Your thoughts on LP

Alright, here’s a story for you. For many years now I’ve been travelling with Lonely Planet travel guides. Almost exclusively. Lonely Planet has been my travel bible from the beginning, when I was backpacking through Italy with my mate Sebastian. Actually we used two travel guides at the time: a Lonely Planet and a ‘Capitool reisgids’ in Dutch. An awesome combination, I must say, since Lonely Planet offers primarily practical information, not so much history, background, nice walking tours, info about museums, etcetera. In the years to come I’ve bought many Lonely Planets. Why you ask. Well, I just like the map on the first page with the country’s highlights. Man, I love those maps. Man, I love Lonely Planet.

Until my last trip to India. I feel Lonely Planets have changed a lot over the last ten years. And maybe not in the best of ways. I felt like the Lonely Planet of the South of India was full of crap. And that was hard for me – as a true LP fan – to admit. But it was obvious. Places that were beautiful, pristine, amazing in the Lonely Planet turned out to be true shitholes. Like the author hadn’t actually seen the place with his or her own eyes. I didn’t even mind that none of the prices indicated in the Lonely Planet were remotely accurate, but plain lying about certain places is just too much to handle. If you look at who writes certain pages or chapters, you start thinking: is this person the best for this job? I mean: if you grew up in Kerala for example, can you look at the place like a tourist would? Are you not biased? Obviously you are. You’re more like a local. And you’re gonna like places that actual tourist will hate. Makes you wonder why the whole Indian Lonely Planet is written by people who are actually from Indian heritage or who grew up there or who have lived there for a number of years. Can’t you find real tourists to give their two cents? Also you get the feeling Lonely Planet is getting more and more commercial, with ‘their picks’ that actually almost never turn out to be the best choices. Anyway, I was just looking for your opinion on the matter. You must have travelled with Lonely Planet. What do you think?

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    1. Good to know, maybe cause you might be going there soon? I saw someone from Chennai commenting on your site, saying you should go there soon. My advice: don’t go to Chennai. In my humble opinion this was the biggest shithole I’ve probably ever seen.

      1. Haha! No, not planning on going to Chennai, but I do want to make it to India one day. Right now, we are in the middle of planning a backpacking trip through Europe, so of course I have been checking out guidebooks. It’s good to know that not everything recommended in them should be relied on as fact!

        1. You’re right. Nowadays you can only trust the.ego.tripper as your source of reliable travel information 🙂 A backpacking trip through Europe sounds very exciting. Have fun planning. Come back soon for tips and/or advice!

  1. I really don’t want to do the poll, because I photographed for Lonely Planet for many years. I can tell you this, as they grew and grew and grew they had to make certain business decisions that may have compromised their editorial content. But, the books are written in a very personal manner by writers who travel their own paths. At one point I was photographing Los Angeles. I grew up in Long Beach so I knew the turf somewhat. The writer went down an odd path and I though I was photographing the dive bars of LA… Thats fine. You make interesting photographs along the edges. But, what is a traveler to think? — Ray

    1. Hi Ray, thanks for your comment. Very interesting to hear from someone who photographed for LP. What you’re saying about LP growing and growing and therefore compromising their editorial content, that is exactly the point I was trying to make. Mind you, I’m still a fan, but not like I used to be. I checked out your blog, awesome photography. Too bad you quit photographing for LP? I actually own a pretty old copy of California’s LP. Maybe I’ve seen your work?

      1. I didn’t quit photographing for them. Photographically, they have created a portal with Getty. I put my images there and they license them from me through Getty. What they don’t do is make assignments any longer for any of us. Thanks for the kind words. I work pretty hard at making pictures. 🙂

  2. Hi e.t., My first trip to Europe I purchased the DK Eye Witness Series for London and Paris and have used these books exclusively, since. Looks like you have a couple of those; Mexico and Thailand. I have looked things up on Lonely Planet online, but my in hand travel guide has been this series. They have never steered me wrong. They also do a top 10 in certain places, which I love for quick trips.

  3. I agree with you. I am an Indian and referring to Lonely Planet to travel in India is disappointing! The bigger places they mention are ok, but they don’t write about the smaller, better places to go around it, to see the actual beauty!

  4. I agree with You. There is a but. I think that bloggers around the world give information and photos which cannot be found in books. Many blogs are full packed with photos.

    My blog is good example. Let’s take info and photos from Helsinki:

    My Helsinki (winter / summer photos)

    At this moment there 21 posts full with photos and info.

    Happy travel!

  5. Thank you for this advertorial, Sartenada. Your blog really is a good example of putting many many many many many photos on one page. And you have 21 pages like that? I bet your camera is pretty tired now.

  6. I agree with you both that the LP is missing the mark, and that the reason is likely that the writers aren’t always talking from firsthand experience. When I was going through Kerala, I had the same experience. What I read in LP didn’t jive with some of the places I saw. I had the same experience when I used it for Bohol in the Philippines. They talked at length about some resorts and you just know when you check in that the writer, at best, walked through the lobby and maybe peeked into a bungalow window.

    I have been on the road since the early 80’s and I have used LP off and on since they first started publishing them. While I think they used to be done by hardcore travelers who just wanted to help other travelers, it’s now pretty much gone to shit as it’s become a commodity produced by writers vs. travelers who I think are more interested with the perks than actually doing the job of reporting travel experiences. Kind of the same trajectory Starbucks took, except with travel instead of Coffee.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I think you’re absolutely right. Funny that you have the same experience with the Indian LP. And funny that I heard similar stories about the Philippines LP (as you can see in the picture, I do own it, but I haven’t been there yet, it’s on the shortlist…). This means there are actual ‘good’ LP’s and ‘bad’ LP’s. How strange is that. Should be nice to get a list of these books.

      Anyway, it’s clear that the commercial aspect of a Lonely Planet has been growing and growing over the last couple of years (did the BBC taking over have anything to do with that perhaps?). Not to the advantage of travelers, unfortunately.

      1. Glad to hear the Phils is on your short list. I recently hit Malapascua Island, just off the north tip of Cebu and loved it (although a real challenge to get to). Bantayan Island is up next. Bohol has really gotten developed lately, especially Alona Beach on Panglao Island (part of Bohol) but I HIGHLY recommend visiting. The sunsets are just amazing.

        In terms of LP, I found the edition for Vietnam was pretty good when I was there about 6 years ago.

  7. I can’t speak to the situation with the India books and their authors/editors in particular, but I do know that in general terms, most guidebook writers are paid very little with a great deal expected from them in return. They can’t possibly go and see everything, in some cases not even the places they write about or mention. The job really isn’t as glamorous as travelers want to believe it is. That’s not an excuse, it’s just the reality. From your experience, I can only hope that they aren’t going over the top with ‘giving’ too much back in exchange for free rooms and other junkets.

    That said, I still prefer LP to the others. Unfortunately I’ll never have a collection like yours since I usually leave the books behind. Sometimes with a page or two missing. 🙂 (And I also have Thriller on vinyl. Somewhere.)

    1. Guidebook writers are paid very little, that could well be the case. And that would be a sad reality. But as a customer who is paying 20 to 30 euros for a travel guide, this is not my problem or concern. I just expect correct information. And I do understand the writers can’t really go and see everything. But they probably didn’t do that in the past either. Still you get the feeling there’s too much of a commercial interest in some of the guidebooks nowadays. They do go a bit over the top, I feel.

      That said, I still like LP, but I’m just a bit concerned for the product that I used to love so much. And that said: a fellow Thriller on vinyl owner? I like your style, man!

    1. G’day ET interesting comments. When I started travelling, 1980’s and in my 40’s then, I used LP and found them a help but now as I am older( much older!!!) I just go and wing it. Picking up tips from locals, go with the flow… Can only really do that if you have time up your sleeve. Short trips need more structure and organisation

  8. I’d have to agree with you, e.t. I still use the LP, mainly because other guidebooks aren’t any better, not because they remain Biblical. I’ve also found the absolute best way to go is to travel with someone who can be bothered looking everything up on the great interwebs beforehand (clearly this person is not me). Oh, and number one most agravating recent advice followed from the LP? Wat Rong Khun temple in thailand, possibly the most interesting religious structure I’ve ever seen, and probably the worst tourist destination on Earth. What sounds like a little-known oasis of serenity in the book is the most over-run site I’ve ever visited. It may have been enough to convince me to follow their advice on bus times (when it’s right, of course) and purposefully skip everything else they mention…

    1. “and purposefully skip everything else they mention…” Actually, I’ve done that a few times with a positive result, any accomodation that the LP says is no good, too busy etc, has been great !

  9. I own a few LP, specially because for a few places theres no other option (Myanmar, Tibet, …). I usually like their guidebooks, i can easily live with the fact that i might not agree with the author in what comes to how interesting a place really is. However, my fav guidebooks have always been Rough Guide’s. More about history, different places to visit or stay at… but prices are not as accurate, sometimes.

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