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Are travel guidebooks still useful?

I noticed a generation gap when I began planning an upcoming vacation trip to Greece, a destination that my son and his family visited last year. When I asked if he had any guidebooks, he said he doesn’t use them and relies entirely on the Internet. So, are travel guides going the way of typewriters and newspapers?

Their popularity does seem to be fading based on the fewer and fewer titles I find at my local bookstore and on Amazon. Many familiar guides haven’t been revised in years. So do guides have much value anymore?

Based on my recent trip to Japan I instinctively purchased a couple, the DK Eyewitness Tokyo and DK Top 10 Tokyo. They were just revised an each provided lots of basic information in an easily readible form with useful illustrations. While I’ve been to Tokyo dozens of times, I wanted to have the latest guides in hand. I also used the Internet extensively for my research and planning, and found each has their advantages.

While the Internet offers more updated information, especially when it comes to temporary closings, operating hours, and reviews, the guidebooks provided better historical context, more thoughtful commentary, and generally more accurate information about the most important things to see. For examples, topics such as walking tours were succint with helpful maps and graphics.

In contrast, many of the websites covering travel destinations are filled with ads, sales pitches, and recommendations made for the purpose of getting referral fees and clicks. While there are worthwhile sites, many are simplistic and poorly written. Some are set up as slide shows, requiring you to click from item to item in a long list as a way to generate more clicks and run more ads. I shut those down immediately.

With some effort, you can usually find much of the content of many of the guides on the internet, but spread out among dozens of sites. A guide book is much more succint and faster to digest. The internet is often not as reliable or trustworthy. When I searched “What to do in Greece,” dozens of sites came up with very similar lists. If I bought a book with the quality of their content, I’d return it because of its lack of depth.

By example, one Internet article titled “10 Tips when visiting Greece” provided tips such as “bring your sunscreen,” “bring some cash,” and “beware of dress codes.” That’s because these articles are written to attract clicks and not for useful content. As AI becomes more prevalent, we’ll see much more content, probably at a higher level of quality than this.

Books that are written by locals provide more useful content because they can’t rely on clicks to succeed. They’re incentivized to get good reviews to sell more books. Books often contain information that only locals know, allowing you to explore sites off the beaten path. These books take research, hard work, and an understanding of the local culture.

But guidebooks are slowly losing some of their value. No longer are they needed to find hotels and restaurants; the Internet is better at that, allowing us to find the current rates, obtain hotel details, check ratings and make reservations.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I’ll still rely on travel guides to get an objective understanding about an area I’m about to visit. A thorough review of a well written guide will help me be a better judge of what I find on the web.