Alan's Blog




To be guided – or not!

One of my passions is my small library from which I receive great enjoyment, as any book lover will understand.

In my small library, I have about 300+ guide books, or books about places as I prefer to think of them in addition to a number of books describing the adventures other people have had on their travels i.e. travel stories.

Of course, books don’t always give you the complete picture about a particular location, whether it be country, county, city or wherever, but they are useful in giving you ideas about where to go on your next trip. For this reason, you can save a fortune when buying these publications by buying second-hand. For most practical reasons it doesn’t matter if your book is out of date or not. I’m lucky in that I am within a few miles of a second-hand book shop run to raise money for a charity – most books cost £0.80 or £1.00 in this shop. However, I also buy a lot of my guide books from Amazon for just a few pence plus postage. For example, I’m waiting for the delivery of one of the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel series books for which I paid less than £3.00 including delivery. The saving is massive compared to buying the latest version brand new. Of course, it could be argued that a book is out of date as soon as it’s published – so being a version or two behind won’t make a huge difference anyway.

Now, you may think that buying an out of date publication is likely to cause you problems, however, this need not be the case as most places don’t change very much, if at all, over many years – particularly buildings of historical interest such as cathedrals, palaces and stately homes. Of course, opening hours may change, but you can check that on line, but the building remains much the same as it has done for, in some cases, hundreds of years. I hardly think the Colosseum in Rome will have changed much over the last 20 years or more, so why worry about the date of your guide book? On the subject of the Colosseum, why go to Rome where touts and pickpockets might ruin your day, not to mention the crowds of tourists, when you can see much the same sort of building by visiting the Pula Arena in Croatia – a much quieter alternative. Books can often provide you with alternative locations that may be far better than being stuck in the main tourist traps.

Now, I’m well aware that printed books are very heavy and take up a fair amount of space in your luggage. Even if you have a caravan or motorhome you cannot take a huge pile of printed books with you, let alone in your suitcase when travelling to your dream destination by aeroplane. Don’t despair. Modern technology means that you can take hundred of books with you in electronic format, such as .pdf, and read them on your tablet computer / kindle reader / iPad or even using your ‘smart’ telephone (which I don’t have and don’t want!). Another idea for producing your own 'guide' is to convert web pages into .pdf files and save them on your computer for off-line reading at a later date. You can combine many of these files to make one guide book detailing all the places you want to visit on your tour.

If you only have printed books, why not scan, or even photograph, the relevant pages and take them with you on your telephone / tablet so that you can ‘read them on the go’ – particularly useful if you’re using a city or building guide as you walk round the city or building – but try not to bump into people or get flattened by a truck as you peer at the screen!

Where our books on places really become useful is when you start planning your trip. It’s when you look through your books for ideas on where to go and what you are likely to see when you get there. Of course, you can look on line, but it usually takes a lot of time to research every webpage for ideas to start with. Websites can be really useful when it comes to detailed planning, such as finding and reviewing a particular caravan site or hotel, for example, about which your guide book is far less informative.

The ‘pocket’ guide books can be very useful when travelling light or with no electronic book reader available. The publisher, Cicerone, list a large number of (quite expensive) guides suitable for walkers and cyclists as well as other travellers. In fact, their The Rhine Cycle Route by Mike Wells was the only publication that JP and I took on our 5-week bicycle ride along the route of this amazing river. We carried no maps or other guides and followed this book throughout our trip. It wasn’t perfect, and neither were we in our interpretation of the route at times, but it was amazingly useful and could just be stuffed into a pocket or our handlebar bag and taken out whenever we need to know where to go.

Another type of book about places is to find old books (and maps) that include a much more detailed history of a particular place. For example, I have a number of books from The King’s England series edited by Arthur Mee. These make fascinating reading in their own right but are also useful in digging out old historical facts and comparing a place on a ‘then and now’ basis – seeing just how a place has changed over, say 50 or 100 years. Most of these ‘old’ books will be out of print or unavailable electronically but, again, you can scan or photograph pages to read them on your computer.

 Another of my ‘treasures’ is Highways and Byways in Sussex by E.V. Lucas, published in 1904 which tells me so much about the county in which I was born at a time even before World War I – well over 100 years ago. Fascinating.

Other types of book to read when planning your trip are not ‘guide’ books at all, but books that describe other peoples’ journeys in a particular area. For example, when travelling further afield one can read The Alps from End to End in 1894 by Lord Lucas if you’re planning a trip to those wonderful, picturesque European mountains. If you’re more adventurous and are planning to cross the Gobi Desert you would enjoy reading the book of that name by Mildred Cable and Francesca French, two of three indomitable ladies who crossed this magnificent but incredibly dangerous wilderness on their own in the days before World War II. Even if you’re not planning to go there, this is one of those books that is hard to put down once you've started reading it.

Read an extract here: Sandy Well Oasis - a family tragedy.

The Gobi Desert - extract courtesy of Hodder and Stoughton © – first published in January 1943.

Many of these books are available second-hand if you care to search for them and this is a good way to build your library, as well as travel expertise, without spending a fortune. Indeed, the money you save can be put towards your next travelling adventure!


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