I can think of two reasons why you don’t want to lug around hefty guide books while traveling internationally:  a) they’re a great way to be instantly branded as a tourist, and b) they are bulky and heavy.

On the left above, the Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook – 850+ pages, 1 lb. 2oz.; on the right, the sections from the 976 page Frommer’s Italy 2010 guide that I actually want to bring on our trip.  I ripped the book apart, saving the sections of interest, which I spiral bound; it weighs a bit over 6oz.  (The Steves book will receive the same treatment.)

Although it may not be obvious in the photo, I used plain black covers on the Frommer excerpts; at first glance it looks like a journal.

If you don’t have access to binding equipment, get it done at an Office Max or Staples.  The cost is minimal, and it beats lugging around two heavy books!

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14 Comments on Don’t get weighed down by travel guidebooks when you’re on the road…

  1. Andy says:

    If you want to be less fancy about it, you can break the binding and peel the pages out so the glue stays on the back. This works for individual sections, but if you want a lot of sections put together, a stapler does that job well enough.

    That is of course if you’re going with paper books at all. I’ve since switched to ebooks entirely. Lonely Planet sells individual chapters in unencrypted PDF format, and Rick Steves sells city guides for both Rome and Naples & the Amalfi Coast for the Kindle.


    Kevin Reply:

    Thanks for the comment.

    I actually have Steves’ Rome 2010 eBook on my iPod Touch (Kindle app), but the interface is much less satisfying than the printed page. I imagine I’d feel much differently about a Kindle or iPad, but I haven’t made the leap yet.


    Andy Reply:

    Kevin, I’ve heard that from people (even Rick himself). The same goes for reference books and text books; people find it’s better to be able to flip between certain sections, bookmarking them with your fingers or post it notes. There are pros and cons, but I think the pro of having potentially hundreds of books in one lightweight device outweighs the cons of a less intuitive interface.

    As someone that has a Kindle, I can tell you that guidebooks on my iPhone are easier to navigate because you can just tap links instead of having to use the kludgy joystick. However, for PDF files the Kindle is better in so much as you can actually read the text and see the full page. Kindle-formatted guidebooks in general aren’t great, except for the fact that they link certain sections, which you don’t get with PDFs. But with PDFs you get the actual book, as it’s laid out in the book, which I prefer.

    I’ve only tried an iPad at the store, but haven’t used it with a guidebook so I can’t give an opinion over whether it’s better, except to say that at 1.5 pounds it’s heavier than most guidebooks and would certainly not be something I’d like to carry around for any length of time. Then again, I may just be used to the weights of my considerably lighter Kindle and iPhone.


  2. Andy says:

    And no offense, but unless you look/speak Italian, you’re going to be instantly branded as a tourist anyway.


    Kevin Reply:

    Perhaps. I’ll let you know.


  3. Gary Williams says:

    I’d heard of the idea of saving weight by tearing out relevant pages, but keeping them organized by having them bound had never occurred to me. There is apparently no idea so obvious that I will be sure to think of it. Thanks.


  4. Michael W. says:

    Nice spin on Andy’s first suggestion, above, which I used to do. Problem with the quick and crude method is the pages start to come apart, the packet of pages gets pretty beaten up. You are right, quick binding at a print shop has certainly come of age – quick and good. Finally, you will look so much cooler at a cafe – neither an obvious tour book nor ripped off pages.


  5. Adriano says:

    Slightly OT (and no offence intended)
    they’re a great way to be instantly branded as a tourist
    On many blogs I’ve quite often read about this fear which, to be honest, is something I cannot quite understand. OK, I haven’t got the ‘issue’ of not being considered Italian in Rome, as I am Italian (and despite that, my accent could label me as tourist anyway).
    What’s the problem with looking like a tourist? I have thought about some reasons, and found solutions which are easier than disguising your ‘touristness’:
    Security. No one wants to be considered a target for attacks because of their nationality. This is a false problem, at least in Italy, no matter what the Department of State in Washington routinely says. I think most of my fellow citizens are intelligent enough to not blaming every US passport holder of what their government supposedly has/hasn’t done (Otherwise the whole Italian nation should feel responsible of Mr Berlusconi’s actions – But that’s another story). Should you see trouble, just pretend you are Canadian.
    – being ripped off by tourist traps. It’s not how you look, but what you do which makes the difference. You all are experienced travellers and you can easily avoid these problems. Nevertheless, here are a couple of specific tricks for Italy:
    1-In tourist places read the priced menu which -by law- must always be visible from the outside of restaurants.
    2-Don’t be afraid of raising your voice if something isn’t clear: a few months ago a couple of Japanese tourists’ protest made the news and caused the closure of a famous restaurant in Rome.
    3-Be ready to pay something more, no matter what: an Italian TV channel has shown that in some places you need to speak local dialect if you want to get the best deal.
    – not having a closer-to-the-locals experience. Again, it’s what you do which matters. I don’t think that a Korean tourist in Lederhosen would have a better experience at the Oktoberfest – quite the opposite, he is likely to offend the Bavarians.
    So, with all respect, I have never seen any problem in being branded as a non-local – and in my opinion, having a guidebook doesn’t cause too much trouble. Of course, we could talk about the difference between ‘tourist’ and ‘traveller’ – but that’s another thing.
    Please, feel free to contradict…


    Kevin Reply:

    Adriano: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I should clarify: I have no problem being a tourist or being recognized as a tourist. What I don’t want to do is look like a dorky American tourist and be recognized as such in an instant. (A separate but related point: I may in fact BE a dorky American tourist; I just don’t want to look the part!) ;-)

    If I were able to blend in with the crowd a bit, so much the better. Seth Stevenson said it much better: http://www.newsweek.com/id/236032


  6. Adriano says:

    PS for Kevin,

    Let me know if you need any advice on Rome, specifically on restaurants. I’m not a local, but my sister is!


  7. Michael W. says:

    So we’ve clarified that looking like a tourist is not bad in and of itself, but looking like a dork is bad?

    And there’s no danger of that in America itself?

    LOL for the merry band of Practical Hackers, for whom the dork-quotient – cough – may be higher than for the average rabbit. Not me of course, my Scott-E-Vest and RedOxx Gator are badges of cool-dom in the Starbucks of Berkeley….


  8. Adriano says:

    Kevin: I read the article you linked and now I understand your point – and partly agree on it. Globalization has had, as side-effect, a dissemination of “western” clothing style – with the result of making it much more difficult do tell the nation by one’s apparel. Even corporate/university logos are now quite neutral and widespread – For example have a Chicago Bull’s branded training suit which was bought about 15 years ago in Italy.
    But there are exceptions, such as the ones listed in the article you linked: White tube socks with shorts are a no-no (btw, socks with sandals are nearly forbidden in Italy! ;-) ). Panamo brand jackets are typical English, the Schoeffel ones are German and Rucanor tends to be a Dutch/Belgian label. Accessories too can be tell-tale. Freitag bags say you are Swiss, whereas Invicta rucksacks are 100% Italian and Karrimor backpacks are UK.
    I too used not to wear these clear signs while studying abroad – but for a different reason. It was the only way to avoid ending up with Italian teenagers, speaking Italian all the time and not learning anything.
    Now I still do it, mostly because my taste and preferences (or lack thereof) have evolved (and, sometimes, you end up hearing your fellow citizen saying funny things which they think you don’t understand…). Moreover my wardrobe is full of stuff bought in other countries. Actually I can say that I am always dressed in the same way – be it at home or abroad.
    The point, in my opinion, is the “right middle”. Keep your appearance neutral, don’t show off your citizenship, but don’t even overdo in imitating the locals (which could think you are taking the mikey…).
    ps: another advantage of no-logos, neutral clothes is that they keep you out of trouble. Think about football matches. Your lurid t-shirt could be similar in colour to the one dressed by the opponents of the team in the area you are visiting. Another example: not many people know that wearing a Lonsdale jacket in a Dutch speaking country means that you are a Nazi…


  9. K-eM says:

    Since I like to keep a hand written travel journal for vacation trips, I use the front of the journal to keep all my info. I print out small maps from the internet and tape them in. I’ll also make lists of places I’d like to see that are in the area I’ll be on a certain day. The list is always longer than I can do, so when I’m there I can pick and choose.

    The advantage to me of doing it that way instead of ripping out the pages is that I’m forced to pre-read about my trip and discover interesting tidbits that I would otherwise skim over if trying to digest it while on my trip. I didn’t get to see something I wanted to on a trip to England because I skimmed and missed the vital fact that it was closed the day I decided to drop by.

    Having a longer list also allows me to be flexible. If something is closed for renovations I can easily go to my pre-chosen list and find another option.

    Pre-reading for my trip and writing it down also helps me to more easily remember what I need to do and how to get there without constantly referencing my book and to be more confident in where I’m going. This allows me to behave more confidently and stick out less.


  10. Dianne says:

    I’m so OLD that I remember when I used to tear up the Europe on $5 a Day books. I would just “bind” each city or country together with a paperclip and stash the pages in my purse. The spiral binding is clever, but too bulky for me.

    I also make extensive notes from online research and take them along, especially for Asian trips. The web-based resources available now for travel (and keeping in touch with loved ones) are mind-boggling for someone like me who first went to Europe in 1972.


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