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Jan 30, 2008

Lonely Planet -- A Different Kind of Bible

Lonely_planet_mexicoDefinition: A hostel is a place where people gather to read their copies of Lonely Planet.

The Lonely Planet - Mexico is by far the most popular guidebook on the Yucatán hostel circuit.  I think I've seen ~12 copies of the Lonely Planet guide (in English, German, and Spanish), one copy of another, German-published guide (sorry I can't remember the name), and to my surprise ZERO copies of the Rough Guide - Mexico or the Rough Guide- Yucatán.  (And zero copies of the Lonely Planet - Yucatán.)

It's fair to say that the hostel set treats the Lonely Planet as their Bible.  "Yeah, we [stayed at, ate lunch at, went hiking to...] such-and-such-place -- the Lonely Planet said it was a good [hostel, restaurant, archaeological site, etc.]"  World travelers may want to think they're different from their neighbors-who-stay-at-home, but when it comes to travel guides, they seem to be a very orthodox bunch. 

Mind you, it's an intelligent orthodoxy -- the Lonely Planet writers really know what they're talking about.  But for me and a few others, it's become a point of pride to do at least some things that the Lonely Planet didn't tell us were a good idea. 

Call us stupid.  Call us stubborn.  Just don't call us obedient when we walk ten extra blocks to use a different ATM than the one that Lonely Planet pointed out was right next to our hostel.  You know -- the one we're staying at because the Lonely Planet said it was great.

In any case, let me quote another definition, whose source I cannot remember:  "A tourist is a traveler who doesn't look like he's traveled very much."  And to quote Ron White once again, "I told you that joke so I could tell you this one."

A tourist reads Frommer's
A traveler reads Lonely Planet
A sophisticated traveler reads Lonely Planet, but only by flashlight, under his blanket.

---------------

*Book whore that I am, I've read or owned all four of the Lonely and Rough books for the Yucatán and Mexico but for whatever reason I'm only traveling with the Yucatán pages of my Lonely Planet - Mexico on this trip.  Lonely Planet make some very sturdy books.  I cut the Yucatán section out with a very good bread knife, and the half-book I've been traveling with is holding together very well.  A lot of other paperbacks would fall apart if they didn't have their complete spine and jacket.  Kudos to the Lonely Planet folks for their bookbinding skills.  Word to the wise from my Australian pal Kristina: Lonely Planet pages do not make good rolling paper for the ganja.  Too thick.  Too sturdy.

02:06 AM in Mexico | Permalink

Comments

I've used Lonely Planet for Australia and Japan. I was pretty happy with everything but the food recommendations. Especially in Japan "the best tempura" was actually the worst. Otherwise, I like the style.

Posted by: Tarus | Jan 30, 2008 11:02:38 AM

Being the stats nerd that I am (click my name below to see other evidence), I need to comment on your research design concerning the Lonely Planet market share. If you hang out in places recommended by LP, you'll find lots of other readers of LP. If competing books recommend other places, you might find the LP penetration rate lower if you sampled those other places.

Posted by: Glenn | Jan 30, 2008 1:29:59 PM

Excellent point by Glenn (whose note at Car Talk you should read via the click). I had completely forgotten about the self-selection factor.

That said, my conclusion may still be correct even if stumbled upon instead of deduced: The Rough Guide also recommends Nomadas.

BTW on my possibly-too-quick jumps to conclusions (see also the post on the shaman): I blame (a) my impetuousness and (b) the fact that I'm traveling and don't have my full faculties.

Posted by: Phil | Jan 30, 2008 3:20:45 PM

Sacrebleu! Zounds! Today I met a Nomadas guest with one of the new Moon guides to the Yucatan. Moon seems to do a good job. Their feel and tone are a little different from the Lonely Planet / Rough Guides and I wouldn't mind adding a Moon book to my collection.

Jeremy, the Moonie, said he spent two hours in the bookstore deciding which book to buy. I don't think he understood why my "grab them all" method is much more efficient than his. Yeah, right.

Claudia from Switzerland does anything she can to avoid carrying Lonely Planet, "Ach! EVERYBODY reads Lonely Planet! I don't want to be like EVERYBODY!" ("Yeah, same here! Us, too!" Snicker.)

Posted by: Phil | Jan 30, 2008 11:49:34 PM

Ok, as one of those 'LP people', I feel I need to give my 2 pesitos.

I have a wall shelf of Lonely Planet guides. I'm not ashamed of it. My TripAdvisor applet sez I've been to 18 countries (just discovered this on facebook - kinda fun), and my wall shelf reflects that. I am not, however, a blind sop that will only go to my beloved without comparison. I'm a scientist, for goodness' sake.

My algorithm: Every time I anticipate going somewhere new, I go to the bookstore to browse the guides. I pull out the Lonely Planet for the region, read the bio sketch on the author(s), and place it next to me, on the floor. Next I pull out every single other guide for the region [ahem: two hours plus], reading each one for comparison to sections I *KNOW* the LP contains: a consistent, easy-to-find section on how to get to/from anywhere, a consistently useful list of places for food and lodging at different budget levels in every place (especially the lower-budget places), and usually a *variety* of suggestions how to do 'the thing that everybody does' when they go to X (Macchu Pichu, Chichen Itza, Edinburgh Castle, Hill tribes in Thailand, etc.).

Consistently (see a pattern here?), LP excels at these necessary tidbits. The reason I want these sections is so that I will never have to worry about where I will stay in a pinch, or eat if I'm really hungry and can't think straight. Do I ever get another guide? Yes. The New Moon guides for Hawaii are great - they described the interesting things to do much better than the LP. Would I have wanted the NM guide as my only resource? No. Do I only do what the LP sez? Hah! Phil, you know me, know I can TALK (ah, I suppose whoever reads this will find that out, too), and can enjoy just sitting in a cafe and talking to the waitresses all day. The joy of traveling is in the people, the culture, and then the plants, in that order [and here's a die-hard botanist speaking].

So: yes, there are people who aren't creative enough to interact with the culture around them, ask people where to stay, what are the interesting things to do around, etc. But there's a reason the LP books are as popular as they are. They're the best at helping you tailor your trip, no matter how many times you change your itinerary, your budget, or your mind. Perfect for me! :)

Posted by: Tanya | Feb 3, 2008 12:03:09 PM

Ok, as one of those 'LP people', I feel I need to give my 2 pesitos.

I have a wall shelf of Lonely Planet guides. I'm not ashamed of it. My TripAdvisor applet sez I've been to 18 countries (just discovered this on facebook - kinda fun), and my wall shelf reflects that. I am not, however, a blind sop that will only go to my beloved without comparison. I'm a scientist, for goodness' sake.

My algorithm: Every time I anticipate going somewhere new, I go to the bookstore to browse the guides. I pull out the Lonely Planet for the region, read the bio sketch on the author(s), and place it next to me, on the floor. Next I pull out every single other guide for the region [ahem: two hours plus], reading each one for comparison to sections I *KNOW* the LP contains: a consistent, easy-to-find section on how to get to/from anywhere, a consistently useful list of places for food and lodging at different budget levels in every place (especially the lower-budget places), and usually a *variety* of suggestions how to do 'the thing that everybody does' when they go to X (Macchu Pichu, Chichen Itza, Edinburgh Castle, Hill tribes in Thailand, etc.).

Consistently (see a pattern here?), LP excels at these necessary tidbits. The reason I want these sections is so that I will never have to worry about where I will stay in a pinch, or eat if I'm really hungry and can't think straight. Do I ever get another guide? Yes. The New Moon guides for Hawaii are great - they described the interesting things to do much better than the LP. Would I have wanted the NM guide as my only resource? No. Do I only do what the LP sez? Hah! Phil, you know me, know I can TALK (ah, I suppose whoever reads this will find that out, too), and can enjoy just sitting in a cafe and talking to the waitresses all day. The joy of traveling is in the people, the culture, and then the plants, in that order [and here's a die-hard botanist speaking].

So: yes, there are people who aren't creative enough to interact with the culture around them, ask people where to stay, what are the interesting things to do around, etc. But there's a reason the LP books are as popular as they are. They're the best at helping you tailor your trip, no matter how many times you change your itinerary, your budget, or your mind. Perfect for me! :)

Posted by: Tanya | Feb 3, 2008 12:04:06 PM

I've tried all kinds of travel guides, and I prefer to the Footprints and Let's Go guides to lonely Planet. The Let's Go guides are really great for budget trvelers--they contain detailed instructions about exactly which corner to stand on if you want a certain obscure bus route, and where to get off and wait for a camioneta or other "alternative" transportation.

But I'm also a big fan of just going to the local tourist office and asking for the cheap way to get somewhere--often they give out free maps and a lot of instructions that the guidebooks don't tell you. And tips from other hostelers on where to stay in whatever town you want to go to are also useful--there are a lot of good places that for one reason or another aren't in the books.

Posted by: Lisa B | Feb 4, 2008 8:59:18 AM