Guidebooks are still a good way to go

Posted: July 29, 2012

Yes, it makes your suitcase heavier. Yes, it takes up space.

But all the travel e-books and mobile app guides in the world put together are still less handy than a sturdy little guidebook you can hold in your hand.

Among the brands — Frommer's, Fodor's, Lonely Planet, Moon, DK, Rick Steves, and more — there are likely enough volumes to pave China.

Many of them publish in e-book form, too, spinning travel advice through the digital realm.

I am partial to print, but times are not good for the print travel guidebook. Their sales fell 28 percent in the last six years in the U.S., says Stephen Mesquita, editor of the Nielsen BookScan Travel Publishing Year Book.

Between 2008 and 2011, travel book publishers' print revenues plunged from $190.3 million to $149 million, according to Albert Greco, a marketing professor at Fordham University, who monitors the book publishing industry. In March, publisher John Wiley & Sons put its Frommer's brand up for sale.

While some travel-watchers have predicted the demise of printed travel guides, using words such as extinction and redundant, that probably is too strong, Greco says. Although travel books are migrating to digital formats, real books continue to have a place in a traveler's backpack. They can be toted where there is no electricity. Printed maps beat apps, especially for older eyes. Books don't scream "rich tourist" like an e-reader does. And, sometimes, flipping through a book is just easier.

Last year, 4,221 print books and 711 e-books about travel were published or distributed in the United States, according to preliminary data from Bowker Books in Print.

"Print continues to sag, but it continues to exist," Greco says.

That is lucky for those who prefer to travel by the book.

Like shoes, a travel book's appeal is in the eye of the beholder. But among the recent crop, here are 10 volumes that are useful and worthwhile for summer travel planning. E-book versions are noted when available.

"The London Mapguide (7th Edition)" (Penguin, $12). Capsule version of London highlights is complemented by extraordinarily detailed street maps. This is the map to use when visiting London as a student, tourist, or while attending the Olympics. The $12 is a bargain compared to the major roaming charges you'd rack up searching map apps on your mobile phone.

"The Milepost 2012 — Alaska Travel Planner (64th Edition)" (Morris Communications, $29.95). New version of the bible of Alaska travel offers tips from the Klondike Loop to the Denali Highway. It has mile-by-mile descriptions of highways and attractions in the 49th state. Having this guide on your passenger seat while driving 847 miles between Anchorage and Prudhoe Bay is pretty reassuring.

"PassPorter's Walt Disney World 2012" by Jennifer, Dave and Allison Marx (PassPorter, $24.95). Disney is so popular that most books on the subject are updated every year. I like this family-friendly guide that has organizing folders in back and clear maps, ratings, reviews, and updates. Worth its weight in good advice. This year, the guidebook series will expand to Disney cruises.

"Top 10 Iceland" (DK Travel, $14). This new volume in a popular series focuses on a mysterious yet trendy destination that's now easy to reach from the United States, thanks to more airlines flying the route. Misty steam-vent pools!

"Travel Guide to Italy" (Lonely Planet, $25.99). For travelers roaming far from Rome, this color guidebook has a more elegant presentation than usual, but keeps the gritty Lonely Planet voice. Available in Kindle and Nook formats.

"Family Guide Washington, D.C." (DK, $25). Chunkier than the slim "Top 10" series, but more complete. DK invented a simplified layout for guides that is rich with photographs, illustrations, and small boxes on each page. Some of the type is tiny, so get the kids with jet-pilot vision to eyeball it for you. Available in Kindle and Nook formats.

"Explorer's Guide Maine (16th Edition)" by Christina Tree and Nancy English (Countryman Press, $22.95). A series best for people who seek calm, peaceful trips to beautiful, scenic spots, it offers intelligent guidance to the quirky state. Kindle and Nook formats available.

"Frommer's Exploring America by RV" by Harry Basch and Shirley Slater (Frommer's, $19.99). The latest edition of the RV advice book by a traveling power couple who constantly point themselves down the road and beyond the next curve.

"Fodor's Nova Scotia & Atlantic Canada (12th Edition)" (Fodor's, $16.99). Most Americans know approximately nothing about Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland, so pack this while rambling through the land of Anne of Green Gables.

"Guide to National Parks of the United States (7th Edition)" (National Geographic, $26). Stunning photos on every page. No sugary prose, just clear information about visiting, lodging, and hiking excursions. You barely notice the type.

Other new guidebooks

A book published by Seaway Trail Inc., an upstate New York-based tourism promotion organization, details stories about pirates, sailors, daredevils, battles, shipwrecks, lighthouses, and other attractions to be found along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. The stories in Sailors, Keepers, Shipwrecks, and the Maid ($9.95) take place in a region stretching from Lake Erie to the St. Lawrence River, and include such waterfront locales as Dunkirk, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Rochester, and Sackets Harbor.

National Geographic's Field Guide to the Water's Edge ($22) is a handy reference for anyone who has ever wondered about shorebirds, seashells, plants, and other curiosities found on beaches, shorelines, and riverbanks. The book is coauthored by Stephen Leatherman, also known as "Dr. Beach," who issues an annual list of America's "best beaches" each Memorial Day, using criteria such as water quality.

— Associated Press

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