Searching the best travel guide books

Your Essential Guide to the Best Travel Guide Books

All travel guide books are not created equal! Ever get your hands on a shiny new guide book to find out that it might be more tailored to singles when you’re traveling with your family?

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Or maybe you’re tired of spending hours in the travel section of Barnes and Noble when all you really need a detailed map?

Each travel guide book series has its own little niche; check below to see which series is best for you.

The Best Travel Guide Books

Dreaming of Belize
Dreaming of Belize © Caitlinator

Frommer’s: Best for Newbies

Who, what, where, when, and how. That’s what you’ll get from a Frommer’s travel guidebook. Whether it’s your first time away or your first time in a new city, these thick volumes tell you quite literally everything you need to know about wherever you’re going. The basic facts and history sections are simple additions that aren’t exactly necessary, but so helpful when getting acclimated to a new spot; just one little plus that makes these guides so comprehensive! We think they’re the best travel guide books for newbie travelers.

These books can be quite expansive though, so after studying up in trip prep, it might be best to buy Frommer’s “day to day” series, which highlights local walks, special interest tours, and day by day itineraries, complete with map. Together, the guides make for a confident and savvy traveler before and during your trip.


Moon: Best for Nomads

With five very different guidebook categories, Moon has just about everyone covered. And, with its wide variety, Moon offers the best travel guide books that reach destinations not always reached by competitors.

Whether you pick up Handbook, the comprehensive information series; Spotlight, the quickie on-the-run book; or Metro, the discreet city helper, you’ll find a good deal of info about spending time in the outdoors. What to wear, how to eat, temperature, and transportation – all covered.

But, in addition, Moon offers a full Outdoors guide, with in-depth looks at camping areas, biking trails, fishing holes, and much more.

If that’s not enough and you’re looking to settle down for awhile, try the Living Abroad series, which offers amazingly helpful advice in tackling finances and employment, setting up house, and blending in like a native.


Lonely Planet: Best for Movers and Shakers

There are many types of travelers: tourists, nomads, weekend warriors … and Lonely Planet has every single one covered. Start with their comprehensive Shoestring guides which make exploration on-the-cheap a breeze.

If you’re a niche adventurer, LP presents activity guides on walking, hiking, parks, and activities.

And if you’ve been around the travel block a few times, you can give their City series a try, which interviews in-the-know residents for great tips on local hot spots. And these thin books are carry-on friendly to boot!

Plus, they’re available via Twitter with a personal wealth of knowledge.


Wallpaper Guides: Best for Chic Travelers

Need to know every hot spot in a hurry? Don’t wanna look like a tourist? Grab yourself a Wallpaper travel guide. These tiny books have drawn-in the design conscious with their Pantone-like hues based on location.

Aside from aesthetics, they pack a surprising amount of information in such a tiny booklet. Plus, the packaging gives you an extra boost of confidence whether you’re main objective is safety or attractive hot natives.


Stack of Travel Guidebooks
© malias

NFT Guides: Best for Settlers

Moving to a new area? Pick up one of these tiny little black books even if you’re staying for years. Each NFT Guide (stands for Not for Tourists) packs in info only locals know: which watering hole offers half price drinks during Happy Hour, which shopping district is nearest the farmer’s market, etc.

While visitors will love the behind the scenes look at how the city runs, and the cheat sheets with local emergency information and basic city knowledge, lifers also have something to gain by stocking their bookshelves with the series.

Not a paper person? NFT apps are available for download in the iTunes store and offer nearly as much info as your favorite little print guides.


Zagat: Best for Biz Travelers

Zagat? Among the best travel guide books? Sure is. Ever get stuck on a business trip with nowhere to dine but the local Applebee’s, or have to rely on recommendations from the office mailman — a native of your travel destination? Instead of chancing important client meetings (or just a bad tummy ache), hit up your Zagat guide. Besides simple restaurant advice, they offer maps, basic city info, and even books that specialize in city lifestyle and general travel.

Plus, the diminutive size and sleek outfitting makes this a great option to throw in that carry-on. As a bonus: regular users who submit reviews are eligible to receive free guides!


Rick Steves: Best for Travel Writers in Training

Rick Steves might be the globe’s most traveled man — and he documents these excursions to boot. Though anyone can pick up a guide to Paris, or Sydney, or Reno, or wherever they go, Rick’s descriptive jaunts leave readers feeling inspired.

So inspired, in fact, that it may be time to start a travel journal of their own! If you fit into the “travel as an inspiration” category, take a cue from Rick’s detail-oriented trips (look closely at how he highlights street corner shops and ticket booths!) and pick up your own notebook in the airport bookstore.


Fodor’s: Best for Must-See

As far as travel guidebooks go, Fodor’s is one of the top sellers. But why? Though these hearty books have all the basic info, transportation knowledge, and general keys that other books have, they follow with themed chapters of to-do listings that leave The New Yorker quivering in fear.

Ice skating in NYC’s boroughs? You’re covered. Best beaches in the Caribbean? No problem. The thinner Flashmaps series provides only the best to-do’s from its parent book, but includes page by page of detailed maps for those who like to get a little lost. Other guides include Citypack, a wallet-sized guide, kids and family guides, and the Compass books, with inside info from local journalists.


The Best Travel Guide Books Series?

What type of traveler are you? What guidebook perfectly fits your travel style? Let us know in the comments below!

  1. Where’s Pauline Frommer’s guides? Who buys DK? Someone buys both… them pressure from the latter is forcing other publishers to put more pictures into everything.

  2. What about the Rough Guide? I find them at least as helpful than Lonely Planet for most locations.

    I also quite like the Eyewitness and the Moon books.

    Rick Steves though? He’s certainly well-traveled, but I thought his target audience was armed with package bus tours and fanny packs.

  3. I agree with the above – Rough Guides are fantastic.

    What about Cadogan? When road tripping all over the Yucatan Peninsula (with a whopping five guidebooks in our car) the one we came back to again and again was the Cadogan Guide by Nick Rider; the best of the bunch, hands down.

  4. @Stephen I wasn’t mocking their age; I’m not so young myself anymore. He just seems like a doofus to me.

  5. @Ahimsa, I also associate Rick Steves with independent travel, and admit I’m a super huge fan. Check out Rick Steves’ weekly radio show, available via podcast – it’s awesome, he has fantastic guests, and they cover everything from traveling in Iran to driving around Mexico in a VW bus.

  6. @Ahimsa. Dorky maybe. But a doofus, Rick Steves is not. I have tons of respect for him.

    His guidebooks are impeccably accurate and up-to-date. But more importantly his Europe through the Back Door book teaches the travel skills necessary to travel independently in Europe and have a much richer travel experience by engaging more with locals and understanding each of the cultures.

    I feel he is solely responsible for helping many North Americans become much less ignorant when they travel to Europe.

  7. i love travel guides. don’t forget:
    newcomer’s handbooks for when you’re moving somewhere,
    wine travel guides for when you LOVE wine in europe,

    travelfish for excellent detailed asia guides,

    dk eyewitness travel guides for visual learners,

    roaring forties press for travel with a literary bent, and

    rough guides for independent travelers who love to learn abt a culture.

    can you tell i love to read??

  8. Great list I was just finishing up a Blog Post for NoShoesTraveler and I mentioning guide books. I was searching for a list of a few to mentioned and ran across your page and this is really good info. I think I also ad a link to it as I was not writing a post about guide books. I was just telling my readers I have used Fodors and Frommers all my life and that was only because my Grandfather and Dad used them.
    Personally I feel they are great to have you can’t trust internet while traveling.

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