Lonely Planet Europe: I Feel Old

When I was in my 20s, I loved Lonely Planet guides. Just seeing them in a bookstore, all lined up and shiny, made my heart skip a beat. Just last year, during a bookstore excursion in which I allowed myself any book I wanted, I chose Lonely Planet’s Europe Phrasebook book. While in the loo, I’ve learned how to say “I’m sorry” in 14 languages.

So, it should come as no surprise that when the Lonely Planet newsletter reaches my inbox, no work gets done until I have read it thoroughly and planned at least four new trips. After all, Cal and the cat are tired of my saying “I’m sorry” in 14 languages – time to get out there and try them on some unsuspecting local! But increasingly, I have felt older than McCain and less travel savvy than Palin while reading them – and it occurs to me that I just might not be in the Lonely Planet demographic anymore.

(I’d like to bookmark here this interactive map page, however, because it’s awesome.  I could rollover/click on it all day long.)

The thing is, though, I have never really fit in with the Lonely Planet crowd, however much my budget tells me otherwise.  Maybe it’s because I spent over two years as a child living in nice hotels; maybe I’m just a princess brat. Or, it could be that despite my jet-setting ways, I’m just not all that adventurous.

I just don’t understand the backpacking/hostel culture.  It holds absolutely no appeal for me, nor has it ever – even when friends returned every semester with incredible tales of their travels.  I’d like to talk about some of my reasons here, and see if my readers can figure out my admittedly strange aversion to what is a popular and fun way to travel for millions of people of all ages, nationalities and travel budgets.

  • I want to experience a place from my own perspective, and have the time to think about what I’ve seen and done every day, let it swirl around in my brain and see what I come up with.  I want my opinions to be my own. The thought of heading back to a hostel at night and hearing a bunch of stories about everyone else’s day, or having to talk about my own so soon after I’ve experienced it, makes me cringe.
  • I love traveling alone. I’m not a travel-people person. I don’t get lonely, and I don’t like interacting with tourists or travelers. I don’t find any sense of kinship with strangers simply because we all happen to be doing the same thing at the same time. OMG, we both have elbows! Best friends forever.
  • I don’t like the false-friendship vibe I have gotten from the backpackers I’ve met. There is an underlying current of mean-streak competitiveness that really turns me off.  I don’t like when I’ve seen backpackers take subtle digs at each other to prove they’ve had a more adventurous, more authentic or more original time than anyone else who has ever backpacked before.
  • Shoestring travel budgets do nothing for me.  Sure, I love a deal as much as the next person; but I truly feel that seeing less while being able to do more is better than seeing a lot but doing little. I want to experience a place fully, which I don’t think I’d be able to do if I’m constantly planning ahead financially two months and agonizing over a restaurant meal vs. another peanut butter sandwich because of train ticket prices.  If I had, say, $500, I’d rather blow it on one fabulous weekend than one week of scrimping.

So, what’s the verdict?  Am I a wacko?  Am I a snob? Am I missing something?

18 thoughts on “Lonely Planet Europe: I Feel Old

  1. I don’t know what you are, but I’m with you. I don’t do travel extravagantly, but if I have to think about carrying peanut butter sandwiches with me, yeah, I’m not going either. That attitude limits what I’ll see in my lifetime, I’m sure, but I’m OK with that. I want to enjoy my time some place rather than skip half the great sites there because it’s either experience those or, you know, eat.

  2. I’m with you. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s a certain reverse-snobbiness, but I never had any desire to check into a hostel and be kept awake by drunken, hormonally-charged backpackers partying all night. Even when I first started traveling when I was 26, it didn’t appeal to me. If I can’t have a decent room and be able to sit down and eat a meal at a table, I don’t want to go.
    Lonely Planet still has some good information, but it and Let’s Go are not my travel bibles.

  3. This type of traveling didn’t appeal to me in my 20s and I doubt it would now.

    The idea of a hostel/sharing a bathroom or couch surfing grosses me out.

    I believe in less in more and quality over quantity. I went to Venice (back when I still lived in L.A) over Thanksgiving because the hotel rates were much better and there would be fewer tourists. the weather was fine. I’d rather deal with a cloudy day or two than pay premium prices.

  4. I have to agree with you, but I also appreciate the extreme poverty backpacker. Linda and I have been through periods of “how do we pay for the next ticket” and “whoa! what the hell do we do with all this cash”. Travelling long-term brings financial highs and lows and there’s no point in denying it. (We’ve been on the road for almost three years, around 30 countries.)

    I’ve never really felt a strong fit with the lonely planet crowd; I travel too slowly for that, although they are my go-to guidebook for the things I need them for. I also agree that point-scoring is abhorrent; everyone has their own goals, needs, and means. Who’s to say my experience is somehow better than theirs? Not me!

    But, when all is said and done, if it’s a choice between peanut butter sandwiches or staying at home, pass the bread!

  5. I “heart” Lonely Planet most of the time for information about places (history, etc.), but I simply cannot relate to their whole take on food. it’s always about where you can get the cheapest cheapest food for backpackers. Forget authenticity. For me, food is a huge part of the experience of a place – it can tell so much about the history, the culture, the people, everything.

    As for lodging, I prefer to stay on my own so I don’t have to worry about putting on clothes just to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. And you can pay hostel prices for really nice hotels just by looking around a bit. It’s all about being sleuthy.

    Lonely Planet recently disappointed me by grossly misspelling a very important word. Cabeceo (a nod of the head accompanied by eye contact) is a way of inviting someone to dance in Tango. Lonely Planet kept calling it “Cabezazo” which is to headbutt. Sigh…

  6. Well, though I am not a hostel/backpacker person- I am a budget traveller- and damned proud of it!! Never really been a fan of Lonely Planet.

    I am not made of money and I am very good at finding deals and what to scrimp and save on so I still get a great experience in an area, without spending a fortune. I don;t need much. Clean comfy bed, good shower and I am good. I don’t need to take ballroom dancing lessons in my room😉

    Unfortunately, if I always waited until I was rich enough to take a luxury vacation- I’d never travel and get to see some of the best places I have spend time in.

    My first trip to Paris was solo and I stayed in a 400 yr old hotel in a great location for about $45 a night with the most delicious cafe au lait for breakfast. It wasn’t the Ritz- but I wouldn’t feel comfortable in the Ritz and my experience wouldn’t have been the same. Wouldn’t trade my frugal nature for the world.

    But not frugal enough to stay in a hostel.

  7. I have yet to purchase a LP Guidebook. Oh, the horror! I’ve always like having a bathtub in my hotel room (when it can be found). If anyone wants to experience camp/hostel life, just come around my town during hurricane season. Otherwise, I prefer to sleep somewhere that I don’t have to bring my own sheets with me.

    Don’t get me wrong, I take budget trips like anyone else, but after hearing the story of a colleague who got sick on a trip and ended up staying in a hostel in Paris sitting on a toilet with no toilet paper while she watched ants crawl around the bathroom floor just doesn’t do it for me. I like privacy for my bodily functions, thank you🙂

  8. hey Miss –

    My travel rules

    • backpacking is great when your priorities are in this order:
    1 – Getting Laid
    2 – Getting drunk & or stoned
    3 – both of the above in far away places and as often as possible

    • The difference between hostel and hotel – none
    1 – i have stayed in so called ‘luxury hotels’ that were on an even par with a night in a sleeping bag under a bridge

    2 – I have stayed in youth hostels with individual rooms – cake and coffee brought to your door every morning for breakfast, a view over a medieval village and a bathroom so clean it put mine to shame – all of this for 12 euros a night.

    Money will never guarantee a good holiday – regardless of where you are staying, however good research will almost always guarantee a great trip for what ever price or age. And for what its worth – if you rely upon lonely planet for good research in my experience you are screwed.

  9. I stayed in a hostel in Toronto when I was 20 or so. There were three of us – me, my boyfriend, and one of our (female) friends. We wound up booking a “family” room because my friend and I didn’t feel comfortable without my bf in the room with us, and when we went to shower all three of us piled into the bathroom with all our belongings and we took turns standing on a plastic bag we put on the shower floor. It was that gross/scary.

    I’m all for finding good deals, but I’d rather not skimp on where I sleep. I prefer my own bedroom/bathroom or at least just sharing with the people I’m actually traveling with. I’ve stayed in some pretty seedy hotels too, but in the long run, the $40/night hotel room for 2 winds up costing no more than an overnight stay for two in a hostel, and at least you get your own toilet!

  10. Many, many good points here. We get lots of the LP types here in Berlin, and I used to live quite near two of Berlin’s most famous hostels, Backpackers and the aptly-named Circus. From what I could tell, most of these kids come here to drink and get laid and don’t have a clue where they are or what any of it’s about. And last I looked LP Berlin was riddled with bad info, which I hear is a fairly common complaint about their books.

    As for travel philosophy, I research like hell before I go anywhere so I can hit the places I want to hit. I must have a roof over my head and a door I can close to be alone. And a toilet in the room, thanks. Local food is also a must: if the word “pizza” disappeared from LP, the books would shrink 5%. There’s *always* something inexpensive the locals eat. Might not be gor-may, but it’s edible and, most likely, healthy.

    So much of what there is to do in most places is either cheap or free, too. That’s why you always, always have to know where you are: in history, in geography, in culture. Acquiring this knowledge costs nothing.

  11. well,as you say,I’d rather burn $500 for a weekend..,but that’s me at 42 ,,at twenty something I did have the time of my life playing homeless on the road and managed to travel in India for 4 months with as little as now days thousand euros.and a whole month in sri lanka with near to nothing cash.
    Lonely planet does retain it’s appeal and wherever i go I get one.
    remember the “child juice” and “snake sandwiches” story? I sent it to lonely planet and they did publish it !

    ciao!! counting the days😉

  12. I agree, I don’t feel like I’m in LP’s demographic. Don’t know if it’s my age or because they’re trying too hard to be everything to everybody. They list high end hotels and restaurants now as well as the cheap flop houses and transient street food stands, but still claim to be a rough traveling backpacker’s guide.

    Everyone’s got their travel mix or style, and I’m all about traveling for as long as I can. That means watching my budget, staying in cheap(ish) accommodations and eating more falafel than I care to. Though not at the expense of my health or skipping major sites along the way.

    Lately though, Lonely Planet has not impressed me with their increasingly preachy tone disguised as advice: “everyone is doing this”, “no one does that”.

    I defected to Rough Guides for my last trip and was pleasantly surprised. Accurate information, objective and a good read as well. Then again, maybe it was just that particular author.

  13. I came down with the Travel Bug later than most people, but I’m starting to grasp much of what you’re saying here. I couldn’t agree more with your point #3; I can’t stand a certain smugness some travelers have when discussing where they’ve been. There will always be people who just have to top everyone else when it comes to adventures and I just don’t have time for that nonsense. I’d much rather be around people who want to share my stories as much as I want to share theirs.

    As for travel comforts, let me say that I’ve already done without LOTS of things growing up and I’m over that. I’ve earned the right to spend a little more to be comfortable and content and believe me, I’m going to.

  14. I like LP guides for the info, but I’ve never been a hostel/backpacker girl, either. So, not only am I not in LP’s target demographic, I’m not even necessarily in BootsnAll’s target demographic, either!!🙂 I do think that people who are more into the travel aspects of traveling, rather than the “check out how cool I am because I’ve done this or that or the other thing” aspects of traveling, don’t care how you’ve done what you’ve done or where you’ve stayed, etc. If someone wants to judge me because I don’t like hostels, they’re free to do that – just as I’m free to not talk to them anymore.🙂

  15. Amen. On the guide issue, I have to say that each place requires a different guide for me, and I won’t pick up one just because of its brand name. Guides depend deeply on the authors and the editors, and while sometimes I have found the Lonely Planet to be great, other times I found them dreadful (case in point: my most recent trip to New England). So, for Sicily I recommend Routard, for Tuscany the Rough Guide was amazingly detailed, and so on.
    Now, as far as backpacking is concerned… I second that. a vacation is a vacation, and while being frugal is not something I despise out of principle, being cheap is not really my bread and butter. So I WILL splurge on a $500 weekend rather than go for water and nuts for a week in Europe.
    On top of this, during my recent trip the Lonely Guide told me “there weren’t any cheap eating options in the area”, so it didn’t recommend any restaurants. I am sorry, Lonely Planet, that sealed the fact that I’m way out of your target customer range (read: I’m too old for LP!)🙂

  16. Miss E, I totally agree. I am not a backpacking kind of girl. I certainly don’t travel extravagantly, but I like to bathe… in private. Travel is exhausting at times, and as a true introvert, I need some downtime each day to digest what I have seen and experienced. And a comfy pillow is important! Having said that, I do like the LP guides… but honestly, my favorite guidebooks are the Rough Guides.

    Oh, and the one I wrote, too!

  17. By the way – DO NOT buy the Lonely Planet guide on Colombia, whatever you do.

    There was a big scandal in that the author of I think the most recent edition, never even went! Ack!

  18. IMO, the LP Colombia “scandal” was more fabricated by that author so he could sell his “tell-all” book. From what I understand, he wasn’t the principal author of the Colombia guide, only charged with doing research on things that could be written about without actually visiting the country. That doesn’t mean that the guide couldn’t have been written better, or that there aren’t better Colombia guides out there, but I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to avoid it out of hand.

    Just my two cents.🙂

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