Indie travel guides – pipe dream or way of the future?

With all due respect to my generous client Lonely Planet, without whom I’d still be an obscure, broke, moonshine junkie in a forlorn corner of Romania, guidebook authors wallowing below the Sushi Line are increasingly probing new “Screw the Man” applications for their hard-won expertise – namely their very own online travel guides.

There’s certainly something to be said for a trusted brand name guidebook, but equally independently produced, digital travel guides allow authors to toss in all kinds of wacky content in addition to the usual sights/eating/sleeping content, uncorrupted by editors, guidelines, house styles and meddling lawyers.

A 2,000 word, absurdly detailed walking guide to Tijuana? Why not? A sidebar entitled “Top Ten Curse Words You Should Know Before Attending an Italian Football (Soccer) Match”? Bring it on! Why [insert your least favorite German city] sucks? I’m all ears.

This developing genre was recently augmented by the completion of Robert Reid’s online guide to Vietnam. As Reid rightly points out, the advantages of an independent online travel guide are numerous:

• It’s free – Guidebooks cost $25. Why pay?
• It’s fresher. Unlike a guidebook, turn-around time is immediate.
• You can customize it. The most common complaint guidebook users have is having to tote around 400 pages they’ll never use.
• It’s more direct, personalized. With my site I can ‘tell it like it is’.
• Anyone can talk with the author. [Just] hit ‘contact’.

In addition to this excellent resource, other free sites serving the online travel community include Croatia Traveller, Kabul Caravan, Turkey Travel Planner, Broke-Ass Stewart’s Guide to Living Cheaply in San Francisco, and (cough), the Romania and Moldova Travel Guide (now with extra moonshine).

For the time being, these independent travel guides are usually not money-making ventures (and boy do they take a lot of time to put together!), thus the current scarcity. However, as print media gasps to its inevitable conclusion – one decade, mark my words – the online stage is set for authors to leverage their expertise and provide autonomous, interactive, up-to-the-minute travel information for anyone with an internet connection.