Whenever I travel somewhere new, instead of dropping $30 on the newest Lonely Planet Wherever and lugging it around in my already-small pack, I’ll create what I call a “Frankenguide”: a mishmash, do-it-yourself collection of torn-out pages from an official guidebook, printed websites, Wikitravel guides, pages from history books, and anything else that might come in useful when I’m on the road. Bind it together with some staples or paper clips, toss it into a Zip-Lock bag, and off I go. It might not look pretty, but it gets the job done and is infinitely customizable. Here’s how you can make your own:
First start with the official guidebook. I usually go with Lonely Planet just because, but any guidebook will do — choose your favorite brand. But instead of buying a new one, I’ll opt for an older, dated model which costs a fraction of the price. The sections I pull out of the book for my Frankenguide are the timeless bits of information: historical backgrounds, landmark descriptions, stuff like that. All of the information that has an expiration date — hotel and hostel reviews, restaurant listings, and so on — stays in the Lonely Planet. Instead, I get this information from a variety of places that have less of a chance of being outdated. This means I don’t bring along Lonely Planet’s list of restaurants in San Francisco, for example, because I could easily hop on Yelp with my laptop (or the nearest Internet cafe) and figure it out as I go. Further, the guy working the newspaper stand is probably going to have a good idea of where to get the cheapest, best-tasting Dungeness crab in the area. Ask the locals.
Next I’ll go to WikiTravel and look up my destination. More often than not, there’s some extra information in the guide that I don’t really need. So instead of printing the entire thing and wasting countless sheets of paper, I’ll open up a new Word document (or whatever) and copy and paste the bits that I can use. This also allows me to format the text to suit my needs, and add pictures or maps as necessary. You can also load a book template into Word so that you can maximize the space used on each sheet of paper. Print in two columns, front and back, and fold the pages in half, book-style. Pound in a few staples, and you’ve got yourself a decent little home-made guidebook.
The rest depends on your trip, and only limited by your imagination. If your trip to San Francisco is centered around exploring the hippie culture in Haight-Ashbury, for instance, fire up Google and find articles, websites, landmark descriptions, maps, and other information that will guide you. This neighborhood guide from the Chronicle would be perfect to include, for example. Throw in some conversion charts and a list of common phrases if you’re traveling internationally.
Your final product should end up being much cheaper and lighter than a new guidebook. Further, it’ll be completely relevant, and void of any unnecessary information. Now have at it!
The image above is the remains of Lonely Planet: South India after I pillaged its pages. Click to enlarge.