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On the road (or, in my current case, rails) my bag becomes my bestest bud. It’s got all my stuff, and is a constant while everything around us changes. But inside the bag lies a trickier character, whose pleasures can be extraordinary and whose help is often invaluable, yet without a degree of caution this item can lead one astray; a Lonely Planet guide.

DSCN1832Slammed by many but revered by many more, LP offers undoubtably the most accessible and useful source of on-the-go info, not to mention a hefty object with which to thwack touts. I’ve found, however, that with such a degree of reliance it pays to know your guide well…

Here are 10 guidelines for reading guidebooks;

All the words are written by somebody. A person. They’ll have a biography in the back; are they a geologist or an amateur gynaecologist? Should you take their word on a cafe or a diskoteche with the larger pinch of salt?

Fear the wrath of the too-small map, especially when vital locations such as ‘main bus stop’ and all the accommodation options are indicated off West, 2km. On the flipside, despite causing annoyance and delay, little maps often indicate hidden treasures.

Add 10-20% to all prices. LP recommendations increase demand and prices follow.

A history lesson, pithily provided in the intro, saves the bother of reading lengthy, poorly-translated museum signage (although occasionally this can also be extremely entertaining.)

Heed the map scale. It takes 10minutes to walk across the map on page 422, but rather long to traverse the page with Beijing on it.

Museum recommendations are often written by those with little interest, but with a desire not to appear dismissive. The museums are invariably, therefore, far less ‘illuminating’ and ‘comprehensive’ than indicated.

Swat up on each destination’s ‘dangers and annoyances’. “Rabies-carrying stray dogs”, “relentless touts selling fish massages”, “daily fatal traffic accidents”; all these become rather humorous when they mimic to a T what you’ve read in advance. Clearly it’s a ridiculously relentless cycle of bites, touting and death.

“This is most visitors’ first point of call.” = “every morsel of our being impels us not to recommend this lacklustre, over-rated attraction, which will unquestionably be drowning in hateful tacky tourist sub-culture, but we all know you’re going to go anyway, so how about you just get it over with quickly.”

All reading of LP in public must be concealed. If you spot someone at the same place as you, following the same recommendation, reading an identical copy of your LP, all acknowledgement must be denied. Neither of you are sheep.

and TEN
Big entries are there because the editor insisted. Small entries are there because the writer loved a place so much that they begged for its inclusion at the expense of a half-column of extra bars in Prague.


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