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The Thirteen Best Online Travel Guides
Virtually all of the famous print travel guides have online counterparts. Most are just as packed with information, photos and maps as their print versions. Most also have planning tools, community, deals and other online-specific features. Surprisingly, for sites that offer information about travel and moving around the world, many don’t have mobile versions of their websites, though some do have apps or iBook versions.
If you’ve ever browsed the print versions of many of these travel guides, you know that they’re largely similar, and the one that works best for you is largely a matter of subjective taste. That’s true online, as well. I’d recommend sampling what each has to offer before picking out a few favorites to return to as trusted resources.
Billing itself as “the world’s largest network of free travel guides,” Arrivalguides.com is unique in that it’s entirely web-based, and all of its guides are available as free, high-quality PDF downloads. Although the website is available in either English or Swedish, if you click through to individual destination cities you’ll often find options to download the guide in different languages, including the local language spoken at the destination. Arrivalguides.com doesn’t have a mobile version, but does offer free downloads of its most popular guides in the iTunes app store.
Guides to more than 200 destinations from publisher Conde Nast, including content from the Conde Nast Traveller magazine. Exploring for destinations by interests and ideas turns up some offbeat travel suggestions that you might not find with other guides. Concierge.com doesn’t have a mobile site but does have a “postcard” app that may appeal to some (I personally find it a bit lame).
Fodor’s offers interesting perspectives of destination because its guides are written by people who live in the location they write about. While it does offer a lot of useful information, the guides on the website don’t seem as complete as the print guides, though there are about a dozen free downloadable guides available. Fodor’s has an extensive mobile website at m.fodors.com.
Frommers published one of the first travel guides (the 1957 Europe on $5 a Day). Frommer’s now publishes over 300 guidebooks as well as the Frommers.com web site. Founder Arthur Frommer still actively blogs on the site, offering unique perspectives on the travel industry sharpened by decades of observation. Frommers doesn’t have a mobile version of its website, but has published a number of iPhone apps.
Around for nearly as long as Frommers, Let’s Go publishes budget travel guides, written entirely by students for students (like Facebook, founded by Harvard students). Let’s Go guides focus on off the beaten path locales that other guides tend to overlook. Its video gallery is a YouTube-like collection travel of videos uploaded by the Let’s Go team as well as users—an interesting way to preview a destination. Let’s Go has neither a mobile site nor mobile apps available.
Lonely Planet was conceived as the journal of a couple’s honeymoon journey across Europe and Asia. It advocates “responsible travel” and is still a great “alternative voice” even though it is majority owned by the BBC. And just like Arthur Frommer, Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler pens an interesting blog with lots of perspective from many years of personal travel and editing guidebooks. Lonely Planet doesn’t have a mobile version of its website but has several iPhone, iPad and Nokia apps available.
Like the Let’s Go series, Rough Guides started as a student project conceived as a series that aimed to combine a journalistic approach to description with a practical approach to travellers’ needs. Today Rough Guides is a Penguin imprint covering more than 200 destinations around the globe and subjects as diverse as climate change and pregnancy. Rough Guides does not have a mobile site, but does have versions of its guides for the iPad reader available in the iTunes app store, and also offers 21 free phrasebook audio files for any PC, Mac or MP3 player.
One of the newest travel guides, and one of the few that exists only online, Ruba is a community-built collection of visual guides to “best places” found by contributors (supplemented by location-specific information and photos from Google and Flickr), as well as reviews of thousands of tours and river cruises. Ruba has neither a mobile version nor apps, but that’s likely to change soon, as Ruba’s team “joined” Google in May. Whether Ruba becomes a Google property or remains a standalone site remains to be seen.
Home of the Eyewitness Travel Guides, my personal favorites. These guides are rich with detail, history, photography and art, as well as lots of practical guidance for getting the most out of a destination (and staying out of trouble!). The site has a very cool feature that let’s you assemble your own personalized guides for a destination that you can save as a PDF document. Traveldk.com doesn’t have a mobile version of its website, but has published a number of its DK Eyewitness Top Ten Travel Guides as iPhone apps.
Trip Advisor was one of the first sites to combine search for travel products with guides and user reviews. The site now boasts more than 33 million user reviews for destinations all over the world, and is a must-visit site if you’re going somewhere new and looking for recommendations (Google certainly agrees—just as Wikipedia results regularly show up on Google first page results, Trip Advisor results often get top rankings for travel related queries. Trip Advisor’s site automatically detects access from mobile devices and reformats itself for mobile viewing. There’s also a free Trip Advisor app available in the iTunes app store.
Calling itself the “social travel guide,” tripwolf combines travel tips from professional travel writers with community contributed content, offering more than 400,000 locations, city guides, personal recommendations and travel blogs. You can also ask “trip gurus” for very specific travel advice to find your favorite spots in any city. tripwolf doesn’t have a dedicated mobile site, but has partnered with the Footprint Travel Guides to offer iPhone and iPad versions of its print travel guides available in the iTunes app store.
The Wikipedia of travel, Wikitravel is an open source worldwide travel guide with more than 23,000 destination guides and other articles written and edited by Wikitravellers from around the globe. Wikitravel’s site automatically detects access from mobile devices and reformats itself for mobile viewing. There are two (paid) apps that use Wikitravel data available in the iTunes app store.
Yahoo Travel is the most fully-featured travel vertical offered by the three major search engines. In addition to numerous research guides and booking tools, you can also create a profile, creating maps of places you’ve been or want to go, organizing your travel photo albums, plans and ratings and reviews. Surprisingly, for a company that does so much with mobile, the Yahoo Travel website doesn’t automatically detect mobile devices, yet Yahoo Travel does have a mobile version available at m.travel.yahoo.com.
Online travel planners: The next generation
All of these online travel guides offer useful information and tools—but all to a degree are steeped in tradition and don’t fully take advantage of the interactive potential of the web. Not to worry—an entire new generation of travel research and planning tools has emerged with some seriously cool features baked in that make the travel planning process a delight. They are the focus in the next installment of this series, Travel Planning Tools: The Next Generation (coming soon).
Note: The first installment in this series is For Travel Planning, Search Engines May Not Be Your Best Destination.