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Guide Books: To Bring or Not to Bring?

What's the consensus on bringing guidebooks with you when you travel? They are great to have since they have so much information, but they are real weight/space killers especially when you are traveling to 3+ countries and might want that many books.

Are people going electronic? Or tearing out sections of the guidebooks?

I was a little surprised on the RS tour I took last year, after all the preaching on packing light, that they still wanted everyone to bring their guidebooks for each country.

Posted by
31815 posts

I much prefer to have a "hard copy" book to refer to during trips, but as you mentioned they're heavy and take space. Consequently I've been modifying my approach over the last few years and usually just pack one book for the country I'm spending the most time in (which is usually Italy). For the other countries I'll be visiting on each trip, I've been using a combination of E-books (Kindle format) and occasionally tearing pages out of a book and just taking the applicable pages. The E-books are especially useful on my phone as it's with me all the time and there are no weight or space issues.

One other approach I've used for visits that just involve larger cities, is to use the Pocket guidebook versions (ie: Pocket Paris). Although they don't have as much information as the full-size guidebooks, the content is adequate and they're very easy to travel with.

Posted by
5697 posts

Our bags are packed, and they contain two full guidebooks for new places and ripped-out sections of older books for places we have been before. Maybe by the next trip we will adjust to electronic media.

Posted by
2375 posts

I tear out sections from my books to travel as light as possible, knowing I can supplement with research at night from the hotel/apartment.

Posted by
11871 posts

Last Fall for my Rick Steves tours I downloaded the ebooks to my iPad Mini and liked that format very much. I had tried them on my Kindle previously and did not like that format, finding it too awkward to handle. I have also ripped out chapters of guidebooks to take along but I might just have converted over to the iPad versions.

Posted by
1520 posts

I regretted ripping up my books! Sometimes "the plan" did not happen or our planned event for the day did not take as long as I thought and I had no resource to tell me what was close by or what else we could see that day with open/close times. Take your book!! Lucky for us all the apartments we stayed in had the most recent Rick Steves Guide books so I was able to grab and take with me, so that may be an option also if you are staying at an apartment is to use their book. Now we are planning another trip to Rome and since I ripped up my book I am going to buy another one so I have a whole book, frustrating. Between my husbands bags and ours we will make room!

Posted by
2765 posts

Electronic! I have a kindle, and can also open the book on the kindle app on my phone. I can look at the book on-the-go without lugging it in my daybag, or looking clueless. Especially helpful for following RS sight tours. I also can have as many books as I want (for example, the city guide for a visit to Barcelona and then the full country guide for other parts of Spain, and then the book for Paris and the one for the rest of France...and then the lonely planet guides. And a novel or two for the plane/train rides...).

Posted by
14752 posts

Guidebooks for us! I use them over and over, and we don't take electronics (other than a camera) along for sightseeing. Books can be inexpensively replaced if misplaced or damaged; not so with electronics. Light fingers aren't at all interested in them either. :O)

Posted by
95 posts

I rip mine up! I take out the entire sections of the places we'll be visiting and then have the pages rebound at Kinkos. For our France trip this May our huge book has been condensed to Paris, Normandy and Brittany, since those are the regions we are going. So I do take a book, but there's no reason to include all those extra regions if I'm not going there. Plus, by the time we go again there will be an updated version and the process starts over.

Posted by
11613 posts

Electronic, on my iPad mini. I have three or four different guidebooks for Italy, for example; sometimes I buy an e-book on the road (last one was "Christ Stopped at Eboli" when I visited Matera).

Different guidebooks have different strengths: RS is detailed but only for his personal favorites, Lonely Planet has an easy layout and lots of wide-ranging info, National Geographic or Blue Guides are exhaustive, Michelin is great for driving itineraries.

Posted by
3938 posts

I'm tending more to electronic now on my ipad. Some of the guides are great because you can bookmark and highlight passages to easily find. When we did California in 2013, I didn't even buy a paper book...just downloaded one on my ipad - the other great thing was hyperlinks - so when we were trying to decide which studio tour to do in LA, I could click the link to their home pages (wifi in the accoms) and see hours, prices, what was included, where they were located...so that was much faster and easier.

I have also been known to take photos of important pages if I really find it necessary. I sometimes still buy paper books and will generally take the map along. I can't bring myself to tear up a book.

I will say, we use airbnb a lot, and I find most of the hosts have ample guidebooks lying around - especially our hosts in Paris and Rome - and a lot of others will have brochures for local sights, or maybe a binder with suggestions of sights, shopping, restaurants...

Posted by
7720 posts

I rip out the sections for areas in which we will be, then throw the sections away after each stop. If I were coming back, I'd be getting a new book anyway. They want you to bring it because its helpful for some of the tours (inside the Louvre for example) and for your free time.

Posted by
99 posts

Regarding electronic versions, is the Kindle version from Amazon different from the version you get from the RS site? It looks like RS site offers a pdf version using Adobe reader to view.

Posted by
3465 posts

Something deep in me recoils at the idea of ripping up books. I photocopy pages if I want only a small section of a guide. I also sometimes just leave a book, when departing, if I'm sure I won't be returning to a destination.

Posted by
2765 posts

I have not used the version from the RS store. They aren't PDF - they are ebooks - a PDF would be very hard to navigate and you couldn't highlight. But these aren't PDFs, which is good! Looks like the book itself is the same, but the ones on the RS store are readable through a free app. I don't have this and can't tell you if it's better or worse than the kindle version bought from Amazon. Or the applebooks version bought from Apple. Any difference would be in how the various apps let you search, note, and highlight.

It does look like the Rick Steves site allows you to buy the chapters on tours for some sights individually, which might be helpful if you don't want the whole book.

Posted by
101 posts

I used all digital guides on my most recent trip to Belgium and Germany. My experience is that PDF versions are nicer visually, but are hard to navigate through, even on something as big as an iPad, and useless on a phone. So I think books formatted for the Kindle are best. I read them on my iPhone, which is the large size.

IMO a paperback copy would have been easier to page through and use, but I didn't want to deal with the weight. And most humbling, I realized that once everything is on a digital device, it's easier to lose track of what you have than with an actual book. (For me, anyway.) I'm kicking myself because I brought a "pocket" guide specifically for Berlin, but forgot to use it -- instead just reading the Berlin section of the German guidebook I had. It's probably worth grouping all one's guidebooks into a "collection" in the Kindle or Kindle app, so they are organized and easy to find.

Posted by
250 posts

I always buy the previous year's version of the guide book for a couple of bucks, tear out the pages and bring along, in that way I don't feel bad about destroying a beautiful, new $25 book. That said, I have NEVER referred to them on my trips, however I will bring them along again this year because you never know...

Posted by
11294 posts

It's so interesting to see how differently everyone travels.

I refer to guidebooks constantly, so I definitely bring them with me. I certainly photocopy (on double-sided pages if possible) if it's just a few pages on a place. I also have no problem cutting books, although I'm not always great at taping them up (the end page often falls off). I don't use e-books yet.

I even had local photocopies made once. I had brought just part of a large Lonely Planet France book, but even cut up it was still heavy. I was in Toulouse for a few days, and realized I was schlepping around this heavy thing for only about 12 pages. So, I took it to a copy shop and had them just copy the Toulouse pages - much easier to carry.

I agree that I often end up using parts I didn't think I'd need (and of course, vice versa). If I had taken daytrips from Toulouse I hadn't planned in advance, I'd have been glad to have the book with me rather than just having brought the Toulouse pages.

Posted by
13002 posts

I do things a little differently.

First, I go my local library and check out the guidebooks I want.

When I decide which ones I like best, I'll determine how much I need. If only a few pages, I'll go photocopy it. If more, I'll get the electronic version.

Then, every night, I'll make notes from these guidebooks of what I have planned the next day. I also have the guidebooks on my phone so I can refer to them if plans change.

Posted by
2949 posts

Save a tree! I stopped using paper 3 trips ago on a trip to Spain and Portugal. I buy the ebook on Amazon and read on my tablet in my hotel or on my phone when visiting sights. I'm a senior citizen who still subscribes to a printed newspaper and use my library a lot. I find it more convenient to use a paper guidebook for research but none graces my carry on.

Posted by
533 posts

I'll bring a small, lightweight guidebook for each city I'm visiting. (My trips usually focus on two or three cities, maybe four, so that's not too much weight.) Usually, by the time I get to my destination, I have a pretty good idea of where I want to go and what I want to see (and what to expect in terms of opening hours, admission prices, etc.), so I use the guidebooks mostly for the foldout maps. I'll write notes on the maps beforehand about any places I want to go that aren't mentioned in the guidebook.

If I need any more information than that - directions to hotels that are outside the city center, maps of towns and cities that don't have their own guidebooks - I'll print out the relevant google maps and write notes on those.

I know you can almost always get better maps of a place in the place itself, but I find it invaluable to be able to take those pre-trip notes when I have access to all my other reference materials at home.

Posted by
9399 posts

I use the library copies books from different authors and scan the most pertinent pages onto my iPad. If I'll be in one country I'll buy the electronic version of the book. I also take notes from answers here, as well as notes from the guide books and make files for the iPad. Of course, two years I forgot some files on my laptop and had to send SOS out to everyone on the Forum--who saved the day.

Posted by
1286 posts

Electronic, on my iPad--which serves as my computer when I travel, and my older iPhone, which also has my Estonian Sim card. I'd be bringing those things anyway, so there's no extra weight or space involved.

Posted by
730 posts

I've ripped out the sections we will need and used a heavy duty stapler in 3 places on the very edge to keep them together. I also made color copies of the covers just so I knew which section was which. I did this for our BOE 21 day tour last spring and have already done this for our BoMSV tour later this year.

At first I had a little difficulty tearing apart a book.......but once you do it for the first time, it gets easier the next.

That being said, I also had the digital version of a couple of the books (Paris book and Italy book). I found those very useful as I had the kindle app and could utilize them on my phone.

After the tour was over, I put those paper sections of the books along with any maps, receipts, postcards, etc I had from that city. They are sitting in a gallon zip lock bag just mocking me because I haven't figured out what to do with them yet.

Posted by
127 posts

I'm a selective ripper. I didn't rip up my Ireland guide book because I used all of it. I did rip up my Italy guide book because I was going on the Southern Italy tour and that is about a quarter of the entire book (why lug pages and pages of places not on the trip?).

Since I did rip up the book, I cut down report covers and arranged the pages by the various destinations. In other words, I got all the Italy guide had to offer about Rome in about an eighth of an inch. Helpful when packing the day bag.

Posted by
5710 posts

We usually visit 1-2 countries of Europe during a trip. Typically I buy the RS book for the country, unless I have one less than 4 years old. I also purchase another Guide Book after browsing them at a local bookstore for a different point of view, plus better maps.

When we leave on vacation, I bring select small pieces of the RS book stapled into mini-booklets. Also, I have a stack of stapled good info that I've gathered from the internet, etc. When we're on the train heading to the next location, I pull out the RS mini-section and the stapled ~6 pages about pertain to that location. We scan through the info and plan what we would like to do, first, when we arrive.

When we're leaving that town, I throw away the papers but keep the RS section. When we're back home, I set the sections back into the RS books. The only time we've brought a whole Guide Book was during our RS tours, and we brought the Eyewitness Book of Veneto/Venice the first year we were traveling on our own.

We use electronics at a minimum when we're in Europe. My husband is a realtor, so he's connected in the hotels. Otherwise, we like to explore untethered.

Posted by
210 posts

Very enjoyable postings here! Lots of creativity.

Here is what works for me. I rip up my guide books ( I agree, it is painful…but kind of athletic, too). I don't want to have my iPhone or iPad out as I am riding a metro or bus. If I am walking to locations…..same thing. You are really putting a target on your back.

I dissect my guide book depending on locations. I staple them together with a post-it tag identifying the location. Usually they are color coded. If I am exploring a big city with many sites, I take the sections of the guidebook that I will visiting that day (or might visit). Everything else stays in the hotel room. Same thing with small towns or brief tour stops. Since my RS hotel reservations are already booked….no need to tote around the sections about where to sleep. Since my books are ripped up and tagged…..no need to carry the index or table of contents……and the great photos in them (although I do make note of cool images that I want to shoot myself). Likewise any section that is not relevant gets left at home. My daily backpack becomes lighter and my luggage, too.

Sometimes when I sit at a restaurant, park bench, bar, medieval wall, church/basilica (getting some divine directions), whatever…..I drag out my "pages du jour" and do some planning. Again, not quite as conspicuous as having an electronic device.

One of my big issues with my plan is when the chapters/sections overlap…..as in the last page of the one site/museum/city is on the back of the first page of the next site/museum/city (which is not on "today's" itinerary)……do you take both sections…..or copy the overlaps…..or just decide that particular painting/statue/city was not that cool anyway :-)

This works for me. Do what works best for you. FWIW……my RS guidebook is already "filleted" and tagged for my upcoming trip.

Posted by
13796 posts

True, bringing a guide book is a weight killer. Tearing out a section(s), ripping out pages to bring along, I wouldn't dare. Now that I use a 4 wheel roller I bring one guide book as long as the hard copy isn't too heavy, don't use electronic books, since I would know how anyway.

Posted by
367 posts

I am a ripper also and, gasp, I work for a library. I rip out the pages that I will need, put them in my day pack then usually forget about them. I also read them and plan out my day before I venture out. But it is nice to have them in case plans change or I forget how to get where I am going.

I am also a bit of a dinosaur because the only electronics I take are a kindle reader and an ipod. I use the iPod for pictures, listening to books and, if wifi is available, the internet and email. The kindle is to read books. I don't use them for guide book purposes. I find If I do haul them out I spend too much time reading them and missing what I am looking at.

Posted by
18677 posts

My ETBD Germany guidebook is ca. 2000. I read the book pretty thoroughly when I got it. I don't think they've moved Bacharach since then, so I don't think I need a new one. I might look at it when planning, but usually not. I get my overnight accommodations from town websites. They are more up-to-date. I bring a small laptop (netbook, transformer pad) with me and store a lot of information, like town maps and rail schedules, on it.

Posted by
2440 posts

I always bring guidebooks for wherever I am visiting, the only electronic I bring is my phone and I don't want to try reading everything on that. I do remove sections that I know I won't need, and for a day trip to another region I'll remove that section and take it along. No matter how much research I do I always find myself curious about something during the trip and I'm always glad I have the books with me.

I usually visit 2 countries on my trips, so the first country's book & map (Streetwise laminated are my first choice) goes in my carry-on and the 2nd country's goes in my checked bag, distributes the weight that way.

Posted by
417 posts

We went to 6 countries, so I had six books. Any given day, I only carried a section of the guidebook. When we left the country I tossed the book. (That's still hard for me). However, tossing the books gave me much more space of souvenirs.

Posted by
5710 posts

I think it's funny that we would spend an extra $20 on some item that might help our trip but not want to rip a book into sections. I'm sure RS would support the idea of buying a book "for the trip" and buying a 2nd non-altered one for our bookshelf. : )

Posted by
13796 posts

Tossing out the book or ripping out pages, I wouldn't think of, simply unthinkable. I would bring the whole book and have done just that instead of tearing out pages. The other way is I went to Kinkos to get the copies of the needed pages. That was in the past. Nowadays, I use 3x5 note cards to record such needed info, which means no day bag.

Posted by
8608 posts

I've done it all, but I probably most often photocopy the pages of the relevant sections and staple them together. On a trip this summer that I'm doing with my family, I guess I'll probably bring all the whole guidebooks along and hope that somebody else (i.e. my husband, my dad and my brother are the most likely candidates; I'm unlikely to burden my 7-year-old niece with same!) will carry one or two of them from time to time (since they're benefiting from all my purchasing and planning, the least they can do is help with the hauling!!!). : )

And even if I'm bringing my guidbook(s), I really like to photocopy sections for discrete portions of trips - so when I take that daytrip to X, I only bring those few photocopied pages, while I have the book back at the hotel.

Posted by
11613 posts

For me, guidebooks aren't literature, so I don't keep them forever since some info changes over time anyway. I really like keeping the books on my iPad mini - weightless.

Posted by
110 posts

Tossing in a late, nuanced suggestion:

We brought stuff like that on our trip (one travel book and one Ordnance Survey map) and we left them in the rooms where we stayed. (Air B&B both times). It gets you the information you need and helps the next guy out too.

Posted by
1917 posts

Hi Yank, I take at least one RS guidebook and maybe one Pocket book (Paris, Loire) with me in my carry on. I refer to them often and near the end of the trip I try to pass them on. Many hotels have "library" sections in the lobby and there's always room for one more. This year my travel partner and I ended up with three Switzerland books between us so leaving one behind will be no big deal.

Also, at the end of several RS tours I traded paperbacks with another traveler before we left. I really hate getting rid of a book, seems nicer to pass it on.