The traveler’s bible. The massive brick of a book lugged around by globetrotters, taking up precious space and adding unwanted weight to an increasingly heavy backpack. All for the times when we need some information about where we are, where we’re going and where to stay and eat.
I’ve never been tempted to buy a lonely planet. Not for any of the countries I’ve traveled or lived in. They’re expensive, hefty and much like the bible- seen as gospel instead of a guideline.
Why buy it when the internet has everything you need to know about anywhere in this world? You can access it from almost everywhere and more often than not, its free (or close to it). You might have to do a bit of work to find what you’re looking for but I’ve always thought that’s part of the fun. Hell, you can even head straight to the lonely planet website if you want.
During my India trip I traveled with various people who were in possession of a Lonely Planet. I paged through them now and again looking for some help and inspiration. This is what I came to find out.
Writers for the Lonely Planet know the places they write about like the back of their hands. They are chosen over other travel writers for the job because they have lived in the area for extended periods of time and know what they’re talking about. Only problem is, while they know the truth about somewhere- like how its just another shitty Indian city- they don’t say as much.
They are not being paid to write negatively. Instead they write about the Pink City, the lake palace and the famous temple with careful objectivity interspersed with as many pleasing adjectives as they can muster.
So when the time comes to choosing a spot close to Delhi in which to spend your last few days before departure, you’re left feeling helpless because each place has been described as not being too different from the rest. A temple, a river, a bustling bazaar.
They had this to say about the Rajasthani city of Jaipur:
“Jaipur, the City of Victory, is chaotic and congested, though it still has a habit of tickling travellers pink. Stunning hilltop forts and glorious palaces fit like footprints from a rich royal past, candyfloss-bright turbans blaze a trail through brilliant bargain-filled bazaars, and fluttering saris catch the eye like butterflies.”
I beg you, show me a sane person who enjoyed Jaipur. There was nothing, literally, nothing going for it. Not the 45 degree heat, not the disease ridden train station, not the unimpressive Pink City or the even less impressive Lake Palace. We hated almost everything about the place and yet, there’s someone being paid to write what you see above, misleading poor travelers who don’t know any better.
We should have known better, though, after a fellow traveler told us it was hell. And after countless Delhi locals told us how hot it was. But you’ve got to see these things for yourself I guess and, well, Lonely Planet doesn’t paint an aweful picture. They even dedicated more pages to it than any other Rajasthani destination- it must be worth seeing. Wrong!
Ok, so Jaipur is shit. Thats fine, we’ll find a nice air-conditioned room and spend most of our time indoors and get some work done. Where does Lonely Planet say we should stay? This one sounds good, lets book there. And yes, aside from the broken AC that had us unable to sleep through the heat, and the, literally, exorbitant prices of what they call food, I guess it was a nice place. A place worth mentioning in the travelers’ bible.
I suppose when the Lonely Planet guy had visited, the hotel’s surrounding area didn’t look like central Baghdad, the road completely torn up and none of it taken away- like it had been recently bombed. And I also suppose that the price of food wasn’t originally so sky high. It was no doubt the hotel’s mention in the Lonely planet, and the subsequent rise in guests, that had them thinking it was ok to charge what they do for food. Luxury restaurant prices for way below average dishes.
Our experience in the self-proclaimed ‘Yoga Capital of the World’, Rishikesh, was no different. Lonely Planet, in all fairness, is not the only one to blame here. It’s also the mob mentality regarding the place and general over exposure of it. The Beatles went there 50 years ago, its a yogi’s delight and is big on the map of the well-worn tourist path through India. These are all pull factors attracting close to every traveler of India.
But what I can’t see past is Lonely Planet’s claim of Rishikesh being “conducive to meditation and mind expansion.” Yes, its famous for its ashrams and yoga courses within them but I can’t help but KNOW that those are the only places one is to find peace in the fly, monkey, vendor and tourist infested town. While I’ve often struggled to find peace during my stay in India, walking through the streets of Rishikesh while whipping my hands around to ward off the flies, was one of the least relaxing things I’ve done. And don’t get me started on the motorbikes and their incessant honking on the two footbridges that cross the Ganges.
I went as far as typing “Lonely Planet sucks” into Google to see who out there agrees with me, if they do at all. I was happy to see that I’m not alone/crazy. There are people out there who agree with me on this. While once upon a time it was a guide book worth having, it is now an over-commercialized bible-esq book that people think they need. The information is often unreliable and there’s even a mention that a Lonely Planet Guide Book was written by a man via Google, having never stepped a foot in the country. That would explain a lot.
What sucks even more is that successful and respected travel writers that I follow use and mention these guide books on their blogs. An indication of how difficult it can be to make money as a writer. Having to resort to aligning yourself with a famous but low quality guide book just for an added source of income. Unfortunately, this is the life I’m striving for.
To conclude, don’t buy a Lonely Planet. Have more faith in yourself, your gut and intuition. Do your own research and go to cities and towns that sound good to you and have reviews that sit well with you. There are also other, lesser known but higher quality, guide books out there. Here is a list of them.