Many travelers I know plan a trip and then immediately run out and purchase one or more guide books from Amazon or your local bookstore. At $15-25 a pop, this can get really expensive really fast. Since we travel on a budget, this cost could quickly become a non-trivial portion of the trip cost. Not only that, but travel information is constantly changing. You can be all but guaranteed that your purchase is not an investment for the future – it will likely be useful just for this trip, and then become outdated after that.
Here are a few free resources that I like to use for trip planning and execution.
Wikitravel is an amazing place to start. Usually the articles are pretty short and contain real highlights, as opposed to a 300-page book that has an overwhelming amount of details when you are just starting out. You can print pages of interest yourself, for a more lightweight and more disposable source of information than a published book. Set your print options to print four pages per sheet of paper, and double sided if you have that option. The text will be small, but you will further decrease your weight and your printing costs.
As with all things Wiki, pages may be edited by biased sources, particularly more obscure pages that don’t get a lot of traffic. Keep your thinking cap on, and trust but verify any information that you are banking on to be correct.
2. Your local library
Your library likely buys the new copy of whatever travel guide you need as soon as it is published. Let them make the investment for you. Save time and hassle by requesting the books that you would like online and have them sent to your local branch. Get several different brands, because you might like the style or information in one versus another. Our favorites are Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, although we also like Fodors and Rick Steves on occasion. We’ve discovered that we don’t really prefer the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness books, but if they are your style, more power to ya.
I absolutely take library books abroad in my luggage and then return them after the trip – make sure you manage your due dates so that you have enough time to do this without owing a fine.
TripAdvisor has two very powerful resources going for it. One is the online reviews written by people with recent experience. Reviews are available for hotels and restaurants, but also for sightseeing locations and tours. Utilize negative reviews as well as the positive ones – check out what went wrong and decide if you can deal with the downsides, especially if it’s a money saver.
TripAdvisor also has forums where you can ask specific questions if they aren’t already answered by reviews.
FlyerTalk is known for being the most prolific online community for frequent flyers, miles and points junkies, and commercial flying nerds. But there’s also a whole forum for destination information, which includes posts and responses from travelers and locals living around the world. A very powerful resource, and our favorite forum for tricky, off-the-beaten-path questions.
Again, information on FlyerTalk can be subjective if coming from a single individual. Trust, but verify – that is your mantra.
A word on ebooks
Ebooks and eTravelGuides can be a really good option for travel, because they don’t increase the weight that you carry – being stored on a device that you are presumably carrying anyway. To keep the costs down, and to avoid purchasing a book that you turn out to dislike, try to borrow the hard copy version from the library first, make the selection of which ebook you like best, then only purchase the one or two that will be most useful for you. You can also check to see if your library lends ebooks and borrow it without having to purchase.
Free tools abound for travel planning, and these are a few of our favorites. Remember – keeping costs down ensures that you’ll be able to travel more often, so be smart about incidental purchases!