The Lonely Planet guide books are excellent. The success of this guide book series can be seen in many places where travellers roam. You’ll regularly see many people carrying the guide book, looking through the guide book at restaurant tables and companies making use of their listing by advertising ‘Recommended by Lonely Planet’ on their signs.
The Lonely Planet is successful because of the quality of their information, listings and particularly the maps, which generally saves one having to buy any maps, even on a long trip to a country like India.
However there are several drawbacks to the guide book’s success. Hotels that get favourable listings in the Lonely Planet are almost always full. They also jack up their prices as they know many travellers will happily pay the inflated price, because the Lonely Planet has said the hotel or guesthouse is good, or perhaps even ‘the best place in town’. Popular editions of the Lonely Planet tend to be in print for 2 years before they are revised and a new edition published. In this time many new hotels and guesthouses appear, and quite often present better services and value for money than the places listed in the Lonely Planet.
This I like to call the ‘Lonely Planet Effect’.
The Lonely Planet effect also causes the following
- Restaurants that offer average food at inflated prices are full, when nearby restaurants offer better food at lower prices see few visitors. Where would you rather eat? Definitely the later for me.
- Services such as ferry rides or tours are uncomfortably packed, whereas better services are half-full giving better attention to their customers.
- Popular places, such as the beaches of Goa, become packed and start to lose the charm that everyone visiting wants to experience, when the neighbouring beach is practically empty, and everything is half the price.
My point is that you should consider ‘thinking outside of the book’. When you arrive somewhere walk around, find an area you like and then start asking at guesthouses in that area. Don’t just go straight to the recommendation in the Lonely Planet. Look around at restaurants. I find the best are often not listed in guidebooks, and those that are, are over priced.
If you have plenty of time use you feet and your eyes, and not your guide book, to find places to stay and places to eat.
However, if you are short on time, guidebooks do offer exactly the sort of information you need to find a place to stay and somewhere to eat quickly.
If you are a first-time backpacker the Lonely Planet will be your best friend. If you are an experience backpacker you’ll probably find that other guide book series can offer you a better traveling experience. The Rough Guide, and others, are always worth considering.