Don’t get me wrong if you are thinking of wandering off to a far off land with little more than a sleeping bag liner for protection it is handy having a little help to see you on your way. The problems start when you feel that you cannot move without it.
I’m sure there are many others, but the 2 main guide books I have used are the ‘Rough Guide’ series (funny, sarcastic very English sense of humour) or it's better known cousin the ‘Lonely Planet’ (Used by most people, a bit like an ipod I suppose, works very well, just not for me!).
Just to wander off subject for a second, in my house it is known as ‘The Lonely Bastard’ as most of the backpackers seemed to sit on their own reading it in a dark corner of a room as opposed to going out and seeing everything in it! Just to avoid any confusion it’s the people, not the book we like to take the piss out of! Why would you take the piss out of a book, you’ll never make one of those cry*.
So where was I going with this?? Oh yes. There are times when you arrive somewhere new at 3am and having a little map and an idea of where to find a hostel is useful. But what you have to remember is that there are lots of other places to stay and things to do that are not in the books if you use that flappy bit of skin and muscle in your mouth and ask people (it’s not like any of you are scared to use it outside my room door at high volume at 5am!). You’ll probably find that a lot of the places not in the guide books are cheaper too!
I’ll give you an example. I arrived in Saigon (you can called it HCMC if you feel the urge) in Vietnam with my lovely wife and another couple we met on the bus on the way over. Being that we were in a new town, there must be some drinking to be done. We arranged to meet later after we found somewhere to stay. They did the thing that people often say is the best thing to do. They checked every hotel, hostel, shed, puddle, hole and cardboard box that was in their price range. This apparently took them a couple of hours and they settled on the second one they saw.
You might have guessed we didn’t. Nope I got off the bus went with the nearest helpful gent and was checked into a perfectly nice place in ten minutes. Now you are right that our room did cost more than theirs. Yes that’s right a whole dollar more, which is 50 cents each. In reality because we didn’t walk around for 2 hours we saved money, as my time is very expensive as you can imagine. More than that though our room had a bath!
It not just accommodation though. I have been with people who won’t go into a certain restaurant because it isn’t in ‘insert your guide book name here’. ’It’s not in the book, I bet it’s not safe we’ll all be ill and die’ they cried as they headed off for the nearest fast food emporium. Nothing like getting out there and living on the edge eh!
Walking tours for flips sake! Don’t get me going about the walking tours! When will people learn that the things in books are there to give you an idea. It’s not a backpacker’s instruction booklet you know! I was with a few people in a nice little restaurant having a bite to eat and a few beers after a long bus ride when one of the girl jumps up and states that she needs to (not would like to) do the walking tour in her guide book and who was going to go with her. As we are a helpful and friendly bunch, she went on her own. Apparently after that she needed to check her blog (which just sounds painful!). Come on when was it ever necessary to have someone tell you where you should walk. You need two things to walk about a new place. 1) A little common sense, now I know this is asking a lot of some of you but come on I’m sure you have it in you and 2) a vague sense of direction. Number two is optional though if you have enough of number one. Go on get lost; you never know what you might find. There are exceptions to this rule obviously. Scotswood in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK (the finest city in the world no argument!) is no place to get lost for a start!
I’m not saying don’t have a guide book, just please try and just use it as a guide only. The best times you will have are the ones that are least planned. The more different forms of info you use the better. People are nearly always the best source of information; they just come with the fault of having bloody different ideas of what is good. Just remember there is a chance that the person who told you about that great bar may, have in their CD collection, a Westlife record. Still think it’ll be a cool place?
I’ll give you a tip to start weaning you off the books. If you are ever in Li Jiang in China, go and find the ‘Sexy Tractor’. Now there is a place worth looking for!
*making strange people cry is neither big, nor clever.
About the Author: Mick Bates went on a wander from Newcastle, England a few years ago. Trip advisor on facebook tells him he's been to about 140 cities in 20 countries, so lots more to see yet. He is as miserable as he seems.