Books and Travel Guides

(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)

As I’ve been reading a lot of books lately, I decided to make today’s post about travel guides and “books about other places”.

Some very popular travel guides perpetuate the myth that travel is only for the very wealthy.  When listing accommodations, these guides generally give only 5-star hotels and throw in the occasional 4-star hotel as a “budget” option.  They are often the same luxury brands we have at home (and generally avoid because of their exorbitant prices) and offer exactly the same experience that you would get in your home country.    This naturally leads to the question:  why bother traveling, if you could have the same experience at home?

A small Nova Scotian fishing village, just east of Peggy’s Cove

For such travel guides, I generally find that the cost of one night’s accommodation corresponds to what I will actually spend on a week (or more) of accommodation…with no increased risk or discomfort.   One travel writer (more about him later) says that the more you spend, the more of a wall you build between yourself and what you traveled so far to see.

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

So…which travel guide do I recommend?  I prefer guides that have few (or no) recommendations for hotels and restaurants.  Such businesses can change very quickly and the information is often very outdated by the time you read it.  Instead, I like guides that focus on objectively describing what a place is like and form some kind of opinion on local experiences.

The famous lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove…sadly, being renovated during our visit

When I first encountered the Rick Steves series of European travel guides, I was quite skeptical.  His books and travels shows (broadcast on PBS) assume that the reader is American.  His appearance does not fit the stereotype of an advocate for smart budget travel.  And yet, when you read his guides closely, he actually makes a lot of sense.  He is the writer mentioned above who pointed out the inverse relationship between spending and experiencing.

Lobster Traps at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

I think Steves is strongest in describing travel in Italy, as he clearly has a passion for that country.  However, if you are traveling to any European country for the first time, you could do worse than read a Rick Steves guide.  I do disagree with him about the pace of travel.  As he assumes an American audience, he also assumes (unfortunately) that the audience has very little in the way of vacation time.  If you follow his sample itineraries, you could find yourself suffering travel burnout very quickly.

Swissair Memorial at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

However, you shouldn’t restrict yourself to travel guides.  I recently read John Hooper’s “The Italians” to gain a little more insight into Italy and Italians, as we will soon be in Italy again.  I also read Helen Russell’s “The Year of Living Danishly” just before visiting Denmark:  it was written by a U.K. resident who moved to rural Denmark after her husband got a job with Lego!  That, in turn, led me to “The Nordic Theory of Everything” by Anu Partanen (originally from Finland but moved to New York after marrying an American).  While it is definitely not a travel book, it is an interesting read because it challenges some long-held assumptions about the Nordic countries.  All of these reflective books provide insight that you rarely find in travel guides.

Another view of the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse (still being renovated, 30 minutes later)

The pictures in today’s post are all from our 2009 visit to Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia.   Coming up next:  arrival in Italy!

2 thoughts on “Books and Travel Guides”

  1. I love Steves philosophy about the more you spend, the more you distance yourself from the real travel experience, great post, Pierre!

    1. Hi Laurie,

      Thanks – glad you liked the post. I hope to have some more posts about travel books in the spring…once I get through the rest of the posts from the Italian trip.

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