Foundation family, a worldwide travel guide that anyone can edit.
After they send you your passport, be sure to check back here for foreign entry requirements, travel warnings and more from the U.S. Department of State. The Special Circumstances sections of some Country Specific Information documents contain information about attitudes, harassment, or arrests relating to LGBT travelers. Travel.State.Gov content is also available through the free Smart Traveler App for iOS and Android.
If you are going to a place where you don't speak the language, make sure to take a few lessons on Mango before you set sail (or be a procrastinator like me and take a last minute German lesson on your iPhone over breakfast, err... Frühstück.)
Where are you going, and what guide is taking you there?