A tale of two Guidebooks

In just under two months my partner and I will be winging my way off on a round the world trip. I’m excited and a little nervous as, in addition of my home county of Ireland, the trip takes in a lot of terra incognita or lands unknown.

Well, unknown to me. Most people would argue that Fiji, New York and Miami are very well known indeed, and that even my more off-the-beaten-path overland bus-ride from Antigua to Mexico City is well trodden – and well-written about – already.

So, what’s a booklover (and bloke) to do when they want to make the unfamiliar an exciting adventure as opposed to a cautionary tale? Reading up on it is certainly a great place to start. We’re both well travelled, and already have amassed a pretty big travel collection. Part of the fun of a holiday comes from browsing the brochures and guidebooks and travelogues of other people – the bus-ride to work on a rainy day is so much better when you’re reading of far-away lands. And, even when you are back and the last of your tan has faded, taking down that dog-eared guide that found you the best café and perfect sunset stroll brings back the best of the holiday memories in glorious colour.

So, backpacking guidebooks it is. Except for one problem.

He’s a Lonely Planet. I’m a Rough Guide.

We have this argument every time we go to buy a guide book. He favours the – to my mind – more upmarket and expensive Lonely Planets, all climbing mountains for the dawn and seafood restaurants at dusk. I like the – in his opinion – lowbrow and lively Rough Guides, which tend to list more pubs than temples and know where to find the cheapest beds and eats in any given city.

He maintains he’d rather sleep without bedbugs and backpackers cuddling their bottle of local 10% alc by volume beer to their Ripcurl tee-d chests. I maintain that the booze will kill the bed bugs and that I’d rather be learning the moves in the local bars and clubs than basket-weaving my evenings away. And we’re not the only people having this row. I had similar conversations in hostels, in hotels, at bus stops in strange countries. I once had a girl tell me, with a particularly dismissive sniff,  she was after “more of a Lonely Planet holiday” when I suggested coming out dancing with the rest of the hostel.

It’s the battle of the travel guides, and at about 40 dollars a guide, it can get pretty heated.  I’ve tried both, but I’m a Rough Guide girl. But they’re both good guides. Lonely Planets (an Aussie invention) have been running since the 70’s and appeal to the cultured and adventurous traveller, offering a blend of realism and social commentary along with information. It’s like having a debonair uncle show you around the cliques and clichés and fantastic cafes , with a comfy bed at the end of each day.

Rough Guides have been on the scene since 1982, a student scheme that became a series of witty, wacky and inquisitive guides, aiming to combine a journalistic approach to description with a practical approach to travellers’ needs. It’s like having an impoverished but enthusiastic student show you around their home city, complete with the cheapest places and bizarre local hang-outs and all the bits that the brochures don’t feature.

So, cultural odyssey or overseas adventure? Temples at dawn, or partying the night away? After a lot of fighting, only one solution is going to work – we’ll keep our options open and get both. That way we’ll have something to read (and argue) about on those long bus-rides, even if we can’t quite agree where we’ll stay when we get off the bus.

So, are you an LP girl or RG guy, or something else entirely?

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.