Guidebooks - a modern take

The problem with guide books is having to carry them around… And that they are always out of date by the time you are using them… And that the further off the beaten path you get, the less use they are… But mostly having to carry them around! We came up with a few different ways to ease the pain.

The information below has been updated with our experiences after using these options for six weeks on the road.

Digital Guidebooks

We are taking a cacophony of digital devices with us on our trip: An iPad, an iPhone, a Nexus 7, a Nexus 4 and two Kindles! It makes the most sense if we have guidebooks that we can access on all of these devices. Luckily, both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides now produce "e" versions of their guides. And you can download sample chapters to see how well they work for you.

Lonely Planet even produces their e-books in a choice of formats. You can buy PDF files directly from their website (e.g. Indonesia) or Kindle e-books from Amazon (e.g. Indonesia). There are pros and cons to each:

  • PDFs - These look and work great on the tablets and are the closest thing to the real book in terms of layout. However they are impossible to read on the Kindle (the text comes out tiny if you copy the files there) and pretty hard to read on the phones (although you can zoom). The way the books are split into one PDF per chapter is also a bit cumbersome but means you can buy just the chapters you are interested in.
  • Kindle books - These are much simpler in terms of layout but work well on the Kindles. They are also viewable on the phones and tablets thanks to the Kindle app (iOS/Android). The downside is that when you buy one it is tied to a certain Amazon account and we have an Amazon account each. Which means that only half of our devices get each book!

Since we are more likely to have a phone or Kindle to hand when we are out and about needing to refer to something (and don't really like the idea of getting an iPad out in a busy bus station) we have mostly gone for the Kindle version so far.

The main downside to the digital guidebooks is that you can't pick it up and flick through it as quickly as a paper version. Once you get used to using bookmarks and the search functionality it's perfectly do-able though. The remaining annoyance is flipping back and forth between e.g. a map and the descriptions of what is shown on the map.

Wikitravel / Wiki Sherpa

Sometimes the guidebooks are out of date or just don't cover the area you are interested in. In this case Wikitravel can be a godsend. While the coverage isn't complete it has lots of information in some places and can be more recently updated than a guidebook. The problem is that you don't necessarily have internet access everywhere. Which is where Wiki Sherpa (for Android devices) comes in. This app allows you to download the portions of Wikitravel that you might be interested in so that you can access it offline. This was really useful when we were in South Myanmar where there was no internet and no information in the guidebook.

Trip Advisor City Guides

In both Bangkok and Singapore we found these city guides very helpful. They work offline and in combination with your phones GPS to help you find attractions and (maybe more importantly) recommended places to eat and drink. They are only available for certain cities but we would recommend installing them for places you know you will be visiting. You see a list of the cities covered and get the apps (for iOS or Android) here.