4 Guidebook Alternatives for Frugal Travelers

With the world wide interwebs at your fingertips, you clearly don’t need a traditional guidebook to plan and research your trip any more. And with a few handy resources you may not have thought of, you can get everything you need to know in one place.

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Tourism Offices

Any country and many large cities have tourism offices devoted to all things tourism. They exist to promote local businesses, and to entice travelers to travel to their delightful locales.

The tourism office website is often a one-stop shop for everything you need to know: culture, customs, visa requirements, places to stay, tour packages, places to eat – you name it.

Insider’s Tip: Look for the “press” or “media” links. They’re often hard to find, buried at the bottom of the page or concealed amidst a mass of other information. But looking for it will prove beneficial: you’ll find consolidated fact sheets, press releases, useful links, and lots of great “insider” information which is meant to pave the way for a member of the media to travel through and develop interesting stories.

Tourism Office, Candyland Croatia © Ruben & Tina

I’ll be heading to Malaysia (among other destinations) shortly, so I started researching my trip by visiting their tourism website. I discovered maps, videos, pictures, quick links with facts & figures, and even stories of previous travelers’ personal experiences. There are also widgets to help me plan my trip and find a place to stay.

With a little bit of digging I discovered that scuba diving is fast becoming Malaysia’s biggest tourism industry, with profiles of the best places to dive. I also learned that they have tons of caves with sacred drawings and hidden temples, golf destinations, wedding planning facilities, and numerous other activities to interest all walks of life.

I even discovered that Malaysia is the destination of choice for long-term stays (with incentives for people to stay for 10 years), and the government is paving the way for people with the financial ability to sustain themselves to move there, buy houses and cars, and educate their children.

The Media link on this site is small (as with most tourism sites), but once I found it, it provided me with facts and figures, press releases, and ideas of things to do in Malaysia. Where else could I have discovered that I’ll be there just in time to see the International Squid Jigging competition? Not to mention the International Kite Festival, the Home Show (sure to provide interesting insight into the lives and homes of the Malay), or the Buddhist holiday Wesak.

How to Find Tourism Offices:

  • Perform a google search by typing in the destination + tourism board. (eg: “Malaysia + tourism board”)

Convention & Visitors Bureaus

Often loosely associated with the tourism bureaus, the convention & visitors bureaus are another interesting resource for unbiased information. They are usually non-profit organizations dedicated to improving businesses in the community. Tourism is of course a natural fit for this cause.

They tend to be a little more specialized in their focus, providing information on the exhibitions and conventions in town, and catering to groups. However everybody who attends a convention from out of town needs to know where to go to let off some steam and where to sleep for the night, and these sites can provide some good insight.

For my Malaysian research, I found the Malaysian Conventions & Exhibitions page, but this time I didn’t discover anything I couldn’t find on the tourism site. This is not always the case, of course.

How to find Convention & Visitors Bureaus: Again, you can find them in two ways:

  • Visit the Directory of Worldwide Bureaus
  • Perform a google search for the destination + convention & visitors bureau (eg: “Malaysia + convention & visitors bureau”)

Old Travel Guidebooks on a Shelf
Old Travel Guidebooks © The Wandering Angel

International Destination Marketing

The International Destination Marketing website is an offshoot of convention & visitors bureau research, but bears noting in a category all its own. It not only consolidates information about convention & visitors bureaus around the world, but it also provides a handy resource center on many destinations of choice.

By clicking on the Travelers section, I discovered the Official Travel Guide, which is the Destination Marketing website’s portal for travelers to research destinations, get trip ideas, and even help to book your trip.


About.com is also a great resource for travel research. Check their travel section, then go ahead and narrow your search. Spend some time here and peruse the world by your activity of choice, the type of traveler you are, or the tried-and-true method of searching by location.

The Malaysia section included oh-so-much pertinent information for my upcoming trip, I’m almost overwhelmed! In fact, I added climbing Mt Kinabalu (Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain) as one of the items to my upcoming itinerary solely due to my findings on this site.

These resources will provide much of the information you would find in a guidebook, but without the author’s biases or inconsistencies. You can print off what you need to know, book activities and accommodations, and step off that plane already acquainted with everything you need to know to make your trip a success.

So whether you are actively planning a trip, deciding on where to go next, or just plain daydreaming, you will now have ample ammunition to go forth and take the world by storm!

This is of course by no means an exhaustive list of research portals ”¦ what online tools do you like to use? Share them with us in the comments below!

  1. I tend to use the following:

    Travel forums such as tripadvisor

    Travel blogs especially if they are written by someone local. Having a travel blog myself for Puerto Rico, I think these can be a valuable resource for people. Provided the information is accurate.

    Have started using twitter.com and would probably ask on there for local advice for a particular destination

    yahoo answers is another place.

  2. Twitter is great, especially if you have a group of followers that you can bounce questions/ideas off of.

    Yahoo Answers is one I hadn’t thought of for travel advice but that’s a great idea.

    I’ve had great luck with the local, destination-specific threads on Lonely Planet’s tried-and-true Thorntree forums.

  3. I aggree with Coqui that travel forums can be a great resource. Bug.co.uk and Fodors.com both have great forums where questions are answered quickly and by people who know. Of course there is something to be said for just showing up in city and picking up a free, local “what’s happening this week” type publication which lists local events and hot spots. In bigger cities you will find these in Bars, bookstores, newstands etc. Usually any major site can be found without a guide book (just follow the herd); navigating a city on your own often yields surprises only locals know about. Another good rule of thumb when looking for something interesting to do and not spend money…find the traveler with the tent and sleeping bag attached to their pack…they’re the ones who know where the great music festivals and off the beaten path places to chill-out are.

  4. I agree with Coqui about travel blogs and forums. However, I would say that the blog doesn’t necessarily have to be written by a local. Though I don’t live in Hawaii, anyone planning a trip to Hawaii could find loads and loads of unbiased advice on where to go and what to eat from my blog. Even Hawaii residents follow my blog and learn about places they’ve not been to on the islands. My blog may be the exception to the norm though.

  5. If you’re heading to Central and Eastern Europe, or Belfast, try http://www.inyourpocket.com.

    I’ll put my hands-up and admit I used to work for them, but it really is an excellent guide. Updated by resident writers, they feature honest reviews to restaurants, bars, hotels and sights. There really is no messing about, they generally call them like them see them. If a restaurant is crap, they’ll say so.

    While there only a couple of Euro in country, you can also download free PDFs from the site.

    Despite being a guidebook writer myself, I feel this is the way of the future, regularly updated guides, 1-3 months, written by writers who live in country.

    The downside is, quality varies wildly. So while Poland might be the equal of Lonely Planet, Croatia is dire

  6. I travel a lot around my country (the Philippines) and have never used a traditional guide book. I’m actually averse to guide books since I like taking the road less traveled. My approach to travel is hit-or-miss, i guess.

    What I do instead is pull out a map, select a region, and do a Google search. I read travel blogs and travel forums.

    When I arrive at my destination, talking to the locals gives me an idea of other things to do and see.

    My unsolicited travel advice: ditch the guidebook and take your common sense instead.

    P.S. Nora, consider a stopover in the Philippines!

  7. Also:

    Book swaps (particularly while en route)
    Used book stores (old editions!)
    And, my personal favorite, WikiTravel! Whole guide books at your fingertips, for FREE.

  8. Sometimes if you find a really cool place to stay online, you might actually change your route. That’s what happened to us last summer when we started planning our trip to Umbria. The b&b we got most excited about was in the Marches, and so we revised our whole trip.

    Check out http://www.darngooddigs.com for unique places to stay that you might not find anywhere else – and might make you rethink your itinerary.

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