Why Ditching the Travel Guide Might Be Good for You

Exactly two months into my 15 month solo trip round India and Asia, I lost my Lonely Planet. A friend had given me a Kindle as a farewell gift, and it was loaded with novels, travel classics and enough guidebooks to get me across the Subcontinent, through South East Asia and out the other side. I loved my Kindle. So lightweight! So discrete! So easy to use! I had painstakingly highlighted all my “must-visit” destinations, made detailed notes in the (electronic) margin, and was determined to get a bed in the recommended guest-houses and a table at the top restaurants.

And then one day, on a train somewhere Mumbai and Rajasthan, my Kindle broke. The screen of my beloved e-reader had inexplicably morphed into a black splotchy mess. I couldn’t read a thing.

I was fresh out of a three week stay in an ashram in Kerala, meditating and omming and twisting my body into increasingly pretzel-like shapes.  I had spent weeks learning about the art of being present – the “be here, now” approach to life that everyone keeps telling us we should take but which is notoriously difficult to actually follow. Despite weeks of spiritual soul-searching, the pendulum in my mind continued to swing wildly between past and future, sometimes forgetting to stop at the present moment entirely.

Losing my guidebook changed all that.

Like many long-term travellers, I had been using a large portion of my free time to make plans for the future. My guidebook came with me to breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was my travel buddy on long journeys. It was the last thing I read before I slept at night and probably the first thing I looked at in the morning. I was so busy planning for my trip I forgot I was actually on the trip. Daydreaming about the exotic places to come and consequently missing the exotic places I was in.

But now I had no choice but to look up and look out, to walk away from the world on the page and in my head, and fully engage in the real world around me. Connect. After just one week of guide-less existence, I was a complete convert. I started to travel in a totally different way. I learned to ask people for advice and help when I needed it, and began to understand that 99 percent of the people, 99 percent of the time, are more than willing to help you out, provided your attitude is right and your smile is bright. Locals and fellow travellers alike pointed me in the direction of the right bus or train, the best value hotel or the tastiest curry in town. When I arrived in a new town, I never knew where I was going to stay, let alone for how long. I stumbled upon beautiful places that aren’t listed in any travel guide, ate in family homes and met incredible people who turned out to have a huge impact on my life. I was learning the art of slowing down and living in the moment: the ever-elusive present.

Guidebooks and travel blogs certainly have their place – I should know, I write one! It’s a good idea (and a sign of a responsible traveller) to read up on a destination, its culture and history. By all means, make a plan of the places you want to go and the things you want to see. It will give you peace of mind and make you feel prepared for what’s to come, and is especially useful if you are limited for time. But if you’re on a long trip you can afford for your plans to change. So every now and then, make a conscious decision to leave the travel guide at home and not check any of your favourite travel blogs for a while. By practising the art of going with the flow and getting acquainted with own inner guide, instead of always following the well-meaning but often limited advice of travel writers, you may find that you end up taking a totally different trip to the one you had originally planned and getting more out of it than you could ever have anticipated.


About the author

Full-time traveller, part-time blogger/writer/editor, some-time yoga practitioner, unapologetic hippy and dedicated believer of the impossible, Olivia can also be found blogging about her travels over at her personal blog Leap Before You Look



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