Free International Travel Guides – The Best For Where You’re Going

Ah, the age of information… nowadays folks are binging on information, yet starving for knowledge. Rather than wade through countless websites in search of solid advice, I’ve done the leg work for you by compiling the best free international travel guides out there today. The format of online guides differ from their tangible counterparts; where a book must include information you need before and during your trip, online travel guides provide the ability to get exactly what you need, when you need it.

Several times I have used an online guide book, and merely printed (or jotted down in my notebook) the most important info for the next few days. Here’s my list of the best free international travel guides:

Travelfish.org. There is no single source for travelers to Southeast Asia better than Travelfish. Loaded with easy to navigate information on the entire region, including Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Singapore, Travelfish covers all the travelers’ needs. The forum is really well done, and you can expect a high level experience from those who respond to your questions. Most of the information is free, and they do offer e-guides for each country at roughly $5 (a true bargain).

Lonley Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum. Very much like the forum on Travelfish, but with global coverage. I’m a firm believer that guide books are generally outdated by the time they hit the press, and it’s important to get from the road advice from someone who is there. Visa requirements change, roads are closed, violence happens…don’t get caught unprepared. Forums also provides advice you’ll never find in a guidebook, either: the need for bribes, history of violence, etc. These are important considerations in the real world that most publications (and governments) tend to gloss over.

Lonley Planet. Though they haven’t implemented it, LP has come up with the brilliant notion of offering a “pay as you go” program where you can choose portions of a guide book and pay for that part only. Keep an eye out on their website for the release date.

Bootsnall.com There are many international travel guides available on this site, and one could spend a lifetime searching through their network. A really good network for travelers, with independent travel blogs for a more personal approach.

These three are far and away the best online source for free international travel guides, and I suggest you research your destination with these both prior to and during your trip.

Ethiopia Adventure

In November 2010 my husband and I travelled around Ethiopia for three weeks by public bus with a private guide. Travel (especially bus travel) is a real adventure and not for the faint hearted as there is long travel days (even longer if the bus breaks down) on poorly maintained roads. But it is an excellent way to get up close and personal and experience the life and culture of the locals.

Addis Ababa
We arrived at the airport at 3.30am. We had not booked any accommodation due to our early arrival so we stayed at the airport till about 7am. A taxi agreed to take us into the city for USD$10. We went to the Ras Hotel where we had to wait till 9am to see if they had a room.
Travel Tip: We stayed at the Ras Hotel 3 times due to its central location. The price includes breakfast which is awful but lunch and dinner are good.

Bahir Dar
We stayed at the Ghion Hotel on Lake Tana and did a boat cruise to the islands to see the painted churches. The Blue Nile Falls area is pretty but not worth the long bumpy ride to get there. Since damming the river, the waterfalls are certainly nothing like the posters show.
Travel Tip: Check if a guide is included with your Lake Tana boat cruise. There was 9 of us on our boat. No guide accompanied us on the boat except for our private guide Samson. The first island we visited Samson acted as intrepreter otherwise we would have not understood what we were looking at. The second island we visited the church guide spoke English.

Gonder
The abandoned castles are very interesting and it is worth hiring the guides inside the gate.
Travel Tip: We stayed at the Belgez Pension which was cheap, clean and quiet but the rooms were very small and cramped. They do your washing for a very small fee – give to the cleaners in the morning.

Simien Mountains
We did a one day 4WD day trip with another traveller and our guide Samson.
Travel Tip: We would have liked to have stayed overnight even though we are not trekkers, as the scenery is stunning.

Lalibela
We spent 2 nights in Lalibela exploring the amazing rock churches.
Travel Tip: Keep your entrance ticket handy as they will be checked at each church entrance.

Arba Minch
Arba Minch is a overnight bus stop between Addis Ababa and Jinka.
Travel Tip: Spend an extra night on one of the stopovers and do the lake tour.

Jinka
We hired a 4WD locally to tour the main 3 tribes in the area (Mersi, Hamer and Karo tribes). We shared this cost with 3 other travellers who were on the bus and stayed at the same accommodation as us.
Travel Tip: Buy your bus ticket to Addis Ababa early (at least 1 day in advance) so you can obtain a better seat number otherwise you will find yourself stuck at the back of the bus on the 2 day journey. Buy good ear plugs so that you can block out the noise of the loud music videos playing.

Transport
We used a variety of transport that included: public bus, minivan, 4WD and boat.
Travel Tip: If you find that quite a few of you are heading in the same direction, it will be more economical and comfortable to rent a minivan and driver like we did from Bahar Dar to Gondar (7 people).

Tour Guide
We used the services of a private guide. This was the first time we have hired a guide for the entire trip through a new country. The guide proved invaluable in keeping the touts away (worth the money alone), dealing with local tour operators and obtaining hotels.
Travel Tip: Use a private guide’s extensive knowledge and experience to enjoy Ethiopia through the eyes of a local.

How Travel Guides Can Be Beneficial

A well-planned vacation can be so much fun. Traveling can be wonderful especially when doing so with family and/or friends. Quite a number of families usually plan for vacations every year. Many of them prefer to go to unknown destination. This makes them curious and excited at the same time. The vacations are usually planned so that family and/or friends can have time to relax and bond together.

One important thing that is needed when going to an unknown destination is a travel guide. The term ‘travel guide’ can be interpreted as a document that helps people find their way in a certain area or a person who helps tourists find their way in a new country. In this writing, we will look at the documented travel guide i.e. the one that comes in forms of pamphlets and brochures.

The benefits of using documented travel guides are outlined below:

Knowledge of weather patterns – When people are going for vacation, they have to carry the right kind of clothes. This means they have to know the weather that is being experienced at their destination. This will make them pack appropriately. Travel guides usually provide information to travellers regarding the climatic conditions of their destination. They show the various seasons experienced and the periods the seasons last.

Cultural Events – One of the things people desire to see in their destination country is the culture of that country. Thus, the guides usually explain some of the cultural events that take place in that country.

Modes of transport – The guide also suggests some of the modes of transport that can be used by tourists. The guide will recommend the best type of transport when moving from one area to another. If the distance is long, the travellers can use either an airplane or a bus. However, the decision lies with the tourists.

Security and Safety – This is one important thing that is provided in travel guides. People who are going for vacation are advised on safety measures that they can take. Each and every country has its own social evils. Thus, these guides can provide safety measures for travellers.

Recreational Facilities – Travellers usually look forward to enjoy some of the recreational facilities of the country they are going to visit. The guides provide information on hotels and restaurants. They also provide information about other activities that the travellers can enjoy while touring the new destination.

From the above, it can be concluded that having a travel guide is very beneficial for travellers.