Guidebook

Planning a Trip: Guide to the Web


But for me, the site that has come closest to replicating a guiding experience, while harnessing the power of the Internet, is Stay.com. Sites and activities (as well as hotels and restaurants) are separated by category, and there are guides organized by site editors, users and local experts (“Family Fun in Budapest”, for example). Better yet, you can click to add any item to your own “city guide”; the result is a personalized itinerary, complete with personalized map, which can be downloaded to your mobile phone and used without accumulating cellular data.

There are so many ways to find restaurants online that I don’t even know where to start. I had already gathered ideas from the sites I mentioned. Then the local resources: with a simple Google search, I found some interesting sites in English (chew.hu, Best of Budapest, Everythingbudapest.eu), as well as articles published in newspapers like this one. Chowound’s discussion boards had what looked like knowledgeable Budapest advice. And I haven’t mentioned the power of Facebook, Twitter, Couchsurfing, and online travel forums for personalized advice.

It may seem like the web was sweeping my guidebook, but not so fast. Literally: it’s not that fast. Markup for the guide took a few hours and ended in an obvious way (the last page). But I could have sifted through these sites forever. For some people, this is good: planning a trip has been shown to actually make us happier than the trip itself. But the choice can be crippling. For those who want decisions made for them, a trusted guide brand wins, at least in planning an agenda.

The score was more or less even in other areas, such as insights into culture and history, collections of useful phrases, and important cultural mores such as tips. Wikivoyage alone covered most of it.

Still, I’ve found three ways a guide tramples the web almost every time:

First of all, these organized maps. No site I have tried – Google, Michelin, Bing – could match the maps in the book, even after it was customized to locate hotels, restaurants, and sights. If you want to print city or town maps and mark them yourself, I’ve found Bing Maps to be by far the cleanest and easiest to print. (Use the full screen feature, take a screenshot, and print.)

Second, the guides offer information you might never think of looking for online. In the book on Hungary, I came across a section on common tourist scams in Budapest and an article on Budapest’s Jewish population – which I would have thought to research on my own.

Finally, there is the simple convenience. A guide means an extra pound or more in your bag. But everything is in one place, doesn’t run out of batteries, isn’t out of range, or uses international data, and a thief is unlikely to snatch you from your hands. And for infrequent travelers, the learning curve isn’t steep.

If the web is a well-stocked kitchen where an experienced chef can cook a brilliant meal with enough time, guides are an energy bar, packed with all the nutrients you need in a convenient package that can be tossed in your bag. Of course, there’s a catch: at $ 25, it’s an expensive energy bar.