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Book or e-book… which travel guide are you?

Our Mexico, Central America and Columbia Lonely Planet guidebooks have just arrived in the post – and with a clear blue sky above us for the first time in weeks here in the south of Germany, mirroring the images inside – it’s an understatement to say that we’re slightly excited about the next chapter in our journey. The Americas!!

Pulling the wrapping apart and smelling the paper, running our fingers over the glossy covers and taking in all that colour…. just can’t fail to excite. Within those pages are all the information we need to at least give us the basics of our next destination, and in combination with the internet, we shouldn’t need any more guidance – truly independent.

 

Our Mexico, Central America & Columbia guidebooks have arrived!
Our Mexico, Central America & Columbia guidebooks have arrived!

 

We’ve relied pretty heavily on traditional guidebooks for almost all of our travels over the years; South America, Australia, New Zealand, India, Indonesia etc. the list goes on, but although we love using conventional books – we even send them home when we leave a country and keep them as a memento to the trip – there is a price to pay for this love of the printed page….. weight and space!

 

Walking to Jaco island, East Timor with our reasonably sized backpacks, usually around 12kg in weight.
Walking to Jaco island, East Timor with our reasonably sized backpacks, usually around 12kg in weight.

 

With these three new books just arrived, we’ll be lugging around an extra 1.7 kgs of paper on top of our usual luggage. Not an awful lot between two people, but even so that’s quite a lot of weight and space that we have to pack into our fairly small bags! Wouldn’t it just be so much better to use e-books?

In principle there are so many benefits to using an e-book to a traditional guidebook, the costs to start with, as a download is usually much cheaper than buying a regular book, plus the fact that you can store loads of e-books on your tablet without adding extra weight or taking up extra space in your luggage, especially if you only have carry-on bags. Then there’s all the great features that come with an e-book such as the search functions, bookmarking and interactivity; all in all it makes for a good option. But as we recently discovered on our trip around Japan, Korea and Nepal, using an e-book just wasn’t as good (for us) as a good old fashioned paper one.

 

Silke amongst giants in Nepal.
Silke amongst giants in Nepal.

 

We bought e-books for Japan, Korea and Nepal as it was much easier to buy them online and download them directly to our device rather than traipse around foreign cities looking for English versions of them (another plus for buying an e-book) but although there are so many plus points to going digital, we had a few issues that led us to return to the good old printed copies.

There were two main problems that we had;

One. Finding what we wanted. It’s one thing to sit in your hotel room and casually swipe through the pages of your e-book looking at the next day’s destination. But being on a crowded street or subway trying to scroll through lists of paragraphs clicking fiddly links whilst looking for specific pages and information when you need them most, we found to be much more time consuming and difficult than simply having a book with a bookmark in at the right place.

Which brings us to the second problem we had with our e-book – security. Well perhaps not ‘security’ as such, but we often find ourselves in more ‘off the beaten track’ places when we need the help of our book the most, and a lot of the time especially in poorer countries it just felt risky or just too flashy to pull out an iPad on the corner of a dodgy street in Kathmandu for example, and start searching for a map or whatever, where a paper book would have been far less conspicuous and much more appropriate.

 

The crowded backstreets of Kathmandu. Not always ideal for getting out your iPad.
The crowded backstreets of Kathmandu. Not always ideal for getting out your iPad.

 

Of course there are also advantages to carrying no guide book at all, we’ve met many travellers who hate using guide books. Of course you probably won’t end up at all the same places as everyone else and you don’t have to carry anything around with you, and can invent an itinerary all of your own, but for us personally, we love to have a simple, well researched book that we can dip into when we need it – which is usually helping to guide us to a random corner of a random city looking for a random piece of architecture or market.

 

Without our guidebook we would never have found this street market in Surabaya Indonesia.
Without our guidebook we would never have found this street market in Surabaya Indonesia.

 

Perhaps it’s just a romantic notion, but apart from the practical reasons of using paperback books, maybe one day when we slow down, we’ll have a shelf full of dirty, dog-eared guide books to help remind us of the places we’ve been to, and perhaps it’s for this reason that for now, we’ll put up with carrying that extra weight in the bags.

 

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