This travel guide company has become arguably the number one powerhouse in the travel industry. Their guidebooks can be spotted everywhere from tourist hotspots, to tiny villages on some SE Asian Island. They scream ‘I’m a backpacker and like to travel ‘independently”.
They have branched out into coffee table books, how to guides, phrasebooks, travel literature, magazines and even have their own TV channel.
I have used my fair share of Lonely Planet guidebooks. Some of my friends almost enjoy owning, reading and toting the conspicuous guidebook more than the holiday itself. Proudly displayed on their bookcase, they are a talisman and at-a-glance evidence to others that they are well-travelled, cultured and adventurous.
Rival publications such as Rough Guide, Bradt and Footprint seem to play second fiddle to this multinational giant. In my personal experience, Footprint and Bradt guides cater for the more specialised traveller – covering single countries in more detail such as Syria, that Lonely Planet might just lump together with Lebanon or include in their generic region guide for the Middle East. They also tend to have guidebooks for the more obscure countries.
Having said that, Lonely Planet appears to be the only guidebook series that has consistently published a guide for Burma (Myanmar) despite the tourism lockdown for most of the last 30 years – they are currently on their 11th edition of the guidebook.
What I find disconcerting about Lonely Planet, is that a positive review will catapult you ahead of your competition into the realm of untouchable. A top pick hostel inevitably means that a backpacker will come to you first looking for accommodation. Even if your establishment is grotty and overhyped, a weary traveller is unlikely to trek around comparing other hostels that may be equally comfortable or even more ‘characterful’. To many, the lonely planet is their travel bible, and the opinions and reviews expressed are gospel.
My own solution to this domination, is to allow my travelling companion to bring their Lonely Planet, while I will bring either a Footprint, Bradt or Rough Guide. When seeking out accommodation, we compare reviews in our guides and if it is peak season and rooms are likely to be hard to come by, we favour the hotels/hostels that are not mentioned in Lonely Planet. So far, this strategy has proved successful and we have avoided the tourist heavy haunts.
Lonely Planet does deserve some credit though. Their writers appear to do their research and have opened the doorway for the slightly reluctant traveller who is nervous about travelling to a completely new and alien destination where they may not even speak the language. Their guidebooks lend reassurance and we find comfort and trust in the brand.
On a final note, I am intrigued to know how other people utilise the history blurbs that are bundled with all guidebooks. I confess to particularly enjoying reading the sections on culture, politics, local customs and idiosyncrasies, not only on bus journeys in country, but also after I have returned home. Post-holiday education almost makes more sense to me, as the places and people that are mentioned are recognisable and familiar.
What are your thoughts? Are you a Lonely Planet champion?