Published on: June 30, 2023
TL;DR: The two best travel guides are Rick Steves for first time travelers—especially anyone going to Europe—and Bradt Guides for off-the-beaten-path destinations and “Slow Travel.” Both are reliable, will give you ideas for what to do, and help you plan the best trip.
The way we travel has changed drastically in my lifetime. Information is more readily available in the digital age, a massive plus for traveling.
Everyone, including myself, wants to make the most of every trip abroad. That’s why I love reading travel guide books or online guides.
Some of these guide books help you get off the beaten path. Others give information on tours you can take on your own to learn the history of a certain destination you’re visiting.
But which are the best?
After years of reading and doing research, I have found the best travel guides for you to use when planning your next trip abroad!
#1 DK Eyewitness
DK Eyewitness is one of the best travel guide books on the market today. But they offer more than just travel information.
After publishing books for over 45 years, DK Eyewitness Books cover everything from travel, science, history, pop culture, and children’s topics.
Their travel guides give the information you desperately need for travel– such as maps, itineraries, accommodations, where to eat, and more!
I also love how easy their visuals are to look at. I sometimes get lost in their maps and start imagining myself there (I’m a big daydreamer if you can’t tell!).
DK Eyewitness Travel guide books might not be the most in-depth on a particular location, but they help with travel inspiration.
If you want more information, DK Eyewitness has a podcast called ‘Where to Go,’ which is another excellent way to get your travel information on the go!
- 100+ destinations
- Heavy on history
- It has both outdoor and city guides
- Amazing visuals
- Not as in-depth as other guides
#2 Bradt Guides
A Bradt travel guide is perfect if you’re interested in visiting countries that are less traveled to— written by experienced travelers with fantastic insider tips.
Bradt travel guide books has a reputation as the “World’s leading independent travel publisher.” They are also the best India travel guide company.
Some unique destinations include Iraq, Sri Lanka, Galapagos Islands, and Grenada. But don’t worry. Bradt Guides also has a British series for those interested!
Lately, I’ve been striving to travel like a local. Bradt has a ‘Slow Travel’ guidebook series, which I love using these days because it helps me travel like a local.
The trip ideas are great in detail but might not be for your preferred country to visit.
Bradt Guides prides itself on being the most comprehensive on the market. Their authors give cultural insights and expressions of interest and knowledge.
You can support Bradt’s Guides even further by subscribing to their Patreon! Here you can pay monthly for a specific tier and earn different things like one free e-book a month.
- More off-the-beaten-path destinations
- Slow travel series
- Has a Patreon page
- Unique style of travel not for everyone
#3 Rick Steves
Rick Steves books are the guide books your mom hands you when traveling to your dream destination in Europe. And that’s a good thing! They’re trusted by many for a reason.
These travel guide books are always up-to-date, thanks to Rick Steves’ research partners.
Rick’s books will have you feeling like you’re on guided tours! He ensures you’ll have some fantastic cultural experiences.
I love Europe, but there are many other cultures throughout the world that I’m even more interested in. So, since Rick Steves’ guidebooks are primarily Europe-focused, I’m not as drawn to them.
Also, traveling in Europe long-term can get expensive. His books cater to a more wealthy crowd.
Pick any European country, and you will have high-quality content on that destination. Rick has visited Europe countless times, and other travel websites can’t compete.
Rick’s bestseller is his Italy guide, which isn’t surprising. In that guide, he goes over the best places to eat and sleep and how to beat the crowds.
It’s a good idea to grab a Rick Steves’ book simply for the detailed maps.
- Best guides for Europe
- It gives in-depth information for solo tours
- Perfect for a beginner traveler.
- Catered to upper and middle-class travelers
#4 Lonely Planet
I’m sure you’ve heard of Lonely Planet, as they’ve been a dominant force in the travel scene for quite some time now. Their goal is to make travel planning easy, and they’ve succeeded!
I loved using Lonely Planet books when I first started traveling. These books helped me up my game as a budget traveler.
Lonely Planet dominates the internet with a wealth of online resources. While the information they offer online is easy to access, it can be vague.
You can subscribe to Lonely Planet on their website for free. I’ve done this, but I’ve found that there tends to be some destinations/articles that are low in detail.
Considering Lonely Planet’s sheer amount of content, it’s not too surprising that they sometimes gloss over details.
Their claim to fame is their numerous experts located worldwide. These experts cover adventure travel, family holidays, food and drink, and much more.
Plus, a Lonely Planet magazine is an amazing coffee table piece, am I right?
- Backpacker friendly
- An extensive collection of guides for the entire world
- Free information is available
- Some of their content is outdated or not detailed
#5 Blue Guides
If you love the art and history of Italy, then Blue Guides is for you! People often plagiarize Blue Guide books due to the amount of accurate information each book has.
With over 14 books on Italy alone, you won’t find more detailed information on a particular destination than with Blue Guides– they deliver it all!
Italy was the first country that I visited outside of the United States, and I’m so glad that I had a Blue Guide book with me.
Their award-winning maps and exceptional attention to detail made it feel like I was on a private tour!
Be aware: there aren’t a lot of online articles from Blue Guides or many countries to choose from, which could be an issue if you like to visit more unusual locations.
Blue Guides’ first publication date was in the early 1900s, so it’s undoubtedly a top guidebook for a travel junkie!
- Helps travelers understand art and history
- Multiple guides on Italy
- Extremely thorough in their research
- Not a lot of destinations
#6 Footprint Guides
Footprint Guides is the go-to source for Latin American travel tips for all budgets! My love for this region of the world has only grown since I started using their books.
Even if Latin America isn’t one of your top destinations, they do offer other print books. All Footprint Guides are written by experts who have lived in that destination.
Unfortunately, for North American travelers looking to plan a dream road trip, you won’t find much helpful information here, as their focus is decidedly on the south.
Alongside their practical information, Footprint adds a layer of imagination to their guidebooks, giving them an edge that makes them one of the best travel guide series available today!
- Wide range of budgets
- Specializes in Latin America
- Practical information
- Not much content on the United States
#7 Frommer Guides
Does traveling on $5 per day sound appealing to you? Arthur Frommer thought so when he set out to create his Frommer travel guides.
Alongside some of the best guidebooks, Frommer also offers other forms of information, including podcasts, online articles, and hotel deals!
I love using Frommer guides on road trips because they help me in many different situations.
I usually like to have a podcast for when I’m driving, a guidebook on specific destinations while I’m in a hotel room, and online sources when on the go.
Having Frommer guides in all their varied forms is essential since each one typically doesn’t go into heavy detail.
If purchasing travel guide books doesn’t interest you, then keeping up to date with Frommer’s online travel guides is the way to go.
- Many styles of information are available
- Updates information frequently
- Offer hotel deals
- It covers only the main details
Tripadvisor is an online source that most travelers have heard about. It’s unique on this list of travel guides because you interact with other travelers!
If you’re looking for help with trip planning, look no further than the Tripadvisor forum. Here you can talk with fellow travelers about your upcoming trip!
When I have a specific question that needs answering, I always check Tripadvisor first. They have information on most countries, but some info on the forums can be outdated.
Tripadvisor is great because it’s free! But they’re more than just a review and forum-based platform; you can also book different travel deals and tours through their website.
Sometimes the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming to click through. If that sounds relatable, you might want to purchase some guidebooks instead.
Tripadvisor started the wave of online travel planning. They’re worth browsing, even if you just want to write down a few travel tips!
- Multiple reviews from other travelers
- Travel deals available
- Forum can be out of date
- The massive amount of information can be overwhelming
#9 Rough Guides
Rough Guides has grown into a leader in the travel industry with its amazing travel guidebooks and online travel guides.
What I love about these books is their authenticity. Their recommendations from locals helped to grow them into who they are today.
It all started with their Greece travel guide, and it quickly blew up. Demand increased for more and more Rough Guide content; they released a guidebook series for people who were eager for more. In 2017, Rough Guides expanded even further.
Today Rough Guides are more than just a travel guide company that sells books. They offer tours, custom-made itineraries, and more! I love using their website when planning my next trip.
These custom-made itineraries and tours are expensive but for a reason. Rough Guides’ experts are located worldwide to give you the best travel experience ever.
Rough Guides best selling guides offer a ton of background information and local tips, making them worth the high price!
- Detailed itineraries
- Personal recommendations from locals
- An extensive list of countries
- High prices for tours and custom itineraries
#10 Moon Travel Guides
Moon Guides are my favorite guidebooks for traveling around the United States. Planning that perfect road trip is challenging but Moon Guides makes it easier.
Moon’s travel guidebooks are all about traveling sustainably. I’ve used them countless times in the Americas and have found them super helpful.
But Moon Guides don’t focus on the Americas only– they also offer some of the best travel guides for Japan in particular.
I’ve learned to use these books more for research instead of bringing them on my travels– they don’t always hold up with how rugged traveling can get for me.
Moon’s detailed maps are so good in their guidebooks that I fill my phone library with them. They are easy to read and use, which is what I think makes a good map.
The best travel tips are from locals, and that’s what Moon’s travel guidebooks bring. They don’t have a fancy touring app or anything, but they don’t need it.
If you want one of the best travel guides for families, then there’s no better choice than making Moon Guides your tour guide when traveling.
Find your dream destination, get travel inspiration from their maps, and book that plane ticket.
- Emphasis on the Americas and the Pacific
- Easy-to-understand maps
- Many pages of information solely for hotels/accommodations
- Guidebooks aren’t durable
#11 Insight Guides
Insight is one of the best travel guidebooks on the market for a reason. The beautiful photographs in these travel guidebooks will have you daydreaming for days.
Insight guides are perfect for those history buffs out there like me. They combine great information with also some off-the-beaten-track activities.
Insight has produced over 200 guidebooks and language books. Their books provide information on nearly any country you can think of (besides Mexico).
I love their books because they also have a mini-series.
During the Covid years, I was in the mood to read a lot. I picked a different destination each week and bought a new e-book.
I could do this because they only cost five to ten dollars! Most of the best travel guidebooks are double this.
Besides its guidebook series, Insight offers a handmade trip planned by experts to the destination of your choice. What more could you ask for?!
- Multiple countries in each continent
- Has language guides
- Sells hand-picked vacation packages put together by locals
- Offers mini versions of guides to sell for cheap
- No Mexico guide
Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best Travel Guide
What to Look for in Travel Guides
Is the Information Up to Date
Picking the best travel guidebooks can be an overwhelming process. But the most important thing to watch out for is making sure the information is up-to-date.
Compared to online sources, guidebook information tends not to get updated as quickly for obvious reasons.
You don’t want a travel guide taking you to a restaurant that doesn’t exist anymore, do you? No. You want to get off the beaten track but not THAT off that it gets you lost.
Pick Locally-Based Travel Guides
My ideal travel style is meeting locals, living, and eating like a local. I have the best travel experiences when I dive deep into the culture.
The best information about a destination comes from locals. When you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, wouldn’t you want to consult someone who has lived there for many years?
When you rely on locals’ recommendations, you’ll truly have an experience of a lifetime.
Know What Type of Traveler You Are
This next tip can be difficult for some, and it can change from year to year. I have gone from being a true budget traveler to somewhere in the middle.
I used to love history (I still do) and would base my travels around that. Now I seek adventure activities.
Different types of guides will focus on different things, such as budget travel, adventure, expensive tours, food, or history.
Finding the travel guide that fits your style will be more beneficial in the long run.
Know Which Destination You Want to Visit the Most
The best world travel guidebooks are often better for certain locations than others. For example, Rick Steves has a reputation for being the best travel guide for Europe and, specifically, the best travel guide for Italy.
So, choose your travel guide based on which one specializes in the area you’re curious about.
Other Helpful Travel Guides
Travel is a huge industry which means there are more guides than you could ever possibly use.
If you prefer your travel content in video form, one of the best travel guide Youtube channels is Ryan Shirley.
His videos showcase the top places to visit in different countries with some of the best drone shots you’ll ever see.
FAQs About Travel Guides
Should You Even Buy a Travel Guide?
A travel guide has its place. It may seem outdated to use one, but you can find some of the best information in them.
Some guides take years to make and are very specific in the details they write for certain locations. The maps tend to be better and easier to read in these types of guides as well.
Which is better: Lonely Planet or Rough Guide?
It depends on the style of travel you prefer. I prefer budget travel and tend to take fewer tours, so I like Lonely Planet. Rough Guide also has amazing tours if you’re interested in those.
What is the difference between Fodor’s and Frommer’s travel guides?
Frommer travel guides are excellent for those who want an easy read. Fodor is typically the better choice if you want more details about your activities.
Fodor also has one of the best travel guides for Ireland, so check out Fodor if that’s your destination.
Is it better to travel with a tour guide or alone with a travel guide?
The answer differs from person to person! If you want your trip planned, then a tour guide is perfect. Going alone with a travel guide is nice because you can go at your own pace.
Do people still buy travel guides?
Absolutely! There’s something different about having a travel guidebook to look at rather than scrolling through a website.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Phillip Anderson is a freelance travel writer, personal trainer, and adventure enthusiast from Virginia Beach. Growing up, he spent most of his days either hiking in the Shenandoah, going to the beach, or working out. He is currently traveling through Latin America while working on projects to share his adventures with the world.
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