One of the best and least costly investments you can make
for your European vacation is in a reliable
guidebook, especially if the travel tips,
recommendations and hints in it can save you time,
money and aggravation.
Let’s face it, there is no way for you to be aware of
everything you want or need to know about a place,
its people, language, customs, history, highlights,
low lights and in-betweens without some proper
pre-trip planning and a reasonable amount of
So what’s reasonable? That depends on you and what you want
out of your trip but you can’t go wrong with
something that offers good basic information while
tossing in enough useful local words and phrases to
be helpful as well.
That’s where the travel guidebooks come into play or at
least the good ones do. Thanks to the intrepid
travel writers who boldly and at times dumbly went
where no one has gone before (that is, if you’ll
excuse the millions of people who live and work
there where ever the ‘there’ is) we benefit from
their wanderings and writings.
We reap not only from their wonder and discoveries, their
joys and epiphanies but also from their mistakes,
failings and social faux pas as well. Tales of bad
eateries, really bad hotels, or frustrating
experiences and encounters tell us what to look out
for and to avoid. Good travel books do that and
more. Better still, they tell you where and how you
can have a better trip for whatever kind of trip you
plan on taking- whether you’re the first time
visitor, experienced and oh-so-fortunate frequent
traveler, or a dyed in the ‘is that organic wool?’
free range trekker.
Today, three of the front runners in this travel marketing
race for your vacation dollars come from perennial
favorites: Frommers, Rick Steves, and Lonely Planet.
Frommers’ is the oldest of the notable group and stems
from Yale Law School graduate and former military
veteran, Arthur Frommer who first introduced most
Americans to budget European travel in the 1950s.
Beginning with a well received self-published travel guide
for other GIs stationed in Europe he went on to
widespread commercial success with his best seller,
‘Europe on $5 a Day.’
Further expansion and success allowed him to eventually
sell his business to pursue other interests while
remaining on as a budget travel consultant. Frommers
is presently part of the prestigious 200-year old
John Wiley and Sons Publishing Company that has
published such American authors as Nathaniel
Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allen Poe.
Wiley has also published the works of famed European
writers Hans Christian Andersen, Elizabeth Barrett
Browning, Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo.
And probably because none of the above writers ever turned
out a decent travel guide Wiley set its sights on
the Frommers line…
Okay, maybe not.
Maybe more than likely the minds at Wiley understood a
successful and popular format when they saw it.
Today, thanks to authors Darwin Porter and Danforth
Prince, Frommers remains one of the most informative
and reliable budget travel guide book series and
forms a good foundation for any vacation.
Although, why they haven’t done a Poe Man’s Guide to
Travel, A Dickens of a Time, or Hugo Girl! is beyond
me. Maybe they just couldn’t Barrett?
The Pacific Northwest’s favorite European traveler (and
seemingly everybody’s too, for that matter) Rick
Steves is another self-publishing travel guide
success story. Beginning in 1980 with his book,
Europe Through The Back Door the affable and
avid travel writer and personality went on to score
a hit with his PBS series, Travels in Europe with
Rick Steves and later Rick Steves’ Europe.
His popular books published by Avalon Travel Publishing
turns out the less slick or glossy but more
practical travel books designed for an American
audience who wish to be ‘temporary locals’ on their
Steves’ primary appeal to his loyal following seems to be
that he offers not just good and comfortable tips
and hints about traveling in Europe but offers it up
with enough goodwill and exuberance that celebrates
the joy of traveling. It doesn’t hurt that he tosses
in a certain amount of humor too, something sorely
missing in the travel genre.
While some find his format a little too saccharine or
mainstream touristy for their tastes I’ve always
found it be refreshing and entertaining. The guy
knows Europe or at the least the kind of Europe most
Americans want to see and he’s not condescending or
pretentious about his travels.
Also, while some guidebooks provide much too small and
intricate street maps Steves provides larger easy to
follow hand-drawn maps that give the user the feel
of a treasure map in your search for a few cultural
You can’t go wrong with guidebook from Rick Steves nor can
you miss by adopting some of the enthusiasm he
conveys for traveling in Europe. Add his books into
your travel plans as well and if you’re ever in
Edmonds, Washington stop by his store. It’s worth a
Lonely Planet began in 1973 on a kitchen table with a
stapled book entitled, Across Asia on the Cheap,
by British travelers, Maureen and Tony Wheeler.
Today, the once shoe string budget travel publisher is now
one of the recognized leaders in the travel
guidebook business as well as one of the favorites
of the serious backpacking crowd and the more
adventurous travelers. What qualifies as serious or
adventurous? Well, the Lonely Planet guidebook on
Indonesia on my shelf tells of the dangers of
running into a Komodo dragon that ‘can snap your
legs as fast as they’ll cut through a goat’s
throat.’ The book cautioned of other dangers
including treading on poisonous snakes and relates a
cautionary tale about an elderly European who
wandered off alone in Komodo territory and was never
Having spent some time in the backcountry and bush in
Southeast Asia I always felt that information like
this is nice to know.
Okay, maybe not nice but certainly helpful. “Let’s see…Ah!
Here it is! Big dark snake (check), 18 to 21 feet in
length (check), flair hood and swaying (check),
angry yellow eyes (check). King Cobra. Don’t cuddle
That’s not really in their book but their cautionary advice
is a welcome find given the nature of some of the
na´ve tourists I’ve seen visiting some countries. I
know because I was once one myself, still am
“Hi, is the Queen home?”
Over the decades the Wheelers have been joined by over 150
authors from 20 countries and operate with a large
support staff in the United Kingdom, Australia and
To date Lonely Planet has produced over 600 titles in
English with guidebooks published in French,
Italian, Spanish, Korean and Japanese.
Guidebooks are updated with feedback they receiver from
travelers offering more valuable insight and travel
suggestions. Lonely Planet accepts no endorsements
or advertising in their guidebooks and their
web-site touts that their ‘authors do not accept
kickbacks, payment or favors in return for positive
These top three publishers turn out good advice on the
people, countries, and cultures they visit and
report on. In addition they offer sensible
information and advice on how to get there, how to
get around once you’re there, and where to sleep,
eat, drink, complete with maps and honest comments
about the services you’ll find.
So before you book your trip, book your books because if
the journey begins with the first step then the good
travel guides will keep you from stumbling out of
the starting blocks.
And finally, here’s a helpful parting environmental note.
In your wanderings around parts of Germany,
Switzerland, Italy and Southern France if you’re
threatened by something that hisses loudly at you
and makes small forward jerking motions with its
head it might not be a snotty waiter, it could be a
That’s right, a poisonous snake. Actually, it is a Vipera
Aspis Aspis, to be more precise. It’s a moderately
sized snake with dark brown zigzag patterns on its
back that likes warm rocks and settings.
Also, in Germany and Switzerland if the Vipera Aspis Aspis
bites you try not to scream and frighten it.
It’s an endangered species.