Hobobo Guide to Travel Guides
When you are traveling it’s natural to look to those who have gone before you for a little insight and guidance for what to do in any given destination. The only resources that most travelers are familiar with are commercially published guidebooks like Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, or for those French readers among us, the beloved Routard. While these books contain a lot of information and are generally well researched and informative, they are often bulky and costly. Imagine leaving on a 10 country tour. At $30 and 2 lbs a pop buying travel guides to cover your whole trip will quickly eat into your budget and weigh down your bags. So what is a cheap, technology-loving hobobo to do?
All hail the internets! Wikimedia has a great open source travel site called Wikitravel. Like the rest of the wiki-suite of resources the content is user generated which means that it can be hit and miss as far as depth of coverage, but can also offer fantastic insight from locals. One downside to wikitravel is that since it is open source you see some businesses adding reviews of themselves. These are usually pretty easy to spot and don’t impede the quality writing about tourist activities. In some destinations it can be nice to get some phone numbers for guest houses and hotels before you arrive.
I know what you’re thinking, “But wikitravel is an online resource! What am I supposed to do with no internet access?” Never fear, the hive mind has a solution for just about every possible device.
First you need to download the wikitravel data dump here. It is just a text archive with all the text from the website. The archive format .bz2 file keeps the size small at only 40MB. You have several options for reading this file type.
The easiest if you are traveling with a laptop is to download wikitaxi or BZ reader. These readers will work for any wiki dump which means if you want the entire Wikipedia resource available offline (~6GB) you can access it without having to extract it. If you have the space this is also a fantastic thing to have while you travel. You never know what you’ll want to look up.
The above all applies to laptops, but for increased portability there are also options for smart phones and ipods. Depending on your device it can loaded with varying degrees of ease. The best interface by far is the wiki2travel app for the jail broken ipod or iphone. The Oxygen guide is the best for the Android OS, though is far inferior to wiki2travel for the iphone.
There is support for other devices as well, but I haven’t tried any of them. There are also a few apps that let you download and store the wiki travel pages and maps a la carte. One good example is itravelfreeThe paid version lets you download and store everything offline. It is only $3 which is a bargain to have all the travel information you could want at your fingertips. Compare that to $30 for a single country Lonely Planet guide book.
If wikitravel doesn’t have a lot of detail on the destination you’re looking at Lonely Planet has offered an attractive answer to buying a paperback guide book. They now offer downloadable .pdf versions of most of their guides as well as the option to buy single chapters at a reduced price. Introductory planning chapters are always free which can help with your first-cut travel planning.
The a la carte chapters are a great resource if you are only visiting one region or city in a country. Chapters are generally $4.95 each. If you have a .pdf reader on your smart device then you can certainly have this to go at your fingertips.
There is a pretty direct tradeoff here between your willingness to pay for travel guides and how much time you are willing to spend to do get the information for free. With all of these options available to you anyone can travel like a hobobo on any budget.