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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Travel Dilemas: When to Open the Guidebook

A friend and reader of this blog raised an interesting point recently when discussing how to carry a guidebook when visiting a city.

Do you definitely draw attention to yourself as a tourist and peruse the book while standing on the street corner? Or do you sit in the hotel room and memorize every detail of the selected pages so you won't need to refresh with a peek at the book? Maybe you just take your chances without the book and if you get lost, well, you get lost.

He also mentioned ripping a few pages out of the book and carrying them along. While I haven't done that, I will admit to at times pulling the book out of my backpack while on the subway or bus or sitting at a park bench. Yes, it screams lost tourist, but sometimes when you're, you know -- lost! -- you sometimes have no choice, at least if you want to get unlost.

But I also try to have my own mini-travel guides that are easy to fold up and stuff in my pocket. One of the more common things I do is before leaving for a trip I will pinpoint on Mapquest the city, neighborhood or area that I will be traveling to and print it. Then, on the blank corner or back of that sheet of paper I will write out a guide of restaurants, shops, sites, subway stops and any other points of interest and number them. I will then put the corresponding numbers on their respective spots on the map.

So I have a small sheet of paper that I either fold or roll up and slip into my pocket. Yes, I might be standing on the street corner studying a map, but to you I could be poring over a take-out menu.

I'd love to know what you do.

1 comment:

  1. I don't see a problem with pulling your guidebook out in some instances. I mean, if you're right around a tourist attraction most people figure you're a tourist anyway. Most of the time I have a little "crib sheet" for our day prepared so I don't have to pull out the guidebook. Also, I bring out the guidebook in restaurants to plan for our next steps. But, there will be times when you have to pull it out to keep yourself from getting more lost. Just do it, own it. I mean, you ARE, after all, a tourist! More often than not, you stick out as a tourist anyway.

    And, another key for referring to your guidebook - don't do it in a high traffic area, i.e. at a street corner waiting for the crosswalk. You really run the risk of being an obnoxious tourist buried in their guidebook blocking others from crossing the street when the light has changed.

    Another option is to just ask a local for directions or help. We've had some of our most memorable travel experiences by talking to locals in those instances. Most locals don't mind helping you out at all!

    Now, I don't recommend pulling out your guidebook on any public transportation or at night. In those cases you're better off stopping in a store, restaurant or finding a police officer for help.

    The last thing I would do is wander around lost just getting yourself more lost. Then you really risk either looking like a complete fool or getting yourself into a very dangerous situation.

    I've never been able to bring myself to rip out pages. Rick Steves recommends that, but I just can't do it. My mom taught me to NEVER deface a book.

    Here's what I normally do:
    1. Create an itinerary for each day with the name of the attraction, address and the coordinates on my map the attraction is. I put recommended restaurants (based on my detailed research) that are in the area of attractions we'll be at around a mealtime and include address and map coordinates. I also include subway lines, directions and stops to use in the vicinity.
    2. Before leaving each attraction I pull out the itinerary, city map and guidebook if necessary and plan our steps. i.e. "leave museum, go right. At ___ street go left and go to subway stop. Take ___ line, direction ___ to ___ stop. Leaving station go right. Next museum will be on the right." I use street names and directions as cues. I find it pretty easy to remember just a few steps to get me to my next destination.