We hopped on the bus to Tallinn, Estonia with nothing but our passports, wallets, and nearly-empty backpacks. We had planned to buy tickets for the next day, but they were sold out. It was either go now or don’t go. We opted for the former.
Europe on a Shoestring didn’t do us much good sitting in our dorm room in St. Petersburg, but the next day we stopped by the tourist information office and skimmed a guidebook in a bookstore for the best attractions. Our (guidebook-less) trip on whim was excellent.
Sometimes you end up in a place you hadn’t planned on visiting. Other times your guidebook doesn’t cover all of the countries or cities you want to see. And fewer guidebooks means less paper used, lighter packs, and a smaller carbon footprint. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of guidebook alternatives for eco-conscious vagabonds – and other travelers, too.
NileGuide Trip Planner
A really cool trip planning website, NileGuide, launched yesterday. NileGuide lets you build your own PDF travel guide and itinerary for free. If you don’t want to plan a whole itinerary, you can still click around and read the vast information the site offers on food, what to do, lodging, and nightlife.
I read online reviews for everything – from vacations to shoes – so I’m a huge fan of TripAdvisor. In addition to helpful overviews and hotel ratings (including price), TripAdvisor has really great forums where travelers ask questions about upcoming trip and share experiences from past vacations.
TravBuddy is a social networking site for travelers. On top of the community aspect, there’s also a ton of destination-specific information, including blogs, travel tips, connecting with other travelers, maps, things to do, and restaurants.
BootsnAll: Free Downloadable Travel Guides
photo credit: SqueakyMarmot
Lonely Planet: Download Chapters
Lonely Planet now gives you the option of paying to download individual chapters from their guidebooks – which saves money and trees. The selection is currently a bit limited, but their website says to “look for an extended range in early 2008.”
Available chapters: Caribbean, South Pacific and New Zealand, Canada, Africa, Central America, Mexico, South America, and USA. Not yet available: Europe and Asia.
Rough Guides: Travel Books on your iPod and eBooks
Rough Guides has launched the iPod version of their popular guidebooks with free eating and drinking guides to 10 European and U.S. cities. They also offer eBook versions of their travel guides, but you have to buy the entire book (rather than just the sections you might need) and they don’t include photos or maps – arguably some of the most helpful features of guidebooks.
Schmap combines travel guides and maps and lets users add reviews and content.
Schmap brings you digital travel guides for 200 destinations throughout the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The innovative technology behind Schmap Guides also lets end users publish their own ‘schmaps’ (to share trip itineraries, local reviews and more), and powers a popular range of Schmap Widgets, displaying maps with content and event schedules for travel, sports, concert tours and more on a fast-growing network of websites and blogs.
Rick Steves’ Europe
There’s something about Rick Steves that I just love. Maybe it’s the Midwestern friendliness (is he even from the Midwest?) and his passion for Europe, but I can never change the channel when he’s on PBS. And his website has lots of free information about European travel, including his review of the best destinations across Europe and travel tips.
Newspapers’ Travel Sections and Blogs
Search newspapers’ online travel sections and blogs for your destination. They have an abundance of well-written information you can access for free.
Some to check out:
- Los Angeles Times and their Daily Travel & Deal Blog
- The New York Times and their Travel Q&A Blog
- The Washington Post and their Travel Log blog
Search About.com’s travel info by destination or activity. It’s not the most comprehensive place to gather travel information, but it’s a good starting place if you’re doing preliminary research.
Talk to Fellow Travelers
In my post 13 Tips for Meeting Other Green Travelers, I outlined ways you can meet like-minded travelers. Asking fellow travelers where they have been and what advice they have about those locations is great way to strike up a conversation. Posting questions on travel forums is another good way to get information about your destination from people who have been there.
Just about every city has some form of tourist information center with maps and info on local attractions. Swing by one on your way into the city and pick up the info you need. Or better yet, ask a hostel worker for his or her recommendations on what you should see and do while you’re there.
Bonus Tip: If you just can’t let go of the guidebook
If you really can’t live without guidebooks, bring just one that covers a whole country or region – like Lonely Planet’s Europe on a Shoestring. This one book got Elizabeth and me through at least 12 countries during our 2-month post-study abroad trip.
This is the fifth post in Go Green Travel Green’s 25 Days to Green Travel series. You can see the complete list of articles in the 25 Days to Green Travel Index. If you haven’t already, subscribe to our feed (also available via email) and stay up to date.