Four Reasons We No Longer Buy or Use Lonely Planet Guide Books

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I still remember the first thing Alissa and I did after we purchased our plane tickets for our first big international trip to the Philippines in 2008.  We went to the local bookstore and bought the Lonely Planet guide to the Philippines.  We traveled for two weeks there using the book each and every step of the way.  We still have the book too, now more as a souvenir, as it looks cool because of how beat up it is.  As I look back onto our  first time in the Philippines, I do have good memories, but there is one thing I wish I could change.  I wish I could go back and do the trip again, but this time without the book.  After that trip, Alissa and I decided never to travel with another Lonely Planet book (language guides excluded).  We did buy the most-recent Myanmar updated Lonely Planet e-book to give them one more shot, and we will sometimes browse one in a hotel lobby here and there, but our opinion hasn’t changed.

Here are the reasons we no longer use Lonely Planet, or any other printed/ebook guides any more:

1. Lonely Planet is ONE person’s opinion

lonely-top-choiceYes, I know the books have multiple authors and editors, but when it comes down to Lonely Planet’s top choices in each destination, it is the most recent traveler to that city who picks their favorite restaurants, hotels, etc.  One of the best things about the internet is crowd-sourcing, and the travel industry is seeing websites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and WikiTravel revolutionizing how travelers do their homework.  In 1995, I could see the need for Lonely Planet’s hotel and restaurant information, but in today’s world I can look at what hundreds of people think of an establishment instead of what just one person thinks.  TripAdvisor is doing an amazing job creating profiles for reviewers so that we can now even check the credibility of each person’s review, making sure they really know their stuff.

When we are heading to a new city, we can now get more of a consortium of opinions from travelers who are just like us.  Lonely Planet has always been focused on the young, backpacker crowd, meaning their top choices and reviews are always keeping just that audience in mind.  Lonely Planet can’t compete in other demographics because their books and their authors don’t always appeal to travelers in other demographics.  Take my friend Tom from TravelPast50.com for example.  For the 40+ traveler demographic, Tom’s website guides and recommendations are so much more useful than Lonely Planet’s, and his content is free!  (you’ll also notice Tom doesn’t list Lonely Planet as one of his travel resources)


2. Once it’s printed, it’s out of date

One of my favorite moments in television history is when Jason Jones of the Daily Show asks the editor of the New York Times to show him one thing in that day’s paper that HAPPENED TODAY.  His point, although a little bit of a stretch, was that everything in the New York Times printed edition is yesterday’s news.   The segment was satire, and of course the New York Times still has relevant and necessary information each edition, but the point he was making was about digital’s number one advantage over print:  It’s easy and cheap to update. 

Lonely Planet has simply not adapted and evolved into the digital age.  They had such potential to make LonelyPlanet.com a leading travel website, but failed to do anything innovative with the site.  Maybe things would have been different if Maureen and Tony Wheeler hadn’t sold Lonely Planet in 2007, but what’s done is done.  LonelyPlanet.com reads more like one giant advertisement to buy their books or something from one of their partners like HostelWorld or WorldNomads.  The content within the site is out-dated, brief, hard to navigate, and generally not useful.  The forums can be OK, but even my experiences in the forums have left me without the information I was seeking.  In my opinion, WikiTravel.org beats Lonely Planet in every category when it comes to travel guides:

Just pick any city, then look at the differences in both content quantity and content quality between LonelyPlanet.com’s guide to the city vs. Wikitravel.org’s guide to that same city.  We were just in Hoi An, Vietnam, so I’ll use that as the example:

LonelyPlanet.com’s guide to Hoi An  VS  Wikitravel.org’s guide to Hoi An

lonely-vs-wiki

 3. Traveling is about discovery – both good and bad

In Myanmar, we would walk into a “Lonely Planet Top Choice” hotel and see four or five other travelers and couples, all with their own Lonely Planet guide, waiting in line to check in.  If we wanted to do the exact same tour as the Lonely Planet author, then the book would be perfect for us.  But seeing all these people go directly to the Lonely Planet hotel, most without doing any research of their own, was kind of sad.  That was the last time we went to the Lonely Planet Top Choice hotel in any city.

Traveling is about discovering things on your own and forming your own opinions from experiences you create.  Picking a hotel on your own, one that you may know little to nothing about is exciting.  Will it be awesome?  Will it have cockroaches?  Will the staff be helpful?  There’s only one way to find out!  Sure, every time we stay at a Lonely Planet Top Choice, our experience has been fine.  They have been bustling with tourists, generally clean, the staff good, and of course the signs about what Lonely Planet thinks about them are everywhere.  However, our BEST hotel and guest house experiences have come at places that we’ve found on our own.  Whether through online research, randomly walking into a hotel, or referrals from other travelers.  Not one of our favorite hotels has ever been a Lonely Planet Top Choice, and many are not even listed in their books as an option.

Eating at a family-owned restaurant in Laos.  Not found in any travel guide.

Eating at a family-owned restaurant in Laos. Not found in any travel guide.

This same principle applies for restaurants and bars.  Many times we’ve seen two restaurants, nearly identical in price, quality, and location, but one with a Lonely Planet recommendation and one didn’t.  The Lonely Planet restaurant is packed nearly every night, while the other restaurant always has room.  Fair or not, the amount of money Lonely Planet can throw towards a business based on one person’s experience is pretty crazy.  We prefer crowd-sourced restaurant/bar reviews from sites like TripAdvisor, or better yet, we just look for a place where locals are eating and walk in.  Will it have cockroaches?  Again, this is why we travel, to find out for ourselves!

4. We don’t like Lonely Planet Zombies

They’re everywhere.  They walk around the touristy streets of destinations everywhere, nearly running people over as they refuse to look up from their Lonely Planet book.  These are the disciples of Lonely Planet.  The travelers so dedicated and obsessed with LP that they refuse to sleep or eat anywhere that isn’t mentioned in the book.  By not going to the places LP recommends, we have been able to avoid these types of travelers more than before.  However, they still lurk everywhere. Here are just a few of the things we’ve seen from this race of brainless backpackers:

  • A backpacker screaming at a laundry lady in Hoi An, Vietnam while pointing inside his Lonely Planet book: “The price should be $1 per kilogram!”  She was calmly trying to tell him her price has been $1.50 for over a year now, but he was so upset that he wouldn’t listen.  Note:  He also had a plastic cover for his book.
  • A young women nearly run over by a bus in Bangkok’s Chinatown because she was reading her LP while crossing the street instead of looking both ways.  “This information on my walking tour is worth dying for!”
  • While in Ubud, Bali, Alissa and I were sitting on a restaurant patio, enjoying one of the best dinners we’ve had on our trip.  A young couple walks by, and the guy points to our restaurant and suggests they come in.  She opens up her Lonely Planet Pocket Bali book and says “No way!  It isn’t in Lonely Planet, I don’t want to get sick”.

zombies

Final thoughts

I think it’s important to state that I don’t HATE Lonely Planet.  I just prefer to travel without one, and recommend other travelers do the same.  We have traveled the Philippines, Myanmar, and Laos, all with extensively reading a companion Lonely Planet guide, and we’ve many more destinations all without every looking at a page.  When I compare the experiences we’ve had, it is apparent that the level of excitement and fun is so much higher when we don’t cripple ourselves with a Lonely Planet.

I still enjoy many of Lonely Planet’s other products, like their pictorial travel book as well as their phrasebooks. As much as I am against buying their travel guides, I am rooting for them as a company to make a comeback and alter their strategy to meet the digital demands of current travelers.


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About The Author

is the founding traveler of This World Rocks. He enjoys writing in the present tense, is an avid sports fan, former NBA dunk team member, aspiring videographer, and a WWII & Civil War history nerd.

29 Responses to Four Reasons We No Longer Buy or Use Lonely Planet Guide Books

  1. maddieholland82@gmail.com' Maddie says:

    I was just saying this yesterday! They are great for getting a rough idea of things to do in an area but I would never use them for hostels or restaurants. A friend asked me what books I used to research South East Asia and I just sent her a list of blogs. Up to date and honest opinions are way better!

    • Dan says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more Maddie. We still like flipping through the pages of a guide book, but carrying one with us is just no longer something we do. I think reason number 5 should be: “Takes up too much room in my backpack”.

  2. kirkhooten@yahoo.com' Kirk says:

    To add to what they talk about in the article, when you only patronize businesses that are mentioned in guidebooks you’re putting huge constraints on the local economy and can severely punish businesses that, for whatever reason, don’t get a nod from whichever travel writer that’s responsible for that region. Guidebooks aren’t treasure maps. Travel isn’t about following directions. Don’t live life by-the-book.

  3. ONE REASONS WE NO LONGER LOG IN OR USE LONELY WIKITRAVEL SITE
    Because it has started like any other “wiki*” prject with no commercial inside, but after the owner has decided to sell it to a business company, the whole community has been betrayed so they have created http://wikivoyage.org under WMF (WikiMediaFundation) to keep the same spirit.

    The content originally WAS the same, but nowadays they have grown significantly different and from a different community: wikivoyage.org is based on volunteer wikitravel.org is based on employee that are trying to retain random user.

  4. chouchamelle@gmail.com' Lauriane says:

    Thanks for your blog, I find it very inspiring!!
    I’m planning to travel for a year, alone, and I can’t decide wether I want to buy all the lonely planets or not… The thing is, I completely agree with all of your points, but I feel like I would be more confident if I had a “paper” version, with maps, language, etc. Do you use anything else apart from Internet?

    • Dan says:

      The internet continues to be our biggest research tool, and other than that we use locals in each destination to help out out instead of the guide books. We use airbnb.com a lot to find places to stay, and the hosts of those places are very good at helping you find all the good places in town.

    • Alissa says:

      Also, my iPhone and app help a lot to get around – Maps with Me Pro, Triposo (offline wikitravel/wikipedia), and Trip Advisor City Guides all have offline capabilities.

  5. info@itchyfeet.me' Patrick says:

    Thank you for your post. I feel completely the same. Since i travel, I’ve tried several guide books. But it doesn’t matter which guide or version you have, all are outdated. Even if you have the newest version, the most of the information are at least one or two years old. Like you wrote, try and error is the best method for me and a lot more adventure.
    But sometimes it’s nice to have a look a the Lonely Planet website to avoid the LP Zomibies 🙂

  6. I suppose it is a bit like gambling addicts, If you don’t trust yourself enough not to use a guide book all the time, then best you don’t take one. But having travelled now for forty years or so, I find that I can use a lonely planet book (or other book) as a reference when I want to, but am not afraid to close that book to seek out experiences that are not in the book. And using a phone or tablet is fine until it is stolen or the power goes out or the WiFi breaks down or runover by a bus / truck / car / ox-cart / angry buffalo. And the ‘smartphone’ zombies are no less zombies for using a different medium. Not carrying a guide book does not make you any more noble or pure than any other tourist. Indeed a young woman (tourist) recently accidentally walked off a pier and into the sea because she was so intent on her smartphone. Even when rescued she was still gripping her defunct phone with intensity.

  7. uth_wistan@hotmail.com' Chris says:

    I agree with much you have stated here (the greatest joy in travel is in discovering something unexpected), however I also have no problem traveling with a Lonely Planet guidebook.

    To me, the biggest issue is one you have touched upon already, and that is the fact that the key word here is “guide” (although many people do refer to their LP as a “bible”).

    I see it more as misuse of the product, as their tips on language, history and custom can be very helpful, but if you adhere to anything strictly, everything you do is going to be less enjoyable in all walks of life.

    True, the matter published in any travel guidebook is always out of date as soon as it is published, however as “Experienced Traveller” has stated above, not everybody likes to travel with a smart phone, tablet or laptop (I’m personally very content to travel with a guidebook and laptop, but have never take a phone on a trip anywhere!)

  8. paul.deg@hotmail.com' Old Timer says:

    Back in “88 when there was no internet and smartphones/devices, one relied heavily on the likes of Lonely Planet or others to find the best and cheapest (if travelling shoestring like I did) hotels, restaurants or maps to find your way to these places. I treated the LP books like bibles and used them in the 40 odd countries that I travelled in over 7 years of backpacking.
    Not only were they a great guide to hotels, restaurants, they also prepared you with a lot of useful stuff about visa’s, currency, weather, customs…… the list is long and were extremely helpful in getting the most out of your adventure. The History and Geographical briefs about each country / place were a great kick start to helping you gain more knowledge and understanding along the way.
    I am 61 years old now and my work commitments don’t allow me to travel like I did in the old days, but I still reach out and read a lonely planet before I take off for a 4 week annual holiday to this place or that. I leave the book at home now (take up too much space and weight when you like to travel light) and rely on the Smart Phone / tablet to guide me the way. The wonders of modern technology.

  9. Jonathan.gardiner@travisperkins.co.uk' Jonathan Gardiner says:

    Wow you guys….can’t stop reading your site but it’s soo good!! – must go sleep, but just thought I’d say thank you and confirm your comments.

    I followed lonely plant SE ASIA on a shoe string, started us off well, but after a few months ditched it!! And wow what what fun we had….it seemed every place in china that had a good review in the previous year had almost thought to themselves ‘we’ve made it, let’s put the prices up the service down’ We also found that there were must cooler places to see without the tourists, a heightened sense of achievement and it’s must more interesting to practice your Chinese when rocking at a hotel etc…..

    It would seem that the lonely does have its place as I would not recommend travellers starting off without a guide book, but if you feel frustrated, or confident to explore on your own…..

    PS in you Myanmar tube video Alissa makes a prayer sign standing in front of a large Buddha – where is this? (I’m going to spend a few weeks travelling around Myanmar on a moped – think I might have a butchers)

    Thanks again.

  10. jonathan.gardiner@travisperkins.co.uk' Jonathan Gardiner says:

    ………Something else related (woke up this morning thinking about it!!

    In one section of said Lonely planet Guide “there is not much between Guilin & Kunming – you are better off flying”………..this was turning point for us – as it was a 500 mile distance, could not afford flights and didn’t want any more long bus journeys.

    So we now made it into a game – trying to find cool places not on the lonely planet – it was a great game!!

    Your stories have brought up so many good memories 🙂

  11. doro87@hotmail.com' Doro says:

    I totally agree with most of the article…and it goes as far that I find myself being embarassed to be seen with a LP and hiding it when other travellers approach. But one thing I really find helpful is the transportation chapters. I don’t know how much longer it would have taken us to find the real train booking offices in India, if it wasn’t for the LP and it wasn’t always easy even with the help of it. Usually I would say, just go and ask the locals, they’ll be nice and wanna help… but sadly there is too many touts around in some countries.
    The other option of using tripadvisor etc for information is not the best either, as there is not always internet available and I personally don’t want to spent my trips in an internet café or on the look for a free wifi spot, unless everything is planned in advance from home, but where is the adventure in that?!

  12. kalki01@gmail.com' claude says:

    I remember going to a discussion on Lonely Planets new website around 1995 in Melbourne.

    Tony Wheeler told this funny story about the people he had met while travelling who would buy Lonely Planet books to make sure they AVOID all the Lonely Planet recommendations.

    Tony thought that was great, and it got a big laugh from all the guide book researchers.

    Following guide books has been a problem for a long time. When you find yourself where there are no guide books or internet then exploration start to get interesting.

    Have fun

    Claude

  13. phuketrichard@gmail.com' richard says:

    I use his first yellow book “Across Asia on the Cheap” on my first overland trip Amsterdam-Kathmandu in 1975
    and still use them but never ever eat in a rests recommended
    seldom stay at a hotel recommended as they seem to always be the most expensive an never/ever use a tour guide recommended by them
    Maps are nice

  14. bingobelucky@163.com' hongbin says:

    While millions of travellers are gaining from LP each day, what did you do to help them, LP is the most easy to read travel book I’ve ever read, especially when you use it a dozen times, it has the very alike structure Sure, you can find a bunch of free blogs or websites or tripadvisor but do you realize how much time you would waste on this? I’m a normal working guy who spends two week or so holiday travelling around and travel is not my profession, I could use a LP to find out where I want to go, what I want to see the most (or is it the place worth going at all) and go to other sources later on with some rough ideas, LP is absolutely a time saver for people like me and it has various language versions, just the transportation tips will do you a lot of good, can you beat this with other travel books/website, if I have a month to explore Europe, do you expect me to use just blogs and tips which I can’t even verify truth or not before going? Hey after all it’s a 1000 pages books writing a country (like US or France), if only 500 of which could help, I can say it’s a good book, not to mention it covers most of the world sites, why would I bother a lot to go to blogs or TV or websites while you have the same stuff written on one book.

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for the comment. Keep in mind that I titled the article “Why WE don’t use Lonely Planet” not “Why YOU shouldn’t use it”. I was just letting people know my travel style and how I prefer to do my own research based on more recent travel experiences. Yes, it takes a lot more time to and research this way, but it’s just how I prefer it. For people with less time, Lonely Planet might still be a great option for them.

  15. AudioScienceMastering@gmail.com' betelspitter says:

    LP is only useful for their maps of towns and cities. the first and last one i bought was africa of a shoestring in 1992.

  16. thelastpict1107@gmail.com' Steve says:

    Your right. I used “Lonely Planet-Cycling Australia” and I was very lonely and on a planet. There were no chapters on Bellangolo Forrest and Ivan Milat introductory tour there. None on Funnel webs, drop bears, sharks,Blue bottle,Jelly blubbers, sand flies,STDs, temperatures hotter than Mercury, irate car drivers prepared to inflict grievous bodily harm or the flies.Millions and millions of flies.The way they routed morale, they were more dangerous than Milat. Other than that it was a great trip, and my doctor says the Melanoma is benign if I remove 7″x7″x2″ of flesh and muscle.

  17. apibiri@yahoo.it' Andres says:

    well, I must say that sometimes there are people out there who think.
    Lonely Planet is for people on holiday, not for travelers!
    As you well wrote, a traveler tries to make own way: good experiences will be then memorable and bad experiences will be useful to learn.
    Traveling involves risks, no pain no gain. Following a guide to pick up an hotel (with other LP zombies), a restaurant or a route might be the safer way, definitively, but where is the point of (pretending) travelling? If you want a safe way to see the same things that everybody sees, but a National Geographic DVD and enjoy it on your comfortable sofa and download pictures from the web. Isn’t that even safer? and you will safe money and time.
    Nowadays everybody goes on holiday and everybody thinks that having a backpack makes the owner a backpacker: far to be true. People getting off from plane, jumping on a taxi and asking to be taken to a LP hotel… is that traveling? Why don’t using a trolley so, wouldn’t it be more comfortable?
    It’s now 8 years I have been on the road, I completely wear off new pair of sandals and new pair of trainers every 4/5 months and I’ve met really few good travelers out of thousands backpackers so far. And believe me, the best places of any country are never mentioned on the LP because as soon as they are, they get spoiled in few months.
    So, be brave, through your LP away, pick up a random never-heard location and go there, possibly walking as much as possible on your way, you won’t regret it even in the worst case.

  18. cbcreatives@gmail.com' Kim says:

    My recent trip in 2014 was the first I did in the “tech age” and while I miss the Lonely Planet’s succinct history and geography and political notes, I didn’t really miss it otherwise. The only time I used it was its guided walk through Petra (a hostel copy). There are SOOO many online resources and guided walks and everything else – why add 2-5kgs of dead weight to your luggage? Rick Steves has free audio guides to most of the cities in Europe. Just download at the hostel and look around while listening to a personal guide take you around the city at your own pace.
    LP’s online booking site was next to useless for hostel bookings. They only contain those that they get commission from or higher priced accommdation. I also had a really bad experience of them in UAE where I am convinced that the research done by the writer was phone the travel office. Even the map didn’t look like the streets! And in their updated and 100% researched Philippine guide in 2012 the directions to get to Lake Taal from Manila are non-existent. It turned into a really fun adventure, but that was not really part of the plan http://ameasureofthings.blogspot.com/2012/06/unexpected-adventure-to-lake-taal.html

    LP has NEVER been at the forefront of travel technology. In 2003 with Hotmail and Yahoo Mail around, LP was still advocating taking photo copies of your passport with you and leaving a copy with friends and family. Finding an internet cafe through LP at that time was impossible! I still enjoy their “highlights and suggested itineraries” sections for planning. That to me is the best part of the book – but not worth the extreme expense

  19. lauryn@gmail.com' Lauryn says:

    LP has been very useful for my travels but as a Malaysian, I didn’t appreciate the very biased commentary on our history (referring to our colonial past) and while there might be issues in the country, it doesn’t help that that particular copy I was reading did not have a neutral observation of what the country was. I felt that it was for people to just come visit, tick it off their list, but not appreciate or respect the culture and people of the country.

  20. jplesk@yahoo.com' James says:

    I agree. But even before the internet Lonely Planet was iffy. As soon as a hotel or restaurant gets listed the place gets inundated, prices go up and quality often goes down. But it was good for general information, should I go to that area, how do I get there, what streets have the traveler resources, what can I do there. I miss that sort of pocket resource.

  21. macainmadrid@gmail.com' Maca Hernandez says:

    Yes, I find their books a bit stodgy and written by anglo speakers that are clueless. In my country the LP guides are way off. With the internet we can get valuable, practical information without buying a $30 book

  22. stefkibsey@gmail.com' SK says:

    I think there is still value in LP travel books. They are useful in two cases 1) If you are really short on time and haven’t been able to do any planning or research, and 2) If you’re traveling alone. For the former, if you end up in a place and know absolutely nothing about it, LP is great for quickly finding everything you need, and telling you everything you need to know about the attractions there so you don’t miss out. It can take quite a bit of time to do your own research. And as for being alone, it can be stressful to not have anyone else’s advice to rely on, sometimes you need a mental break. Especially if you’re a solo female, you can’t afford to make bad decisions. No one’s got your back. Especially if you’re off the gringo trail and haven’t made any travel buddies yet. The LP is a great mental break! Also, it’s a physical book so you don’t have problems with lack of internet, dead batteries, etc.

  23. pauldufficy58@gmail.com' Paul says:

    Just doing some writing about wandering around the places you mention between 1973 – 6. LP had across Asia on the Cheap or something, but there was nothing detailed on the Philippines and no internet – so no option but to ask, talk, learn some new language and things happen. Happy trails.

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