2011: The Year the Guidebook Burned


2011: The Year the Guidebook Burned

Last year a friend of mine was visiting Portland for the first time. Since I am a frequent visitor and have family there, she sent me a Facebook message asking if I had any recommendations for her.

I copied her in a message I sent to a dozen contacts of mine asking them to help plan her trip and they then sent her a list of dozens of “must see” and “must dos.” The tips made for a great trip and she returned charged and thankful to these strangers who had helped her plan it all.

Planning trips this way is on the up-and-up. It is being used to complement advice in guidebooks, but more and more to replace them. When I was a kid, way, way back in the day (approximately two years ago), social networks were only used to post embarrassing post-party pictures and stalk girls. But not no more!

Now, these networks are making life more dynamic on every level, travel included. Rather than consulting a stale text that becomes dated by the time it’s in print, people are planning trips by Tweeting, CouchSurfing, Facebooking and various other types of stuffing.

This whole process is being formalized. Facebook now has an apps where people can post and answer requests for trip advice, suggest places to say, and recommend things to do. With Facebook’s 500 million users, it’s a powerful enough of a resource that buying a static guidebook written by a 20-something alcoholic seems a bit asinine.

Other sites are racing to carve out a niche in this emerging market. TripAdvisor.com and Yelp.com provide similar services pairing those with the knowledge with those thirsty for it.

We’re living in a brave new world of travel and we are the brave new travelers who are calypsoing* seamlessly through the world. These Brave New Travelers are starting to push guidebooks into the same realm as compasses, sextants and needing a permission slip from King Ferdinand to search for the Northwest Passage.

Whatever service is best positioned to make for better trips will last. Everything else will not. For travelers this is all very exciting. For guidebook publishers, it’s a bit scary and Lonely Planet might just start to get lonely. Bob Dylan knew this was coming even way back when. Oh the times, they are a-changing!

*Calypso |k??lips?| Greek Mythology a nymph who kept Odysseus on her island, Ogygia, for seven years. Technically, not a verb, but I wish it were. I wish it meant: Gleefully moving from place to place.

By Luke Armstrong

2011: The Year the Guidebook Burned

About the Author

2011: The Year the Guidebook BurnedLuke Maguire Armstrong lives in Guatemala directing the humanitarian aid organization, Nuestros Ahijados. His book of poetry, iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About (available for sale on Amazon.com) is especially enjoyed by people who “don’t read poetry.” (@lukespartacus)


Published on February 22, 2011

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jude-Polotan/505501638 Jude Polotan

    I couldn’t agree more, Luke, and I’d like to add another terrific resource–Afar Magazine has Afar Exchange, which right now is invite only, I believe, but it’s a great one.

    And while I agree that guidebooks will become less essential, I for one would still carry one with me for the basic destination info. But I suppose I might be a bit old-fashioned that way.