Many people will tell you not to waste $30 on a guidebook, but I’m here to tell you that a good guidebook is never a waste of money. I started reading guidebooks from the library as a kid. It was something I just did for fun. I was totally a massive nerd, but it paid off as most of my travel skills are instinctual for me. This may seem obvious but guidebooks are offline, you always have access to them. I can’t tell you the number of times my guidebook came in handy on the ground when I couldn’t consult google. The maps alone are worth the money and most also have a small phrasebook in the back. That being said don’t forget to download offline maps for the areas you plan on visiting.
Like most travelers, I have my favorite brands, and a few others I find handy. The best brand of European guidebooks by far is Rick Steve’s Europe. With his books in circulation, I don’t know why anyone bothers publishing their own. The worst thing about Rick Steve is that he only publishes European books, so when I began exploring other continents, I had to go with a different brand that just doesn’t hold up to good ol’ Ricky Steves. His videos are also great for visualizing where you want to go and his website offers many other free resources.
Rick Steves delivers the best advice for any travel budget. He will give you money saving tips on museums and attractions, and recommend the best restaurants for the best prices. I’ve found many gems in his restaurant listings. His hotels are more location-based, rather than the best bang for your buck. I don’t use any guidebooks for lodging as there are just so many better and cheaper ways to find a room online.
Rick Steve’s humor comes through on the pages and he treats every entry like it’s the most important one. There are many self-guided tours of places right in the book. All the big sites and most cities have one or more. This is what makes it stand out as it has all the information you need right in a handy physical book.
Other Guidebooks can be split into two categories. Budget and Pricey Informational (with color pictures). The best budget ones are Let’s Go! and Lonely Planet, while the best informative guides are Eyewitness Travel and Frommer’s Day by Day Guides. I recommend pursuing them at the local library or bookstore to find which book, or a combination of books you like best. While I can’t condone torrenting, it’s a useful way to check out a book before buying it, if the library doesn’t have that one.
- Let’s Go! Is written and updated by Harvard students. It is the guidebook I would recommend to younger people on a tight budget. It has great hosteling information, female perspectives, LGBT resources, and the best nightlife recommendations. It’s pages come packed with money saving tricks and tips. (I travel with this when Ricky Steve isn’t available) Find it’s flagship Europe book here.
- Lonely Planet is a no-nonsense series of guidebooks. Their “On a Shoestring” collection offers solid information about the area, budget listings, and useful information for once you’re on the ground. Find there guide to Europe here.
- Eyewitness Travel is a glorified picture book, but those pictures are pretty damn amazing. It’s a very visual guide, which works best for some people. I love the detailed maps of important areas and cutaway cross sections of churches and palaces. Great for research, but probably best to leave at home. (Which makes it perfect to get at the library and save you money!) Either way, you can find it here.
- Frommer’s Day by Day Guides: These guys are fun! They are full color and offer itineraries of varying length and focus. They include a phrasebook and a small pocket in the back with a foldable map. These are great for carrying around with you in the city as they are small. Most major European cities are covered, but the lodging and restaurant sections are useless as they start out of a budget traveler’s price range. Find London here, Rome here, and Paris here.
While Guidebooks rock, the internet is an amazing resource to use in conjunction. Local Tourist Information websites often have the latest and information and events listings. Look for local websites (especially library ones) to get an inside scoop. Travel forums like TripAdvisor are very useful and almost always someone has already asked your question. For trains and buses, GoEuro.com helps you shop around with multiple carriers, including local flights. Bahn.com is a German website but has information for trains across the continent and the UK.