On the Road

The First Guides

Possibly it all began with Herodotus and ancient Greek travelers. The Romans added more tales of their travels when their generals conquered most of the known world. Later on the Christians took care to describe the routes of pilgrimage, so that pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem or Santiago in Spain wouldn’t get sliced to pieces along the way.

With the industrial age and the printing press, the first travel guides took the shape of tips from adventurers returned from their jaunt abroad. The advice was often a little erratic and incomplete, though, with offerings such as:

“In Vienna treat the people like animals, in Paris like dukes and in England don’t spit.”

Such pioneering travel guides also offered handy tips such as:

“Always wear a hat in case you are attacked by a dog in the street – then you can hold the hat at arm’s length and when the mutt bites it he will be at perfect striking distance for a well-aimed kick.” 

For the better part of the twentieth century, the only travel guides available were the tourist gunk offered by Frommers, Foders and the like on how to see the world on a national deficit a day. Travel Guides such as “How to Travel Without Being Rich” (1959) gave useful advice too:

“Mexico is the best place in the world for economical travelers who like to bring back things to astonish their friends . . . woven straw geegaws, works of art in tin and heaven knows what else.”

When the Road to Kathmandu became fashionable in the late 60’s, the stoners going overland took notes from others on the road and the single best travel resource was always word of mouth. You could gauge the accuracy of the information by the glaze in the eyes of the person you were talking to. The best beaches, gurus and scams were passed on in a kind of oral lineage and anyone could join the chain – all they had to do was hit the road and keep their ears open.

Then along came Lonely Planet and changed everything. Hundreds of student and budget pamphlet travel guides followed and some of these laid the groundwork for alternative guide books such as Moon and Footprint Guides.

For years no one thought of going anywhere without a guide book to plan their travels until the internet arrived. The internet and web 2.0 changed all that as suddenly there as no longer any need to carry a one kilo printed brick with you when you could just go online and search through the  recommendations of the thousands who have been there before you.

What will be next? Telepathic travel guides, probably.