One of my first steps in researching a destination is through guidebooks or their web sites. The more you travel, the more you know what books best serve the type of travel you do, and what guides are better for certain destinations. Until you develop a feel for this, it’s a good idea to spend some time in a bookstore with the various guides for your destination.
There has been a huge growth in specialized guidebooks in recent years. Zagat has developed dining guides for more cities. Wallpaper magazine has well curated guides to the hip. Rick Steves makes great entry-level books for most European countries and cities. I’m not sure who would want to walk around with a guidebook that states you’re a Dummy, but if you’re so inclined, you can.
The green Michelin guides were a fixture in my parents’ house, and I refer to them when I’m making repeat trips to a destination and want to discover new highlights. Designed for drivers, I would always include one for any road trip. And, I regularly check their red guide to restaurants before going to major cities covered.
As one who prefers not to drive on vacation, I’m more likely to buy Rough Guide, Moon or Lonely Planet because of the wealth of local transport information they provide. They’re also much more thorough for developing nation travel.
For trips to architecture rich environments, the colorful DK Eyewitness Guides are excellent.
Always check the copyright information in the front or back of the book to find the edition date. Figure a book with a 2010 release date was researched and printed at least a year before. Even worse, when I compare some 2004 to 2010 editions of the same guidebook, nothing has changed. Moon has rereleased the same Mexico City guide for years with a different cover shot. As a result, most of the information found online is more recent. But not always – some sites haven’t been updated in years.
Moleskine guidebooks – customizable guidebooks for some major cities that feature a map of the city, a transit map, and tabbed pages for your own restaurant, hotel, exhibit and entertainment lists. They even come with sheets of transparent material that you can overlay on maps to make notations, or trace a walking tour you’ve downloaded on itunes. In October, I went to Paris with a list of 200 restaurants in my Moleskine, sorted by neighborhood so wherever I ended up when I was ready to eat, I could find the best neighborhood place. And, if you print information from a site like Rough Guide, it will perfectly fit in the Moleskine – saving a lot of transcription time!
Moleskine notebooks. In addition to the hard covered notebooks Moleskine makes, they also make thin small paper notebooks that are perfect for travel. I tend to make extensive lists as I research trips, and don’t want to carry around huge guide books or sheaths of paper. I keep notes in the Moleskine notebook – often using tape flags to divide into sections.
If you’re thinking OK Boomer as you read this, there’s a wealth of information on the internet if guidebooks are not your style. I love the Culture Trip app for finding the best at each destination, curated by locals.