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Best Trip Planner: Guidebook or Internet?

trip planner

Thinking about a vacation and wondering where to start? The internet is obvious, but what about going old-school and buying a guidebook? Which is the best trip planner?

Happily, there’s the Frugal Traveler column in the New York Times to help us sort it all out. Last month, on Christmas Eve Day writer Seth Kugel published a great investigative article on the Best Trip Planner question. He conducted an experiment: he bought a brand new guidebook, then tried to replicate that experience on the internet. So, what was the result? Well, if you were hoping for a simple answer, prepare to be disappointed. Like with many many important questions, there is no simple answer.

Just to illustrate the complexity of the problem, google the phrase “Trip Planner” and you will get over 59 million results. Some of those references are for city or region-specific information, of course. Others refer you to a Trip Planner for niche markets (e.g. surfing, historical, luxury, etc.). And there are sites that try to cover all bases. How to know which ones are worth a look? The problem with the web is that it is so voluminous. That can be intimidating and then the idea of using a guidebook becomes tempting. But the problem with guide books are that they are partially out-of-date by the time they are published . Plus, they are not searchable in the way the internet is nor can they be customized for your specific trip.

Internet as Trip Planner

Kugel found that in general, the internet is best for people who enjoy the process of planning a trip but books were best for people who like the decisions made for them. The internet excelled as a trip planner if you want to build your own custom itinerary, in which case he found the site Stay.com to be the best. But the internet also took more work and more time.

Guidebooks as Trip Planner

And there were three ways in which guidebooks were hands down better than the internet:

  • Maps
  • Things you would not think to search for on the internet such as warnings about scams in a specific destination
  • Convenience

To sum it up, Kugel said, “If the web is a fully stocked kitchen where an experienced chef given enough time can produce a brilliant meal, guidebooks are an energy bar, packing all the nutrients you need into a handy package that can be tossed into your bag.”