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Ask Gadling: What do you do when your guidebook is wrong?
Rest easy, mindful traveler. Rather than being something to worry about, discovering your guidebook is awful should actually be cause to celebrate. In fact, you might as well chuck that lousy thing out your hotel window.
Here's the truth: for anyone looking to add a dose of spontaneity, authentic local culture and plain old randomness to their travels, going guidebook-free is a blessing in disguise. Still not convinced? In an era of ever-present Internet and cheap mobile phones, you're never more than a step away from all the information you'll ever need. Keep reading below for four ways to get rid of those guidebook woes, once-and-for-all.
Wait a second. An expert travel site is telling me to spend my hard-earned vacation wandering around aimlessly, with no plan whatsoever? Yes. Travel isn't just about checking sights off a list. It's about immersing yourself in an experience totally different than what you're used to at home. The best way to do that is to lose the guidebook and get lost. Walk down a street you don't recognize. Get on a city bus that you don't know the destination. Talk to a random stranger. Do anything really. The point is that without a plan, you're all the more likely to have rewarding, unexpected experiences. They might not end how you "planned" - but all the better.
Pull out your mobile phone
In an era of super-smart Internet-ready mobile phones, guidebooks aren't just out of date: they're downright obsolete. Whether you need the public transit schedule in San Francisco, are looking to track down some good Cuban food in Miami or want instant translations of a foreign language menu, a mobile phone with a data connection can likely find you the answer. From Augmented Reality to Location Services, mobile phones have become the new guidebook. Best of all, they're a guidebook that fits comfortably in your pocket.
Ask a local
You won't find the best tips for a destination in a guidebook. Instead, savvy travelers know to ask the locals. Even if you think you know your destination's most important sites, locals will often suggest off-the-beaten activities and unexpected highlights that even the most detailed up-to-date guidebook would never find. What if you don't know any locals in your destination? Not a problem. Either strike up a conversation when you arrive (don't worry, they won't bite) or use web tools like Twitter, Facebook or Couchsurfing to ask around for help. Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, you'll have a local showing you around in no time.
Not loving your guidebook? Perhaps it's time you gave it up. These days, with help from technology, local expertise and a little willingness to be surprised, traveling without it is easier and more enjoyable than you think.
[Photo by Flickr user Matt Murf]