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Guidebooks a necessity?

Hello Everyone! My husband and I are going on our very first RS tour and we are going big by doing the 21-day Europe tour! Seeing that we will already be provided a guide and an itinerary, how necessary is it to also have a guidebook? We don't really plan on sightseeing much besides what is already included in the tour. We would mostly like to just wander and really take in the local scene in between sightseeing engagements. What do you guys think?

Posted by
489 posts

Don't you get some books with the purchase of the tour? Take them.. but if you watch RS videos then you should be fine. Don't spend any more money! Have a good time.

Posted by
3 posts

Yeah...we actually used the tour kit to purchase our travel bags since they had a huge sale on bags at the time. But thank you for your reply!

Posted by
12245 posts

We don't really plan on sightseeing much besides what is already
included in the tour. We would mostly like to just wander and really
take in the local scene in between sightseeing engagements

Er, that sort of wandering IS sightseeing!

A guidebook is often going to tell you what you're looking at when you run into something interesting and want to know what it is. Also, while we don't take packaged tours, I'd never rely solely on a human guide for my information. Reading up in advance gives you background on what you're going to be seeing, why those things are important enough to pay a LOT of money to get to experience, and are the reasons for taking the trip in the first place.

Buy a book.

Posted by
1173 posts

Yes, take the book! I find it very necessary. I have been on 16 tours plus site seeing in the USA and in Euope with friends and solo. I have found the guide books to be invaluable. You can rip out parts of the book ( hotel section) that you don't need to lighten the book. You may not want to bring the book with you every day of touring but you will need to refer to it. You get a fair amount of free time and you will need the book for restaurant suggestions, museum suggestions, sites to visit and how to take public transporation. When in Paris you can find a place to eat or visit and it will tell you what metro to take or bus to take. You want to wander around but not aimlessly. You still need a plan of attack as to how to get around the cities you will be in and the book will be very helpful. The guides are great but they don't know everything and there are 26 other people on your tour asking questions. If your guide suggests a restaurant or a place to see you can refer to the book and find out the address or what to expect.

You have never been to many of the places you will be visting so having the book, reading the book will help you determine what interests you and what you want to see when your are doing your wandering. It will also help you determine what sites are close to each other so that you don't waste time going from one end of a city to the other.

I cannot stress how important it is to have a plan even if you are not a museum person and just want to walk around and see the sites and eat at a cafe. You need to know where you are going and how to enjoy the city. Once you start reading the guide book you will understand more fully as to what I am trying to express.

I know I am going on and on but it really is important to know about the places you are visiting before hand and not wing it. It really is a lot of money you are spending and then you end up not seeing as much as you would had you had a plan. Remember, if it rains you will want to know where to go besides just walking the streets as nice as that is when the weather is good. But in the rain or if it is chilly you want to know where to go and make the most of that experience.

I hope this helps you in deciding that planning your free time will enrich your trip.

Not only do I read my guide books, but I also watch YouTube free videos of different travel shows to see on YouTube what I will be seeing and I also like to look at specific websites of places I want to visit so I know the correct hours and times.

Have a map of where your going and keep the hotel business card with you so that you know what hotel you are staying in.

This is an amazing trip ( I did the 14 day Best of Europe tour and had been to all the places on that tour already) and I still needed the guide book so that I could visit what I had not seen.

For instance in Rome, I made sure I went to churches I never saw before.

Have a great time!!!

Posted by
1173 posts

In doing your planning, if you have not done so already, take a look at the 14 day or 21 day Rick Steves on line scrapbooks. They are wonderful resources as to what to expect from the tour filled by photos and descriptions of the tours. The people who make their scrapbboks of the tours they took do a great job in expressing what they saw and did and ate on their tours. I got a lot of ideas from looking at the online scrapbooks and even found what tours I want to do in the future.

Posted by
1352 posts

You've invested so much money in your trip doesn't it make sense to spend so little on guidebooks to enhance your time? I would never go to Europe - independently or on a tour without a guidebook or 2.

Posted by
97 posts

Oh, yes, get the guide book - if only for the maps!! They were more useful and accurate than the local maps we got in each city. We took our first RS tour in April (Heart of Italy), bought the book, and cut it into sections based on the cities we visited. I used packing tape to 'laminate' the first page of each section to give it a little more body. Our first night in Rome, we happened upon a really lovely piazza during our wander, consulted the map, and were tickled to find out we were outside the French Embassy, designed in part by Michelangelo. That added to the magical experience of the evening. However, after getting lost and very late for the bus in Lucca, I used the map to track where our introductory walk took us so I could orient myself. Apparently, when we're following a leader, we enjoy the scenery rather than pay careful attention to our route. It's easy to get turned around. And you can jot down the locations of recommended cafes as you walk.

Posted by
4487 posts

This is a great tour, and it will be even better if you have some background information. The more you know about a place or sight, the more you will enjoy it and the more you will get out of it. Your itinerary will simply list the places you will see, not give you any background or context. Your guide has many duties and obligations, and telling you all you might need to know about every place you'll be visiting is not included - they don't have that much time, and neither do you.

If you don't want to buy the book, look for it at your local Goodwill, or public library. I will say that I don't much care for the newest edition of the Best of Europe book. It's on heavier paper, with lots of color photos. Way too heavy, and some places that used to be in the book have been left out.

If you do buy it, you might want to consider, as some people have recommended, cutting out the sections that pertain to your tour. (Unfortunately, cutting up books is not allowed in our house.)

I would also recommend checking out other sources before you go, including books, movies, TV shows.... As one of Rick's favorite guides likes to say: "The more you know, the more you see." (Francesca Caruso, Rome)

By the way, we just returned from this tour a couple of weeks ago, and it's a dandy. If you're interested, here's a trip report I posted: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/april-15-2018-21-day-best-of-europe

Posted by
25 posts

You will have a blast! We did this tour last year and it definitely was a trip of a lifetime! We loved it!
I had taken my European guidebook and ripped it into sections so that I was prepared for each country. What I found was that I didn’t use them! I did research a few activities to do for times when there was a free afternoon or day, but found I didn’t really need much more. I enjoyed taking each day as it came and our guide encouraged us to explore, which we did and loved!

Posted by
5745 posts

We didn't take it on our first tour, and were sorry. One of the reasons they want you to take it, is so that you can read up on some of the things you will see on the tour. The more background you know going into a certain palace or museum, the more interesting it becomes. And yes, the guidebooks are helpful so that you don't have to ask the tour leader what to do and where to go for things that suddenly sound interesting, like where do we find some good gelato. Sure, you can always wing it, but it helps to have some reference.

Posted by
888 posts

Many Rick Steves guidebooks (along with Fodor's, Frommer's, Lonely Planet) are available at your public library for free. Hey, you already paid your taxes, might as well enjoy taxpayer benefits. Depending on your library some may even be available in e-book form.
Have a great trip!

Posted by
2426 posts

Buy the book, read the book, take the book, tear out pages you need while “wandering” it will prove very helpful. Reading ahead will really increase your appreciation and enjoyment.

Posted by
511 posts

Seconding Rachel's suggestion of ebooks especially if you're on a multi-country tour. If your library doesn't have them to check out you can buy them for less than a paper version.

Posted by
3698 posts

If you obtain the RS guidebook, it's very likely that you will read something in the book that will enhance your free time, your choice of a restaurant, or help you avoid doing something that wasted your free time. When you're in Paris, do you know where you want to wander during your free time? The guide book will give you some great ideas. It will also tell you to reserve your Eiffel Tower tickets ahead of time to not waste time standing in a long line.

I think of my time on vacation as treasured, valuable hours. So, ahead of time, I'm reading the RS guidebook (plus much more internet research) as preparation. (Plus, it's fun to review on the plane in anticipation of your arrival!) We arrive at each city with a list of known ideas of what we would like to see or do. Then, when we're actually at that city, our schedule is completely flexible, depending on what we actually feel like doing. A guidebook doesn't force you to have a rigid schedule; it gives you a horizon of options to pick what appeals to you that day.

The price of the guidebook is similar to an inexpensive meal for two. I wouldn't skimp on that amount compared to what you will receive from it.

Posted by
12245 posts

Many Rick Steves guidebooks (along with Fodor's, Frommer's, Lonely
Planet) are available at your public library for free.

Absolutely. I've checked guidebooks out many times and made notes from bits and pieces of the assortment. Then I buy the one which has the most appeal, which is usually Eyewitness ( no offense to Rick). We really like the visuals in those even if they're heavier than most books.

What we never use the books for? Hotels, restaurants and shopping so those sections really could be torn out. While I know you don't intend to sightsee the inside of attractions you pass by on your own, so maybe don't care, we also don't use the books for entry fees or hours as those can change right after a book has gone to press. I'll note those specifics from the websites, many of which are worth checking out for background as well. Really, read as much as you can before you go so you're not starting from scratch when you get there!

Posted by
277 posts

Most Americans get a very limited amount of vacation time. If you are traveling in Europe, you want to maximize your time. The Rick Steves guidebooks give you additional information that will help you make the most of your time. You don't want to go home and realize that you were in the same town as a famous painting or beautiful cathedral and you didn't see it because you didn't do the research. I saw a picture of a building in Bath that I did not visit. I'm so disappointed that I didn't see it. I had enough free time, but it was at the beginning of my tour and I hadn't refreshed my memory of the town. Now, I am sad that I could have seen it, but didn't. I'm usually a big planner. As soon as I sign up for a trip, I get the RS book on my destination and read the entire book several times. I have tabs on each section for quick reference. I highlight the things I want to see, so that I make sure that I don't forget. I also appreciate the maps.
That doesn't mean that "wandering" is bad. I think it's good to experience the city, just make sure you don't regret your decision.

Posted by
14241 posts

I looked at the tour route and at last year's RS BOE guidebook index (you can see some pages on amazon.com ). It looks like most of the tour's destinations are included in the book. And for the very short stays you'll have at each stop, the information in the book is probably all you'll need. My guess is that last year's book is not much different from this year's. You can buy the Kindle edition for $20. If you're traveling with a device that you can read the book on, that might be worthwhile. Or you can buy last year's paperback for about $12 (plus tax and shipping), then tear out the relevant parts to take with you. Most of the RS books include self-guided walking tours of most places and also top sights, so that could be useful in your wandering.

Posted by
21 posts

Yes to books! I don't think anyone suggested it yet...tear out the sections that pertain to you and then have them spiral-bound for easy access. My friend who I traveled with last year did this and while it takes a little pre-planning, it was great! Super accessible, focused for the towns we were visiting and she said it didn't cost much to do it. She took it to her local Kinko's/Fed Ex or UPS store. Have fun!

Posted by
2786 posts

I just came home from my 16th RS tour and I have purchased the RS guide book for every tour that they were available- Sicily is not. I read every one and take the entire book on the tour. I find them indispensable. A small price to pay when considering the cost of the entire trip.

Posted by
762 posts

As others have stated, yes, definitely take the guidebook. I like to tear my book apart at home and doctor it up by covering each part with wide clear packing tape, so it is easy to just take the 10 pages of this city or the 50 pages of Paris with me while there. Sometimes I put one staple in the top left if needed. At times I might use some scrapbook paper to make a new cover if I am going to use a bit for quite a few days.

A funny story: a few years ago, I left my info on Nice and area that I covered in nice scrapbook paper and clear tape at a rental apartment. When I returned 2 years later to the same rental, in the touristy booklets was my bit of book! I had to take it back home.

Enjoy your trip

Posted by
95 posts

The books are a nice asset to have, but I wondered why the tours don't give you e-books - or at least give the option. I thought it was strange that after all the "pack lean and light" preaching, that they then request everyone bring all the heavy space-killing paper books with them for the tour.

Posted by
434 posts

I find a book helpful, even just for the maps or practical info (where the bathrooms are). You can wander with a bit of direction instead of wandering into a place you should not be. Read it on the plane over. Also look at lonely planet or frommers (the web site has almost the same info as the book and you download pdf of the maps). The scrapbooks are also a good source.

Posted by
4 posts

Your tour guide will always be referring to the guide book for your tour while on the bus between places. It will be helpful for you to have a copy of it.

Posted by
144 posts

We've been on 3 tours. Buy the book either in hard-copy or for the Kindle. Rip it apart and bring the sections that apply or bring your Kindle. During free time or meals on your own, the book comes in handy. Both the book and a SIM card for one of our iPhones so we could use google maps have come in handy on all our tours.

Posted by
62 posts

Hello,

I just got back from the Best of Euerope 14 day tour and broke my tour book up into pieces as Rick suggests, took all the parts relating to my trip and didn't use any of it! I ended up wishing I didn't have the added weight to my bag! My tour guide was so good I didn't need it and I had also read the parts I was intrested in before I went...for my next trip my book will stay home and I'll have more room for souvenirs! It is good to have as a reference though before you go.

Posted by
931 posts

I only used my downloaded guidebook once or twice while on tour. I had researched online each of the cities where we would have free time and had already made a plan for those hours. I didn't want to depend on the guide for what we should do during our free time. A small city map downloaded for each city aided in getting around. We carried pocket London and pocket Paris with us on our last trip. Once again, having fully researched beforehand, we found that they served as useless weight and space takers... never even cracked them open. If you are going to buy a guidebook and you have a tablet you plan to take I would buy the online version. I don't wait until I get somewhere before planning what I am going to do. I want every minute possible to explore.

Posted by
2426 posts

After 7 RS tours I could not imagine not having the guidebook with me. And, although I read books almost exclusively on my Kindle, I bring the paper guidebook. I read it cover to cover, flag things I want to see, places I’d like to dine, and rip out pages when I am out and about. It’s a tribute to the RS guides that some think they are a good substitute for the guidebook. They would disagree for the most part.

Posted by
4487 posts

We use ours like Alan does, except for the part about ripping out the pages. I read the whole book before we leave for the tour, then each evening on the tour reread sections relevant to the next day or two's activities or venues. Little tiny post-its mark things to do, places we might want to go, and restaurants we want to try - even though we almost never actually eat at one of the recommended restaurants!

Posted by
644 posts

This year for the first time, I had both the hardcopy book and the kindle ipad version of the Italy guidebook on the My Way Italy tour. As it turns out, I never opened the book, relying exclusively on my ipad. I did carry my ipad in my daypack most of the time. Nice to be able to read the larger print while sitting at a table enjoy the morning cappucino.

Posted by
11250 posts

You've gotten lots of responses, all saying the same thing - a guidebook is necessary. But if you had any doubt, here's a trip report from someone currently on her first RS tour. https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/the-experiment-trip-report-paris-part-of-tour.

Notice her emphasis on not only doing good pre-trip research beforehand (in some areas she did this, in some she wished she had done more), but the utility of having the book so she could pivot (when she didn't care for the Louvre, she went to other museums - much easier if you have a guidebook with you).

Posted by
172 posts

This tour is awesome. The current technique is to give you a $100 credit. I suggest you get some RSGuidebooks. RS aims to educate you so you become comfortable traveling independently. The travel books really help. They give you tips on how to save time and money. On the tour you will be shown, for example, how to use the train to get from Amsterdam to Harlem. You will take the tram from the train station to the Rikkmuseum. In Europe, the ability to use public transport is key. You will have lots of time on your own to see and experience so much. The books will help you decide. Some of our greatest times in The Best of Europe were picnics, hikes, and free time spent with the new friends we made on the tour. We are excited for anyone starting out on this tour, it is a taste that brought us back to Europe 8 more times and counting! Don't hesitate to go full bore and don't worry about getting lost or seeming like novices, just learn to say please and thank you in the local language and smile all the time! Hank, Novato,Ca

Posted by
3446 posts

,,,how necessary is it to also have a guidebook?

Not necessary at all -- but very, very nice to have for all of the many reasons cited above. It is (by being very careful) easy to disassemble the book, take only the parts you'll need, and reassemble the book upon your return. Can give you details if you wish. By having the book and a highlighter / pen, you can make notes quickly for a journal if you are into that type thing, or just used the highlighted book as a journal.