To pack a guidebook or not?
This is THE great debate for those aiming to travel light.
It’s no secret that guidebooks are vessels for wanderlust, each page providing a wealth of ideas for things to do and places to see.
Yet guidebooks are heavy, cumbersome items to pack, let alone carry around with you as you explore.
Next time, instead of carrying around the extra weight that may never leave the confines of your suitcase, consider these five alternatives:
TripAdvisor is the self-proclaimed “world’s largest travel site” and “enables travelers to unleash the full potential of every trip.” Although TripAdvisor started with a website, I want to talk about its app. The website and app both have a section called “Things to do” which acts like a digital guidebook. Once you dig into “Things to do” you’ll find sites and activities grouped by categories such as Top Attractions, Top Tickets and Tours and Historical Sites.
As rad as the “Things to do” section is, it doesn’t rank as my top app feature. My favorite thing about the App is it’s offline areas. You can either search for a city on the menu screen or click on “Destination Guides” and search from there. Once you’ve located your desired city you can click the “Download” link on the overview screen to save information directly to your phone. You’ll be presented with two download options “Download Full” or “Download Basic”. Both options contain offline maps and reviews, however, the basic version will save you space by excluding photos. If downloading a whole city feels like overkill, you can save individual listings from the app that can be accessed via “My Saves.”
Pocket gives you the ability to save video, images, text and other content in a single location. The best part about it? You don’t need an internet connection to view the content you’ve saved. It works with android and apple devices, in your web browser and on Kobo e-readers. You can save content from any website, your email and a number of apps, including Twitter.
How can you best put it to use? Next time you see a blurb about a top notch restaurant, get emailed advice about a scenic beach from a friend or find a TODO list on a travel site all you have to do is save it to Pocket. It’s like having a self curated guidebook on your phone, tablet or computer.
Following along the lines of having your own portable guidebook is the Rick Steves’ Audio Europe App available for iPhones, iPads, iPod touches and Android devices. My favorite part about this app is that I can do self guided tours around many fascinating destinations. Most recently I used it in Rome while exploring the Colosseum; it completely upleveled my experience. Instead of wandering around, making guesses and crowding around what plaques I could find, I was able to put in my headphones and let the experience sink in. There are only two downsides about this app, the app’s interface takes a little getting used to and it only contains information on European destinations. I’m not-so-secretly hoping they’ll release apps that provide audio guides for other continents.
I found out about Free Walking Tours this year from another traveler and I’m so excited about them. These tours are available in many cities around the world. Often you can find their kiosk in a high traffic or touristy part of town. The signs list the departure times for the day; in my experience you can expect 2-4 tours offered each day. In some cities each tour covers the same ground; in other cities there may be several versions of the tour. The hardest part is making it to the starting location before the tour begins.
Although the tour is free, I recommend having a few small bills or coins on you to tip the tour guide at the end if you enjoyed yourself. Although, I’ve heard from other travelers that some cities do it better than others, I’ve never heard first hand of someone not enjoying a tour.
This option requires the highest barrier to entry but it’s often the most rewarding. Striking up a conversation with a stranger isn’t comfortable or natural to everyone; even for those who are on the more outgoing end of the spectrum it often feels easier to consult our handheld devices. However, we miss out when we rely solely on technology.
Next time you find yourself engaged in a conversation with someone living in the area you’re visiting, take a moment to ask them for recommendations. I found my favorite bar and restaurant in Edinburgh from our Airbnb hosts, a unique war museum and memorial from a hostel employee in Germany and the best root beer I’ve ever tasted from the captain of a river boat tour in San Antonio Texas. You never know what offbeat adventure is waiting for you if you only ask.
Bri is a storyteller, world traveler and outdoor enthusiast who trains at a circus academy in her free time. She enjoys strolling through farmers markets, researching travel hacks, geeking out about items with more than one purpose and getting lost. When she’s not living out of a backpack she calls Seattle home. Follow Bri's adventures on Instagram or her Website. Profile photo by Laura Hughes