Worth the weight?
Travel guidebooks are heavy, expensive, mostly out-of-date, full of useless information, and lack personality. But that doesn’t mean they’re useless. In many ways, they’re still better than travel blogs.
The deeper I’ve sunk into the world of travel blogging myself, the more I’ve realized that to be the case.
So here’s why if you’re a savvy traveler you might want to second-guess what you read in travel blogs and consider forking over some dough for travel guidebooks instead.
Why Travel Guidebooks are Better than Travel Blogs
Travel Guidebooks actually need to be helpful to win you over
If guidebooks are unhelpful, they’ll go out of business because readers will stop buying them.
If travel blogs are unhelpful, they can still get tons of readers and make money.
This is because, for travel bloggers, the games to be won are improving search engine ranking and increasing social media following. And being helpful to readers isn’t mandatory for winning these games. It helps for sure, but more important is strategically playing the algorithms and using psychological techniques to snag your attention.
Speaking of getting your attention…
Travel Guidebooks don’t trick you for clicks
Clickbait titles and listicles are terrible.
If you don’t believe me, read these, “10 shocking ways clickbait titles are secretly killing you.”
I despise these practices… But I take part in them too.
A travel blogger who doesn’t use clickbait titles is like a Tour de France bike racer who doesn’t take steroids: Doomed. If they want to win, they have to swallow their integrity and do like the others to keep up.
Guidebooks don’t need to use the same dirty tactics. They’re not vying to get the attention of readers, but to keep their attention, so their priority is quality content over seductive headlines.
Travel Guidebooks are easier to read
Travel blog posts are all too often hastily put-together, poorly-written, and excessively-long mishmashes of information. Any structure they may have is for search engines’ benefit first and readers’ second (or it’s another freaking listicle.)
On the other hand, travel guidebooks are professionally edited to ensure they are concise, clear, and easy to read.
Travel Guidebooks don’t spit regurgitated tips at you
If we were to survey travel bloggers on how they decide where to go and what to write about, I bet 90% or more would say they use other travel bloggers posts.
Here are the gory details: Travel blogger A visits somewhere for a couple days, becomes an “expert,” then spits out a bunch of heavily edited photos and breathless tips. Blogger B finds and swallows up A’s post, does the same stuff, then spits out their own bigger and “better” post. Then come bloggers C-ZZ, who swallow up both A and B’s stuff, and spit out more of the same. And so grows the snowball of regurgitation.
Travel guidebook writers dodge the snowball of regurgitation and help readers do the same. They seek tips from local insiders instead of other bloggers and are from or live in the locations they write about.
Medellin, Colombia’s Pueblito Paisa is an example of an unworthy attraction that has been engulfed in the snowball of regurgitation. (Photo from Flickr)
Travel Guidebooks provide you with researched facts
Guidebook writers do the hard, unglamorous, and un-Insta-worthy work of researching the history, cultural facts, and practical information about the places they write about. While these might not be the first pages you flip to, you’ll eventually get around to reading them and finding some interesting and helpful nuggets.
Travel bloggers generally don’t bother researching or providing such facts. The farthest they’ll go is to pull a cursory tidbit or two from Wikipedia. It’s not worth their time to do any more than that. They can’t beat more academic sites in the search rankings, and even if they could that traffic isn’t easily monetizable anyways.
Travel Guidebooks don’t require batteries or WiFi
You don’t need an explanation of why this is a good thing.
Travel Guidebooks aren’t distracting
Travel guidebooks don’t harass you with pop-ups trying to get you to like their Facebook page or give them your email.
They also don’t require you go online to read them, so you’re at no risk of falling down any internet wormholes.
Travel Guidebooks aren’t trying to suck more money out of you
Once a guidebook is in your hands, the writers’ and publisher’s job is done. They have your money. They sit back and hope you appreciate it so you get another one for your next trip and tell others to buy them too.
Travel bloggers are the opposite. It’s only once we’ve managed to snag your attention that we do whatever we can to get into your wallet. We try to direct you to hotels, tours, and stores that pay us commission or convince you to buy our own stuff.
And if we’re getting paid by advertisers or affiliates, our loyalty inevitably sways towards them and away from you the reader. We’re only human.
This means that if the truly best place to stay in town isn’t part of Booking.com or Expedia’s affiliate program, we might recommend another that is to get your money. We might also recommend you stay at more expensive places so we earn higher commissions or at hotels we’ve already taken money (or free stays) from.
Travel Guidebooks help you discover less-touristed attractions
Travel blogs have little incentive to write about less-touristed attractions and locations because people don’t search for them online. No searches means no traffic, which means no money, so they focus on the most well-known and highest-searched places.
Most of travel guidebooks’ pages are dedicated to the same areas and attractions, but they’re more comprehensive so they also contain sections places you wouldn’t otherwise know to look for. That’s the upside of them being so big and heavy!
For example, when Kim and I were traveling in the Philippines, I read in my Lonely Planet guide about a secluded beach town called Ocam Ocam. There were only a couple paragraphs about it but looked interesting, so I googled it and found…
Not a single blogger (in English at least) had written about Ocam Ocam. We “took the risk,” went anyways, and ended up having quite the adventure—one we would never have had if we only relied on bloggers.
The Best Way to Have a Great Trip
Both travel guidebooks and blogs are deeply flawed (and don’t get me started on TripAdvisor). But that doesn’t mean you should ignore either entirely when planning your trip. Just beware of their downsides and don’t over-rely on either.
Most importantly, do your own thing.
Make your own discoveries by exploring beyond what the guides tell you. Ask locals for their tips when you’re there and follow your instincts and curiosity. Form your own opinions instead of being influenced by others’ and experience an authentic, one-of-a-kind trip.
**This was a joke. See what I mean about clickbait? Now go back to reading.