In Which We Discuss Guidebooks

The search for the Holy Grail of travel books continues.
The search for the Holy Grail of travel books continues.

I use travel books like doctors use latex gloves – which is to say that some of them area great and sometimes I’m allergic to them and have to find a reasonable latex substitute.




This isn’t to say I don’t plan the heck out of our vacations using online sources, because I totally do.  Have you seen my TripAdvisor page?  The blood of bureaucrats, however, runs strong in my veins and no matter how much online planning I do, I still like the feel of a book (books are wonderful!) with lists (LISTS! How can one live without lists!) in my hand when I’m in the middle of Trafalgar Square and where I really want to be is the British Museum.

Don't be deceived, that is her manic smile.  Overstimulation + probably hunger = DANGER!
Don’t be deceived, that is her manic smile. Overstimulation + probably hunger = DANGER!


I do have a preference in travel books – the AAA Spiral Travel Guides. There is no way I could possibly extol the virtues of these books enough to do them justice.  There are maps, walking routes, neighborhoods, prices, and they are the perfect handy size for fitting in a purse.  I love them.

But since they aren’t available for every city I visit and sometimes I need a guide for an entire country rather than just one city, I just can’t always count on my beloved AAA Spirals to do the job I need done.  In this case I go looking for a reasonable substitute.

Since part of our Christmas Season Grand Tour will include Germany this year, I ended up opting for the Lonely Planet Discover Germany guide.  It seemed like it would be a safe bet – Lonely Planet is a go-to travel name and I use their site quite frequently.  They have great information on their website, often off-beat information some people might not think of and a lot of discussion on their Thorn Tree Forum.  You just cannot beat Lonely Planet when it comes to their website and breadth of information.

However.  But. On the other hand.

I really, really, really hate their Germany guidebook.  I hate it so much that even though I spent Rand 424.00 on it (that’s $42, yo!), I’m going to go buy another Germany guide in the US.  That’s how much I hate the Lonely Planet Discover Germany guide.  Not as much as I hated reading Great Expectations, but on the other hand a crazy old woman who wears an old wedding dress every day might actually spice that guidebook up when it caught on fire.  Because it’s awful.

Look, I understand.  This is a guidebook.  It is basically a list of information about a city or place to visit that gives you hints and tips and lists of things that someone unfamiliar with a certain place might not know to go see. There are maps, there is a bit of history, there isn’t much action.  There is no story arc in a guidebook.  There is no whodunnit moment.

But still.  There can be some spice involved, even if you don’t go full masala.  There are the DK Travel Guides, for instance (the one I’ll be buying next).  DK splashes in historical quips, pics, and an eye-catching page layout.  Even my kids check out the DK guides.

But I digress, let me give some specifics about why I find the Lonely Planet Discover Germany (from now on to be referred to as the LPDG, because it’s cool to use acronyms) guide so blerghish.

1) Attraction maps are difficult to follow.  I had to write down the places I want to visit and then plot them all on Google Maps.  Okay, yes I’m ridiculously Type A about planning travel.  Let’s move on from that.  My point is that the maps which labeled attractions in the LPDG do so in a manner which don’t immediately make it clear how they relate to other attractions in the area.  I want neighborhood guides so I don’t end up trying to visit the Catacombs and the Palace of Versailles on the same day using public transportation during peak tour bus season.

Also FYI - the Bastille is no longer standing.  Some people are quite surprised by this.
Also FYI – the Bastille is no longer standing. Some people are quite surprised by this.


2)  BORING!  BORING!  BORING! Here’s another example, as quoted from the Berlin in…One Day section (which is with the Berlin Walking Tour, which doesn’t hit a lot of the places we’re interested in and doesn’t show them on the map so I can’t use their map to plan our own personalized walking tour): “Book ahead for an early lift ride up to the Reichstag, then swing by the Brandenburg Gate before exploring the maze of the Holocaust Memorial and admiring the architecture of Potsdamer Platz. Ponder Nazi horrors at the Topographie des Terrors and Cold War madness at Checkpoint Charlie.”

Dude, don’t tell me what to do.  Okay, yes, guidebooks tell you what to do.  But no, don’t tell me what to ponder.  I do appreciate the tip to book early at the Reichstag. Thanks.  But what I’m imagining while reading the rest of this is herding a bunch of kids into the middle of Potsdamer Platz and making them stand at attention Sound of Music Style while admonishing them to look at the buildings.

“Why mom?”

“I don’t know.  Admire them.”

One of the things I loved about the guidebook we used for London was its nonchalant mention of the fact that the first thing our kids would mention at the Tower of London was the codpiece of Henry VIII’s armor.

Forewarned is forearmed.
Forewarned is forearmed.

That is totally what happened.  That is not the sort of tip included in LPDG, however.  There could have been an incident.  And frankly, I have enough incidents already.

3)  The guide is really just not set up for families.  There are family tips on pages 367 and 368, but other than that there isn’t much mention of kid-friendly.  There is some, but not really enough to rely on exclusively.

I’m positive that the LPDG is exactly what some people look for in a travel guide.  However, I’m also sure some people actually enjoy reading Russian literature and were satisfied by the ending of Anna Karenina.

It’s just that such a person is not me.  My star rating for LPDG is a 2/5.  They include a good amount of information and put a lot of thought into it, but it’s just not up my alley.