The Lonely Bible (Planet)

Every traveler has either done it or seen it.

The single traveler, or couple, shoulders sagging under the weight of an overpacked rucksack, an extra pair of boots tied on to the exterior waving around like something a gypsy would pack, an expression of completely lost on their faces, and always it seems…

A Lonely Planet guidebook in hand.

I’ll admit, I use Lonely Planet when I travel. On this past trip to China, I actually duct taped the entire book making it look like some worn out journal rather than what it was. I did this partially because I heard rumors that the LP was banned at some border crossings in China due to content about Tibet, and partially because frankly, I almost feel embarrassed when I get busted looking at it.

The secret to carrying around a guidebook is knowing how to use the damn thing to start with. The Lonely Planet effect dictates that most likely whichever eateries and accommodations are listed at the top, will be overcrowded, more expensive, and with exceptions may offer the worst service. This is because once a business in a developing country is featured, they are guaranteed a steady stream of guidebook toting backpackers for the next two years, or until an update is released, no matter what.

They could sprinkle the banana pancakes with arsenic and would still have budget travelers queued at the door. The secret is knowing this in advance and leveraging it to your advantage. It’s quite simple, if you are traveling alone and could use the company, want to party, or are just a glutton for punishment, by all means — go to the top listings! If you want peace and quiet, or a genuine experience, go somewhere NOT on the list.

Many times while traveling the beaten trail in Thailand, the only Thai people that I even had any interaction with were the people taking my money for various goods and services. Sure, I still met loads of Europeans and Australians, but after a month I knew that I had to get away. Luckily, I only carried the Lonely Planet: Islands and Beaches guidebook which turned out to be dead weight in the north, so I was able to do my own discoveries in provinces like Mae Hong Son.

Lonely Planet isn’t the only one to blame. They just get to take the most abuse because they sit at the top and have gone from being the hippie handbook to the corporate, “McDonalds” of guidebooks.

On several occasions, speaking to other backpackers in Southeast Asia and even China, I have literally heard people quote the Lonely Planet word for word when we were discussing a place. To avoid a situation, I always grin and say “oh really?” when I hear something to the effect of “they say its one of the most beautiful beaches”…never mind that “they” refers to a corporate employed writer that may or may not have even put their bare feet on the sand of that very beach.

So if you are hitting the road for the first time, remember that guidebooks have their place and function, but it isn’t the oracle. Listen to other travelers instead. Don’t bow your head when you cite passages from the book, and please, please don’t wander the streets with it in your hand – tear out that map! 🙂

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3 Responses to “The Lonely Bible (Planet)”

  1. If it’s the bible, when you start cutting out used pages (or to-use pages) it must be some kind of heresy. Perhaps punishable by having bland, over-priced experiences?

  2. I can totally relate to your experience and think that duct taping the heck out of the book is actually a really good idea.

    I’ve recently switched guidebooks to a different one called ‘Let’s Go’ which I’ve found is pretty good as it caters to young, budgets travelers almost exclusively.

    When I did thailand I actually attended a conference where I met lots of local people who were very helpful in pointing out several places to me.

    If you make it up to Shanghai – shoot me an email and I can show you some cool non-lonely planet experiences.



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    […] do you feel about carrying your guidebook? Listener Greg likens it to the Lonely Bible in this post on Vagabonding Begins. He says that guidebooks have “their place and function” which sounds remarkably […]

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