Will Travel Bloggers and Social Media kill guidebooks?

Last Updated on January 11, 2018 by Christine Kaaloa

guidebooks, lonely planet, guidebooks*Note: this post has been updated and modified from it’s original content, for more clarity, which I feel was not there. Apologies.

Guidebooks have always been my fail safe travel bibles.

While I may not use them all the time, carrying one is like a safety blanket for me. If it’s not my go-to for last-minute itinerary scrambles, then it’s my emergency backup plan for a quick guesthouse recommendation.  Thus, I always take one on my travels.

But in the past two years, due to the internet and social media, my reliance on guidebooks has weakened.

Maybe my confidence as a traveler has gotten stronger and my training wheels are slowly coming off…

Last year, much of my itinerary information for Hong Kong and Japan, came from Facebook friends. Meanwhile, direct visits to the local official tourism offices and hostel and guesthouse front desk staff replaced black-n-white city maps for ones with color, while feeding me bus routes and ‘getting there’ directions. My metro maps and food guides were download iPod apps. My guidebook pretty much stayed in my bag. In my  travels this year and most importantly, my last-minute trip to Myanmar,…

I didn’t open one guidebook.

Will Travel Bloggers and Social Media change the way we travel?

For me, it’s already changing.

While I still love the tangibility (and the feel of paper) that traditional guidebooks offer, my methods of  trip planning are no longer as dependent upon guidebooks as they once were.

Today, social media and the internet make information more accessible and immediate than ever before. The power is in people, like you and me. Social ads work like this…

•  A Facebook friend posts the latest trip photos of them, lounging in a bar shack with friends in the Philipines sharing $2 margaritas or taking  pictures of fish and underwater wreckage they saw, while diving in a crystal blue sea. …That inspires your next vacation (or one of them).

•  A traveler had a horrible stay at a hotel and does a writeup on a review on Tripadvisor (one of my favorite go-to travel sites). You were just about to book that very hotel and then you read the review. Now you’re having second thoughts and this causes you to look for alternatives.

Public opinion and our social networks are the new adware guides. Today, we want immediate recommendations, word-of-mouth information passed on by friends and ordinary people like ourselves.  We want to experience the fun we see friends having or activities, which appeal to our individual tastes and not the masses.

Will social media and travel bloggers kill guidebooks?

Several years ago, when I used to shoot television, companies would fly me out at the last-minute and put me up in a hotels for days to weeks. I never had guidebooks or printed maps to get around or tell me about a place. All I had was a rental car GPS, internet access and a smartphone, with internet capability. For some reason, I felt okay. Maybe it was having a safety net of a business office back home or the fact I had a rental car to drive around and explore things in the comfort of my own bubble.

But taking trips abroad and to developing countries, I didn’t trust myself as a traveler in a foreign country. I couldn’t see inside these countries or the hotels I was booking and I couldn’t afford  five-star comfort. Instead, I was reliant on public transportation and it didn’t come with a GPS , smartphone connection or updated online schedule listings. I needed my guidebook.

Flash forward to now. Most smartphones have wifi and travel apps, many countries have available wifi and internet. Social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, keep me connected to news around the world. Also online, I can get up-to-date information, maybe even access to working bus and train schedules. More current information is available to me. It’s made me feel more secure. In a way, social media, internet technology and travel bloggers have killed my  requirement of a guidebook.

Luckily, these days I feel like I have more resources to pool from.


Today, due to the nature of last-minute trips I’ve taken and because of cheap ticket searches, a flexible freelance schedule and the fact I’m still rebirthing my career from a gap year, my  “trip planning ” (*cough cough*) has downsized considerably. It consists a search engine  culling cheapest airfare, Tripadvisor hotel reviews, collecting information on-the-fly through social media and travel blogs and making do with physical resources available (in the form of tourist information booths and hostel front desk attendants), once I get there. I don’t have time to read an entire guidebook and the last time I carried it, I barely referred to it because I met people and locals who could give me direct information.

How to plan a trip, when you don’t have the time

• Put a shout out to trusted social networks- Facebook and Twitter- for advice, recommendations, itinerary ideas.

facebook string
A snapshot of my Facebook shout out (or short part of it) on my recent trip to Myanmar| Burma. At the rate Myanmar Tourism is changing, a guidebook wouldn’t have been able to provide the most-up-to-date information on hotel prices, ATM availability, etc… Fellow travelers and travel bloggers who had been there within the year, were my best bet.

• Followup with Tripadvisor and travel forums to see reviews.

• Download iPhone/iPad/Android travel apps on the city   (i.e. I love metro map apps or anything on navigation).

• Head to  Google searches. My Google search actually calls up travel articles, written by other travel bloggers.
Let me note, when I do my searches I’m very scrutinizing about what I read and “invest” my time in. I need and want solid information– cut-the-bullshit –fast. Google, I find, tends to rank the most information-packed and somewhat instructional articles first, versus “Here’s me and my boyfriend on our vacation…” types of posts.

What’s so fantastic about “travel bloggers”  if they’re not experts or professionals?

I beg to differ on that.

Sure, you’ve got your homespun travel blog, which is like a diary entry. But you’ve also got more bloggers out there wanting to make it a career. With the latter, they’re refining their techniques.

But back to social media and society’s need for more personal recommendations… With travel bloggers, I feel like they’re in the trenches of travel with me. They’ve experienced unique places, some bloggers, their travel is similar in style to mine and many are excellent at sharing the “How to” information they’ve collected. Although guidebooks like Lonely Planet and Rough Guides hire writers that are travelers also, we don’t see their personalities or the struggles they face as travelers, and that can be a frame of reference, which makes travel bloggers more attractive.

Travel bloggers are like an online travel reality show personalities. If they post the occasional photo of  “my horror hotel” or “avoid this” to accompany a description,  I feel an immediate  kinship. It gives me extra peace of mind, if the blogger posts an informative location photo, which gives me visual reference to a place I’m going to or how to get there (informative pictures vs cultural ones is what I wish guidebooks had more of). But even if I’ve come to their website for the very first time, strictly for the information, I get that feeling that they’re very human, accessible and someone I can relate to… like a Facebook friend or a fellow traveler on Tripadvisor… someone like me. Sometimes, the blog, video and photo information they share can offer similar tips and more insight for me than a guidebook.

Some favorites, which come to mind as being called up in my Google searches for my most recent trip were Mark of Migrationology, a YouTuber and travel blogger, who authors badass information-packed e-book guides on food and travel, YouTuber Steve of QiRanger Adventures who’s your video inspiration into  South Korea’s landmark sights and Robert’s Leave Your Daily Hell, who’s informative travel guides and articles are a great resource, as well .  These three travel bloggers helped to kill my need for a guidebook on my last trip. They were my guidebooks.

Overall, there’s a wealth of travel bloggers, who are refining their way of crafting information. They’re traveling or are locals at your next destination.

While it might be a stretch to say travel bloggers will completely replace guidebooks, they are the new travel guides of today. They’re all wanting to show you how you can live a fuller and more rewarding travel experience, to do it your way and within your budget.

Here’s your chance to weigh in… what do you think?  Will travel bloggers and social media change the way we travel?  Can you ever see giving up your guidebook? Thoughts and experiences?

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  • I personally still love guidebooks and think I always will. I don’t rely on them exclusively for information, but more so for inspiration. With a guidebook, I can easily read about the history of a place and about what there is to see – both very popular and less popular. And I think guidebooks are just more balanced with their information. And, as someone else mentioned, I love the maps! They are great to have when figuring out in advance where to stay, but also for when you first arrive in the city and need to get your bearings (before you have a chance to get to the tourism office or where you’re staying). Depending where you are, there may not be any other easy source for maps besides the guidebook.

    Many travel blogs are, by their nature, personal and thus can be quite opinionated. If I know the blogger and know that we are similar in the way we travel and look at things, I may give more value to their posts about a destination than a blog post from someone I am not familiar with at all. Also, a lot of blogs don’t provide much practical information and only include personal stories which don’t do much to help you decide whether you want to visit a place.

    I also think we, as travel bloggers, have an overinflated view of how much normal, everyday travelers look to blogs. As I was traveling around the world for 13 months, I asked dozens of people I met whether they read any travel blogs and I only encountered one person who did the entire time.

    • @Katie: Good thoughts. So do you feel like most of your readers are travel bloggers vs. regular travelers? I feel I get a balance of both. Email questions I tend to get from readers are technical “How Tos” about Korea. My instructional posts have next to nil comments, but consistently high hits.

      Interestingly, on this post, it’s mostly “travel blogger” responses. lol. =-) I’ve seen more travel bloggers write for (and *visit*) “personal” and experience-based travel blogging sites, rather than instructional posts. I think part of this has to do with networking, looking for an entertaining read and familiarizing ourselves with our niche.

      Personally, 90% of the time, I don’t have time to waste in living vicariously b/c I’m juggling a few careers. If I “invest” my time into any personal blog, I’m looking for very technical information and experiences, which “inform” me. Whether it’s equipment reviews, how to learn SEO, how to fix my DSLR settings,…technical manual stuff like that. When I search Google, it’s literally for directions, guides, reviews and How Tos. Google’s been calling up travel blogs! The ones I get are more fact-heavy, so ‘travel bloggers’ may not care to read them, but normal travelers might because Google likes ranking referential and information-based blogs higher. As I noted, Robert/Leaving your Daily Hell & Mark/Migrationology got called up a lot (esp for my last trip, but also in the past when I’ve queried for information). Dave of The Longest Way Home has some good guides also. These types of bloggers have more instructional, but solid and informative articles.

      Haven’t found a lot of these types of travel bloggers who do this consistently, so maybe we all have a way to go. But the occasional factual posts exist and while they not be outwardly a popular or entertaining read, …those, Google will rank high on searches. =-)

  • New reader of your site, it looks wonderful! Regarding this subject, I think it will for sure change and is changing the way folks travel. I think the biggest issue with them is they become out of date during the year. When you read a travel blogger, or just google a place online, you have instant information if they possibly closed or changed locations. I myself do not really use guidebooks anymore, I do use Red Maps for NYC, I always write my places of destination on a pad as well, in case something happens I can’t get access to my phone internet. I love trip advisor too for information not just on hotels but where to go in various cities. It is an interesting topic, and a valid one for sure!!

    • @Rosemary: Welcome newbie! Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment =-)

      Haven’t tried Red Maps; that must be new. When I was living in NYC, I *always* carried one of those plastic-protected subway maps. It lived in my sling pack for close to 9 years! But when I moved to Korea to teach, carrying maps felt excessive, so I downloaded subway map apps which were.the.bomb! One was so good, you could choose how you wanted your route– quick or less transfers- and the detail was down to which car number to be in so you were closest to the transfer exit. It was like Hopstop.com, but way cooler.

  • […] on travelling. I just read a great article by fellow world warrior Grrl Traveller querying whether travel bloggers and social media would eventually kill guidebooks forever? In my eyes the answer to this is undoubtedly yes and the recent news of Lonely Planet (my guide […]

  • […] on travelling. I just read a great article by fellow world warrior Grrl Traveller querying whether travel bloggers and social media would eventually kill guidebooks forever? In my eyes the answer to this is undoubtedly yes and the recent news of Lonely Planet (my guide […]

  • I think the only travel bloggers that really get the country they are in are those that live in that country as expats. Sure, travel bloggers will show you what they have been shown by DMO’s in the case of hosted trips. Often their understanding of the country, culture and politics is very limited.
    I remember reading one post on Flanders where the blogger was bragging how they always said good morning in Dutch. So far so good. But then as their Dutch was limited they continued talking in French, as it’s one of the langauges of Belgium!! That is the best way to turn a Flemish person against you. Most speak excellent English and will prefer to converse in it, if the one can’t speak Dutch. Study a good guidebook and you may well discover why English (not an official langauge in Belgium) is the second language in Flanders not French.

    The authors of guidebooks live in a country for a long time and research their subject thoroughly then get it reviewed by other experts. Your analogy with reality TV is a good one for some travel bloggers. Some travel blogs do extensive research, others just give the view from a reality TV Show, “I’m sipping a mojito, in the Bodeguita del Medio!..”

    It is possible to find lodging and places to eat without a guide book or internet, albeit with difficulty in peak season just by exploring and knocking on the door of likely establishments. Then it is just a matter of asking to see the room or menu before commiting to stay or eat. This works for me at least, but can be stressful as it approaches 11pm and I still haven’t found a room for the night.

    • @John: I love the ideas you raise! I agree and don’t agree. How well do you know or understand your own country or city? How do you define “expert”?

      To say expats know more about a country, than those who travel it for a shorter jaunts isn’t true. The average local, even one with decent travel sensibilities, doesn’t always know everything about his land either. I was born & raised in Hawaii; there are Hawaii bloggers that don’t even live here, that blow my Hawaii travel knowledge out of the water. I leave blogging about Hawaii to them. =-)

      Places and cities change and eventually, a lot of information gets out-dated. Due to technology, social environments & sensibilities are evolving. People are processing information quicker and with limited information. What you know and how much you know is all perspective. The average traveler doesn’t care about learning the finite aspects of culture or politics, when they have a week’s vacation in a country and don’t speak the country’s language at all. The nutshell essentials many want/need to know– how to not get killed, raped, scammed, piss off locals… and where to stay, how to get there and tips on how to have a good time.

      On guidebook travel writers: One year I had 3 travel writers email me for a meetup. They were visiting Korea (where I used to be an expat) on assignment & they wanted to meet for a chat. Two of them were from LP! (But shhhh!) They found my blog and articles I’d written about Korea (a country which is still evolving)!

      Now as one “professional writer” already commented, many of us travel bloggers are mere “scribes”, with no formatting experience, etc… Okay, but it won’t stop times from changing, technology & blogs from improving OR the fact, many bloggers are juggling writing AND photography, video, site management/ SEO and social media. (AND are hungry because they’re making nil to pennies compared to the salary ONE of those positions would make!) Personally, as a blogger, I have poor grammar and it was never my goal to be a “professional writer”. What I am, is a passionate expert on my own imperfect travel experiences and if my lesson is hard fought, then I want to make it easier for the next traveler. I’ll do that anyway I can & with the nearest medium.

      Things are changing with the blog world too. I know where you’re coming from about press trippy bloggers. On one hand, you can’t blame some of them. The majority of us, aren’t getting paid what we should be for the amount of work we’re producing. A labor of love, can’t pay rent. Ultimately, a press trip is not a salary. Some are treating it as one… but they’re getting massively short-changed. One of my upcoming posts might be tackling that.

  • Fantastic post Christine! I initially started out with a guidebook, but now it’s been years since I’ve used a printed guidebook. Like you mentioned, I use social media and searches to discover all the information I need and want. I still write notes down on paper too!

    • @Mark: I think all the travels and your being raised in different cultures, made you such a confident traveler that you don’t need the training wheels of a guidebook. It all boils down to confidence. Keep inspiring the masses. 😉

  • Very interesting topic! I find that travel guides provide a good overview of a place. Most travel blogs that I enjoy focus on specific places/excursions, rather than on the generalities of a country. I think most bloggers assume that travel guides cover the overview, so our role is to provide interesting details (or at least that’s how I think of it). Therefore I usually start with a guidebook, and then move to blogs and social media to pick-up a few more unique details and ideas.

  • I love researching online for where I want to go and to red reviews of hostels and stuff, but I normally buy a travel guide anyway. I like having one for those times when I’m somewhere without an internet connection or just want to take a bus/train/flight spontaneously somewhere, and can have a book with all the resources I need. I’m definitely less dependant on travel guides, but I still love to have a copy with me somewhere!

  • I definitely agree with you about the instant access social media gives us. I hink they way we get our information and how we want that information has changed. We are living in times where instant gratification is more the norm. Its all about connecting with indiviuals who may have shared the same experience or who can offer you some recommendations on good hot spots, or hotels. I think you will always have people who crave the feel of paper and I hope we don’t lose that entirely.

    • @WeScreamLoudly: Yessss… you get what I’m talking about! Thank you. =) It’s the way the market, technology and we as consumers are changing all the way around. Our habits, dependencies, the way we do things are changing and while it may not kill of guidebooks entirely, it gives us options to break away from the training wheels that guidebooks offer.

    • @Christine & @WeScreamLoudly: the beauty of the Web-based travel guides is that they are personal, and gives me the opportunity to post questions about specific items and I will get the answer very fast. The flip side is that views/ideas can be very subjective. Some people might find a particular resort has poor food options, but others would rave about it. At the end of the day, one has to take the chance. I guess that is what travelling is all about.

      • @SeekTheWorld: True, subjectivity can be a con too; but you’ve nailed it on the head with …

        At the end of the day, one has to take the chance. I guess that is what travelling is all about.

        In the end, we all create our own experiences. 😉

  • I am ‘old style’ and love the feel of paper on my hand (with coffee or tea to go with!). Besides, I find guidebooks are organized and linear while most of the material on the Web is not and it is very confusing.
    However, the weakness of the guidebook is that no matter how often they print, they will always be outdated in the age of the Internet and Social Media. Besides they lack the societal impact of sites such as TripAdvisor.
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  • I definitely think online resources have changed the face of guidebooks and guidebook publishing. When I was in Costa Rica recently (writing a guide book, incidentally) I stumbled upon a really old Lonely Planet, I think their very first one for Costa Rica. I usually only rely on LP for logistical information (have not had a lot of success with their lodging recs, to be honest) but what was so interesting about reading this old Lonely Planet was that the author’s voice was so clear throughout. He admitted when he hadn’t been to certain museums, he added flavor and I actually *wanted* to read the book! And it was totally because I felt like I had a buddy who was giving me advice rather than a sanitized account of the country. That is definitely an advantage travel bloggers have.

    Also, by the time a guidebook is published, bus schedules and prices and whatever can be totally different! The internet is handy with its timeliness–as long as you can find a trustworthy source.

    The disadvantage that I see is that it’s difficult to have a guide book’s information as accessible when you might need it on the road, especially if you’re in a more remote place with iffy wifi or you decide not to travel with a smart phone or laptop.

    Great post, Christine! Definitely something to think about. 🙂

    • @Sarah: It’s refreshing the writer admitted that. I think when a writer (or anyone for that matter- celebrities, experts, etc..) can admit to their own shortcomings, that makes us trust them a more. Then we can relate and unconsciously, you cut them the break.

      But the part about schedules and prices is it’s one flaw… Agreed. From the time a guidebook is written to the time its published, is a lot of time in between and information changes. I’ve followed some of that advice with hotels in India and Cambodia, only to find myself screwed. Here’s my Rough Guides fail: “Are you Street-smart or Travel-Jaded” These days, I find the official tourism offices and my hostel/guesthouse are more accurate with bus schedules; and often, I can do long distance bookings direct through them.

  • I still love travel guides. I actually collect them as my souvenirs. I have stacks of them. Once I visit a place, the book gets moved to a different shelf.

    But I don’t actually plan with them. I read them and find out more about where I want to go. Then I head to the internet to do further research. I also typically don’t even glance at the hotels listed in guide books since I am convinced that 2398473 people are doing exactly that, so it is not going to be as cheap as what I can find on my own.

    Once I am all set with where I am going, I will go back to the guide book and any information I want to bring with me, (particularly when they have self guided walking tours laid out) I take it and type it out in a word document and bring that with me. This serves two purposes: I don’t have to lug books around and the act of typing it makes some of it stick in my memory so I have an idea of things when I arrive in a new place.

    • @Jennifer: My best souvenir guidebook is a Lonely Planet Nepal which I bought in Nepal and is a black market version which is xeroxed from head to toe! Can’t bring myself to trade that one in.

      It’s admirable that you type parts of your guidebook out, but here’s a tip if you ever need to save time and packing space: “Packing your guidebook bit by bit

      • OOOH I could never tear up a book! I like having the typed pages. I also like printing walking maps on the back (I do not own a smart phone so this really helps)

  • I’ve been a travel writer for 10 years, professional guide writers don’t use words like ‘fishes’, they are properly trained, they work to an inclusive and concise format that includes essential info like train time tables and health risks, their copy adheres to style sheets, they write from a balanced perspective, and they are accountable when they trash a place. Bloggers have a role but I wouldn’t trust them entirely. Many are amateur scribes.

    • @Jono: Thanks for your valued input and insight into your craft. You don’t like using the word “fishes”? Too colorful or creative? lol. 😉 I’ve always appreciated guidebooks and respected the traditional role of travel writers, but I’m merely pointing out that I’ve noticed social/new media weaving into social sensibilities and redirecting the game for many traditional fields. True, not all bloggers put out trustworthy or quality content; and yet, some do, while also juggling and sharpening their multimedia skills for additional content. To be candid, initially, I wasn’t so jazzed about the DSLR move to video. It meant competition in the video market (my profession) with professional and amateur photographers. But change happened and it’s something we’re dealing with and in a way, it’s pushed my creativity out of the box. Now with bloggers, I see travel photography that would make a professional photographer feel sick and travel video which can compete with professionals. Many travel bloggers may start as scribes, but many are also honing their craft to make a profession out of it.

  • I don’t think they will… totally. I think of it like e-books. Sure, normal book sales will go down but in the end there are people who like to have the real thing. I may not travel with 5 guidebooks in my luggage anymore, but I still buy them. There is nothing better than getting lost in a new travel book, all the information you need in one place. That isn’t to say I don’t rely heavily on the internet for trip planning now, but I still like to read up on my destinations the good old fashioned way.

  • I think that if you’re going to take a trip that might cost a few thousand dollars, a $30 guidebook is going to be more cost-effective than spending hours Googling every tip you’ll need. Plus, maps. If the guidebook consisted of nothing but maps, they’d still be worth plenty. You can print or buy your own maps, but then again, that’s not free.

    I don’t treat guidebooks like a magical potion, but maps, historical information, lists of sites, basic bus schedule info and things like that are amazingly important. For time-sensitive info like prices, blogs will help out quite a bit, and I think they’re worth perusing. But then again, the guidebook won’t disconnect from the Wi-Fi.

    • @OCDemon: Well noted and agree with some of that. But to play devil’s advocate, you can get free maps, timetables and directions from some official tourism offices or hostels too and the information is sometimes more current. Actually, that’s how I’ve gotten around some places recently. 😉

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