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Are Guidebooks Dying Out?

I’m currently in the final stages of booking a New England leaf-peeping vacation for October. In my trip-planning pile, alongside a few maps and an ever-expanding packing list, I’ve got a stack of at least five area guidebooks that I’ve checked out from my local library.

Will I lug all those heavy guidebooks with me on my trip? No way; even though I’m driving, not flying, I’m still aiming to pack as lightly as possible. But I’ve relied on this array of guidebooks to help me find hotels and plot out my itinerary, and you can bet that one or two of my favorites will find their way into my suitcase on departure day.

To some travelers, this probably seems perfectly logical. To others, I must sound like a dinosaur.

Last month, London’s Financial Times issued a lengthy report on the declining sales of traditional print guidebooks and the rise of new technology (such as mobile apps and iPad guides) that is emerging to replace them. Why would someone need a guidebook, asks the article, when you can use an “augmented reality app” like Google Goggles on your smartphone to find a wealth of free, up-to-the-second information about your destination?

The media has been prophesying the death of guidebooks for years now. Back in 2006, the Guardian speculated that podcasts would be the newcomer to knock guidebooks off their perch. In the past decade, Web sites offering thousands of traveler-generated hotel and restaurant reviews have tried to drown out the opinions of a few professional travel writers. And of course there have always been detractors who suggest that guidebooks are a crutch standing in the way of getting to know a place in a truly genuine way, by relying solely on one’s own eyes and experiences.

Despite all this, I still feel that guidebooks play an important role — though not the only role — in planning and taking a trip. The combination of maps, recommended itineraries, comprehensive reviews and historical context is something I haven’t found in any other single source, so I’ll continue to use guidebooks as long as they continue to be printed.

What about you — do you still use print guidebooks to help you plan a trip, or have you turned to other resources?

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