I want this blog to be a useful tool for travelers planning their journeys, and research is a big part of that, as I discussed in my first post. A good guidebook can help you immensely and a bad one is just dead weight, so travel guide reviews will be a regular part of this blog.
I worked at a travel agency for 5 years and saw a lot of different guidebooks on their shelves from Berlitz to Frommer’s, Michelin to Steves. It was while I was working there that I really started reading them. As I was more able to travel myself, I began to put more effort into my own research and planning.
I started at the library. Travel agencies don’t pay well, so free resources like the library are the right price before dropping 20 bucks on a book. I checked out Rick Steves books because I was familiar with him from his public television series and I like his down-home style and good attitude, plus he’s from my neck of the Northwest. He seems to know his stuff. I bought his Germany book in 2012.
Currently, I’m planning a trip to Italy for next year and a more extensive Europe tour in 2017 for my 30th wedding anniversary, so I checked out Rick Steves’ Europe Through The Back Door 2014 guide. I was looking for an overview on Europe highlights and this guide seemed like a good place to start.
First off, this guide is sub-titled “The Travel Skills Handbook” so that is a clue that this is designed for less experienced travelers. It does live up to that subtitle. Europe Through The Back Door is divided up into two main sections. The first half is all about travel skills. It begins with a map of Europe and then takes the reader on a step by step tour of how to budget and plan the trip, required paperwork such as passports and visas, how to pack, transportation options, money, common scams, communication and travel styles. The flow is practical and logical and the table of contents makes it easy to get to just what you want. Information is not just general. It includes phone numbers, addresses, web URLs and even bus lines when appropriate. I particularly appreciated the Theft and Scams section as well as Rick’s personal opinions on what places were overrated which helped me narrow down a rather large bucket list of sites for my trip.
The second half of the book is called “Back Doors: Finding a Back Door of Your Own” and covers Rick’s favorite locales, divided up first by country or region and then listing a sampler of trips by interest such as chocolate lovers, castles or war history. While this section featured interesting info and was laid out by region, its features were “back door” travel, as in off the beaten path, less well known than the common tourist sites in each region. For the most common tourist sites in Rome or Paris, get a book specifically on those places.
Overall, this book is a great tool for the inexperienced traveler just for the travel skills section alone. Even for an experienced traveler wanting to learn to pack lighter or to know the scams common to a new destination, this book is a good all-in-one resource to wise you up and get you excited for your travels. I give it 5 stars for the first half and 4 stars for the second half.
Now for the real question: should you buy it, or just check it out from the library? Well, I used up all three of my renewals to keep this book for a total of 9 weeks so I could read it cover to cover. I have a charity event at a bookstore coming up and was wondering what to buy at that. There is a 90% chance I will buy this book at that event. I suggest you check it out from the library and decide for yourself.
Thanks for reading! May all your wanderings be blissful!