It’s the constant 21st century internal battle: connect or disconnect? As someone who works 39 hours a day (give or take. It’s election season) at Crikey, I’m constantly connected to the interwebs like all good new media nerds. I also love to travel. So now, of course, I do most of my preparation for my travelling online.

Lonely Planet books have long been known as the bible of guide books, particularly for Aussie travellers on a tight budget. My family are lifelong fans and both my parents have a bookshelf full of them, a collection of different blue covers from decades gone by.

Last week Lonely Planet announced it was introducing “augmented reality” Compass guides to run on Google Android. Yes, sounds confusing, but it seems to mean you can view Google maps with markings of recommended bars, hotels, restaurants, etc. for 25 of the most common tourist cities. You know, Paris, New York, London, Beijing. Nowhere in Australia for the time being. Because you’re using a smartphone, then you can see what are the nearest attractions to you at that very minute.

newyork_map
How Manhattan appears on the Compass guide

By a weird coincidence, I bought the Vietnam Lonely Planet book yesterday. I’ve owned many over the years, not just individual country guides, but also for specific regions, language, their Cities book and a bunch of others. I’ve used their Thorn Tree forum, particularly when I was travelling to Ukraine and I found it a very effective site.

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And flicking through the Vietnam guide made me remember how extensive and well-researched the information is. Notes on history, weather, films to check out on advance, tips about particularly dangerous areas to avoid. It’s all practical, useful stuff, though you know that the cafes LP recommends are always packed with fellow travellers stuffing their LP in their backpack, pretending they discovered it without the book.

Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t perfect. Information is often out of date by the time of printing, I’ve slept in plenty of hostels  that didn’t match up to their glowing reviews and it is ridiculous that it seems to dominant that backpacker traveller market so easily.

These days  I’m more likely to plan a trip overseas thanks to tripadvisor.com. Partly this is because often my holidays are to a variety of destinations and partly at around $40 a pop (and quite weighty and large) it hasn’t been worth paying out for several guide books.

Over at Thumbrella Martin Lane wrote a piece which really resonated with me:

“When I was a kid — well, a backpacker — there was no internet, no e-mail and mobile phones required the services of a sherpa to help you carry them around the world.

It may have been the early ’90s (honest) but the only thing connecting you with the outside world was poste restante. And a dog-eared copy of the latest Lonely Planet really was your bible.

This was a publishing company with the power to crush a local business with one less-than-flattering review.”

In the words of Carrie Bradshaw (maybe it’s the New York map…), I couldn’t help but wonder: are we losing a little of that travel magic by constantly relying on technology?

Yes, this isn’t anything new, the world is getting smaller, information is easier to access and we’re all constantly connected to the interwebs. We’re distracted all the time and struggle to disconnect.

Is something lost by being constantly connected while travelling? I’m reminded of Scott Bridges writing about using his iPhone as a stereo in the Iranian desert this week. My last overseas trip was to New York and I used my iPhone to constantly search for directions to places we were going and used the Urban Spoon app for restaurant recommendations. Problem was, it was the week that the Liberal leadership spill between Abbott and Turnbull happened, which meant I also spent lots of time on Twitter following #spill, rather than actually disconnecting and having a holiday.

Or is it nice that one publisher might not have the power to “crush a local business with one less-than-flattering review”? Now whenever I go to a new city I always crowdsurf it, hoping for the best ideas and suggestions. I did it for New York. Jeez, I did it for a trip to Daylesford. And I got several interesting and helpful suggestions. Too many suggestions in fact. One was a glorious example of the power of the Twitters, where I mentioned that the Lake House was too expensive for my budget and the owner Alla Wolf-Tasker actually tweeted at me about their $39 lunch special, which I didn’t know about. Because of this I booked a table, received amazing service and ate much more delicious food than I expected (I’m still unsure if or because someone had noted down somewhere that I look after the Crikey travel blog or if everyone receives two amuse-bouches and a free side. Hmmm.)

As I plan for my Vietnam trip, I’m feeling torn about how connected I should be. My current plan is crowdsurf ideas and suggestions before I leave, do the majority of my research online and then when I’m there just disconnect and rely on my Lonely Planet guidebook and other travellers. Good idea or am I stupid to ignore the plethora of glorious online information available to me when I’m on the move? Should I ditch the book and just go it alone? Anyone else encountering this classic 1st world disconnecting problem?

I subscribe to Crikey because I believe in a free, open and independent media where news and opinions can be published that I can both agree with and be challenged by.

As a Crikey subscriber I always feel more informed and able to think more critically about issues and current affairs – even when they don’t always reflect my own political viewpoint or lived experience.

Jess
Singapore

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