I’ve been to Barnes & Noble about six times in the last couple of months, hemming and hawing, and stumbling toward the plush, communal chairs, my arms loaded up with guidebooks from every publisher under the sun. For the last decade this routine has been the opening act for each of my trips abroad. It’s one part due diligence, two parts information gathering, and about 15 parts self-indulgence. I just really, really love reading guidebooks and imagining the open roads ahead of me.
Never before have I felt anything other than enriched, fulfilled, and blissed out after a lengthy session of pouring over their tidy layouts: the incredible context of Rough Guides, the crunchy details of Lonely Planet, the likable smarm of Rick Steves.
Until now, that is.
Up until less than an hour ago I was filled with confusion and frustration, failing to comprehend the suddenly vapid text spilling from these beautifully-bound books. I was on the verge of returning my second book; my lovely crutch was broken. Shattered. Given the nature of my future travel plans, I was nothing like the audience for these books!
Guidebooks are fantastic and I fully plan to continue reading them as recreational material. However, the vast majority stick to some core – and sensible – content: accommodations, travel, food/drink, sights, adventure sports, etc. They focus on this material because the people that use guidebooks are typically on vacation and these are activities people enjoy doing on vacation. I intend to slow travel and dig deeper, spending 2-4 weeks in some locations. I will quickly exhaust the surface-level information typically found in guidebooks.
I want to know what’s happening when nothing’s happening. I guess, in a sense, I’m seeking the “mundane.” The Seinfeld of travel experiences. Because I think it’s in day-to-day routine that you capture swift insights into the culture, much more easily than from the museum/plaza/opera/whathaveyou. I’ve had the feeling that I could be anywhere in the world as I’ve browsed the wings of museums. For what I’ve got planned for the future, I don’t think I’m the target audience of guidebooks. My aim is not to be guided, after all, it’s to learn, share, and help other like-minded folks follow in my footsteps.
While I’m sad to miss this guidebook geekery, it’s also liberating to have recognized that my plans and guidebooks simply aren’t going to mesh cleanly, and that I should relegate their use to the basic nuts-and-bolts information. There’s a theme coming together from blogs I’ve been reading and buried in some of my previous posts, and that is: you aren’t supposed to know. Dreams don’t come with instructions, and, even in this age of information saturation, there is knowledge that can only be gained through experience, by walking down those open roads.
Am I forgetting a guidebook publisher for slow travel? Think museums are the pinnacle of cultural expression? Tell me in the comments!
Listening to: Mono
Drinking: Alamos, Argentine Malbec
Original photo by Nevada Tourism Media Relations via Flickr under Creative Commons