Many travellers see Lonely Planet as their bible. I don’t! Here are nine reasons why I don’t rely on Lonely Planet when I travel.
1. I don’t want to be a Lonely Planet Zombie
You have probably seen them. The Lonely Planet Zombies. They are everywhere. Walking around in the touristy streets of destinations all around the world. They almost run over people or get hit by cars due to that they refuse to look up from their Lonely Planet book. The travellers so dedicated and obsessed with this book that they refuse to sleep or eat anywhere that is not mentioned in it.
During my trips I have met many of these Lonely Planet disciples. In Bangkok, I saw a backpacker screaming at a receptionist: “The price should be 8 USD per night!”, while pointing at a page in his Lonely Planet book. The poor receptionist trying to explain that the prices had been 10 USD for almost one year. But the guy was so upset that he would not listen. Because, it said 8 USD in Lonely Planet; The Bible.
This is neither the first time I see people haggling, due to what they read in Lonely Planet. A little bit ironic, when using thousands of USD on flights to get to distant lands. Spreading western culture without sharing their wealth among people who could benefit from it the most. Often taking too much and giving too little. Leaving the places they visit only worse for the wear.
Another story of Lonely Planet obsessed backpackers worth mentioning, I experienced during my trip to Marrakech. We were sitting eating a delicious lunch in the main square, Djemaa el-Fna. Then, two young women walked by, one of them pointing at the restaurant where we were eating suggesting to go in. The other girl opened her lonely planet, saying “No way! This restaurant isn’t in Lonely Planet, I don’t want to get sick”.
I am just not so fan of these Lonely Planet Zombies, and therefore would not like to be one of them.
2. I distrust the authors
Do the authors actually know what they are talking about? How well do they know the country and culture? Did they even visit the place?
One former Lonely Planet authors, Thomas Kohnstamm, actually admitted that he did not always visit the places he reviewed. He states that he wrote about Colombia home in San Francisco, without ever visiting the country. Furthermore, he reveals that during his visit to Brazil he was going to review a restaurant. The waitress suggested that he should come back after she had closed down the restaurant, around midnight. When he came back, they had sex, reviewing in the guidebook “the restaurant ‘is a pleasant surprise … and the table service is friendly”.
Moreover, I have a friend that visited Bolivia for a couple of weeks. She did not know Spanish, was unable to communicate with local people and just visiting a few places in the country. Based on this she got a contract with a publisher to write a guidebook about the country. I am not sure if this qualifies for making a guidebook?
3. Travelling is about discovery
If you would have liked to do the exact same tour as a Lonely Planet author, then this book is perfect. However, for me travelling is about discovering things on my own and forming my own opinions from experiences I create.
I Jaipur I saw five other travellers, all with their Lonely Planet guide, waiting in line to check in at the same hotel. Most likely without doing any research of their own.
Usually, I arrive a city without having any hotel bookings. I often ask some local people or the taxi driver about a good and affordable place. It is always exciting to see what I get. If it is clean. If there will be cockroaches. If the staff is helpful. That being said, every time I have stayed at a hotel that is listed in Lonely Planet (actually without knowing it at first), it have been a good standard. However, the best experiences I have had, was when walking in to a random hotel or referrals from other travellers or local people.
This same applies for restaurants. I have seen restaurants that have been full every night, due to that it is mentioned in Lonely Planet. While other restaurants that were not mentioned, despite to that they have better and cheaper food, always have space. It is pretty crazy, the amount of money one business get based on one person or authors experience. I usually look for the places where locals are eating. I noticed them to usually be the best and affordable.
4. The book neglects politics
Lonely Planet usually neglects politics. For example, Sri Lanka was named the number one travel destination in the world in 2013, by Lonely Planet. This without considering the consequences of the countries tourist boom, which is helping to whitewash the reputation of the regime. Furthermore, their guide to Sri Lanka recommends three companies (Sri Lankan Airlines, Helitours, and the whale watching tours in Mirissa and ferries in Jaffna) without making any mention of the fact that these companies are owned by the regime itself. Two are owned by the military.
Moreover, they make no criticism against dictatorship. In the guides of Cuba and Burma, it just says that you should not ask people about politics. As the local people do not like to talk about it. However, my experience from Cuba was that most people did not have a problem talking about politics. Many actually like to share their view to get out the truth of how it really is to live in such regimes.
5. Paying for print
Another reason to ditch the guidebooks and Lonely Planet is the practice of paying for print. Hotel, tour agencies and restaurant all over the world pay for remain in the guidebooks. In India, a hostel owner told me that he sent money every year to a writer so his establishment would remain in a guidebook.
6. The book is not up to date
A up to date guidebook is impossible. Look at the date on yours. If you are lucky, it is only a year or two old. Or is it really? Find a copy from 10 years prior and you will probably find out that the book has not been re-written, just edited with a few fancy new photos.
Also prices goes up. Many people complain that the prices in Lonely Planet are not correct. It is normal that prices goes up as a country develop. However, once a hotel or a restaurant gets listed in the Lonely Planet, it often raises prices knowing that it will have tourists coming due to the recommendation.
7. Increases the chance of being robbed
The first rule I learned when travelling to distant countries was that if you would like to avoid being robbed or tricked, do not stand in the street with a guide book. This is like putting a sticker in your forehead saying “I’m a tourist. I’m new here. I don’t know this place”. By doing so, you become an easy victim. That they do not mention in Lonely Planet, right?
8. I don’t want to be a review of prior information
Reading about what to see, with pictures, and all information there about, it is easy to fall in the tramp of be a review of all prior information.
Before travelling to Iceland I read everything there was to see. During a guided trip for see the golden circle, there were no surprises. I knew all the time what was coming next, and everything the guide told us. I had already seen everything on pictures. And the trip turned out to be a pretty boring due to this. After this experience, I never did so again!
9. The locals know best
My experience is that some of the things that are recommended in Lonely Planet, are not worth to visit. In Hong Kong, I met two German girls at the hostel. One of them was obsessed with her lonely planet. She wanted to see the longest elevator in the world, because it was mentioned in the guidebook. First we used 1 hour looking for this site. We asked several local people where to go, and none of them had ever heard about it. They did not even know where it was or that it existed. When we finally found it, it was so bad. All three of us felt disappointed, tricked, and that we had waisted our time.
This is why I usually relay on local people. I ask what it is worth to see. Because who knows the country better than the people that have lived there their whole life? The same applies for advices about security and where to eat and sleep. I have never been disappointed following the travelling tips of the local people.
My best travelling tips…
I also want to mention that I have received some feedback from people that say I should write more in a Lonely Planet style for get more readers on my blog. Giving travelling tips, inform about prices, opening hours, time tables of buses, tips about safety etc. Maybe this would get more readers. However, this is not what I believe in. In addition, many bloggers already write about this. But few write about the people they meet on travel. I believe few of these backpackers that use Lonely Planet as their bible, usually interact too much with the local people. They lack this experience. The best travelling tips I can therfore give is to throw the guide book. Just travel. Talk to the locals. See what you see, see what they recommend. And I promise you will have the best travel you ever had.
The traveler sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G.K. Chesterton
What do you think about this topic? Do you use Lonely Planet and guide books during your travels?