I’m The Sucker Who Still Likes Travel Brochures

I’m a sucker for brochures. It makes no sense to plan one’s vacation itinerary, even in part, based on what you see in the flyers and brochures you pick up in your hotel lobby or at a visitor’s information office, but sometimes I do just that, and I suspect I’m not alone. By the end of a trip, I might have dozens of papers, maps and brochures strewn about my rental car and most of the time, they provide little if any useful information. And sometimes they are downright misleading. But I still keep picking the damn things up. Why?

On a recent trip to visit the Redwood parks in Northern California I stayed in a well-known national chain hotel in Arcata. As is my custom, I perused the collection of brochures in the lobby. I found brochures for four different casinos, one outlet mall, a golf course, two safari parks, two amusement parks, Jet Ski rental, a paintball park, “Bigfoot Rafting,” whatever the hell that is, and a cheese factory, among other tourist traps. The hotel is located just minutes away from Redwood National Park and a host of magnificent state parks that have some of the biggest and oldest trees in the world, but there were no maps or useful information on any of them.The parks are all free and the government employees who work there have no obvious incentive to drop off visitor’s guides or other materials at area hotels, but the four casinos in the region and all the other tourist traps have a vested interest in getting their brochures out there. I asked the hotel about their brochure policy but my query was received as though I had asked them to reveal a state secret and I never got a straight answer from them on how they decide what brochures to stock.

As an experienced traveler, I should know better than to visit a place based on what I see in a glossy brochure. But I have to admit I’ve been suckered more than once. On this same recent trip to the West Coast, for example, I saw a photo of some very impressive boats in a brochure for Petaluma, a bedroom community near San Francisco. I knew nothing about the town and assumed, based upon the photo, that it was on the Pacific Coast. The brochure contained boasts about the town’s historic district, and when I resolved to stop there, I had visions of a nice walk through an old, waterfront town.

A quick search on Google Maps revealed that the town is inland and has a river running through it, but I was already sold and decided to stop there anyway. No slight against Petaluma, because it’s a very pleasant town and it looked like a great place to live, but it isn’t much of a tourist attraction. On the day we visited, I saw no boats, impressive or otherwise, and it took all of five minutes to check out the historic district.

I’d estimate that 90 percent of the world’s most interesting places to visit have no brochure and at least half of the places that do are a complete waste of time and money. Still, don’t be surprised if you see me in a hotel lobby with an armful of glossy, empty promises that probably won’t pan out. Some habits are hard to break.

National Park Service gets nostalgic with park brochures from yesteryear

Considering that our national parks are experiencing record numbers of visitors once again this year, it is safe to say that interest in “America’s best idea” is at an all time high. The national parks encompass some of the most spectacular landscapes anywhere on the planet and are home to an equally impressive array of wildlife. Visiting one of the parks can bring back childhood memories of family vacations long past, when we’d all load up the car and hit the road for a good old fashioned cross-country road trip.

The National Park Service is hoping to help inspire an even deeper feeling of nostalgia with the recent addition of historical park brochures to their website. The page links out to literally dozens of images of the covers of the official park brochures beginning with one from Crater Lake National Park that dates back to 1913. Back then, the brochures were simple text affairs, offering helpful, but basic, information to visitors. But by the early 1920’s, the guides began to offer black and white images that gave a little more of a glimpse of what was in store for travelers who made the journey to one of the parks.

The site allows us to browse these historical brochures in two different ways. They can be examined either in chronological order or by specific parks. So, for instance, if you’re a big fan of Glacier National Park, you can check out the various brochures that have been issued there over the years. A good portion of the parks are represented in this way, although which years are available varies widely.

Personally, I found viewing them in chronological order to be far more fascinating however, as it was interesting to watch them evolve and change as the eras passed. In this format, you can begin in the 1910’s and work your way through the 1970’s, when the brochures moved to a “Unigrid” system that was created by a designer named Massimo Vignelli who worked in collaboration with the Harpers Ferry Center’s design staff. Since then, all of the park brochures have followed a similar design.

Scrolling through the images is definitely a walk down memory lane and a real treat for fans of the national parks. You can check them out, and read more about their history by clicking here.

[Photo credit: National Park Service]

Collect brochures and visitor guides – Souvenir tip

Collect all the brochures and printed promotional materials you can find, as well as local traveler’s guides. Most of these are professionally printed on good quality paper stock and feature beautiful photography. Inexpensive postcards make nice accents, as well.

At home, you can cut these up (include words, headlines, and phrases). Use the words and images as scrapbook elements to supplement your own photos. You can also cut out the front of the brochure, or paragraphs of copy with details about the event or attraction you saw. This helps you remember little details.

Visitor centers rule! – Road trip tip

For travelers who value spontaneity but want to avoid the mishaps inherent to unplanned trips, I can’t recommend visitor centers or tourism offices enough.

Several years ago, a friendly visitor center associate rescued me from a dodgy room in a dodgier neighborhood by booking a suite for the same price in an elegant condo building that had not entered my radar screen when I was researching hotels.

Since then, when traveling on the road, I always make a stop at the state Visitor Center for maps, brochures, hotel recommendations and clean restrooms (I can’t stress that last one enough).

Therefore, please let me say it again: clean restrooms.