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Travel Lifestyle

Our Guide To Guide Books!

We all do it! We commit to a destination and start the process of hunting down all of the amazing things we want to do and see while we are on holiday. But, are we really getting the most out of the information that we uncover? Have no fear! TGC is here and we are committed to helping you find the perfect travel guide to make your next investment in travel all it can be.

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First, a few pointers…

Before we jump in to all the different guides out there, there are a few tips to make travel guides work for you.

  • Always buy a new guide book. Up to date books are a must. You can’t reuse an old travel guide. Times change and new places pop up while old establishments may not be around. I once tried to follow an old book in Poland. I was after a great laundry service I ‘d read about. It turned out that they moved 10 minutes closer to where I was staying but I only found that out about four hours later!
  • Multiple sources can help narrow down options to tailor your travels. Using more than one source can validate a particular choice. When I went to Livingstone, every guide, blog, and recommendation list told me to go to the Elephant Cafe. They were all right!
  • Mark up those books! Make notes and cross things out so that your book works for you. My favorite tools are Notetaking tabs and flags and Flare Pens to mark up all of your travel guides.
  • Don’t forget the guides on TV. Some of my favorites are Curious Traveler and The Travel Show on BBC. Shows like these can breathe a little more life into your decision making process so you can know if your picks really work for you.
  • Be careful of terms like hidden gems and off the beaten path. Sometimes these can mask as “I’m recommending this for a monetary kickback”.
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In the beginning…

While the concept of touring goes waaay back, modern tourism truly started with the grand European tour. Bored people of the Victorian age would pack up a ton of stuff and traipse around Europe seeing the big sites. Back then, a guide from Murray’s was the best choice around. As the tourist trade became more accessible to the middle classes, the grand tour was put on the back burner with the first shots fired in the World Wars. Then in 1957, a soldier named Arthur Frommer thought that Americans would like to know how to visit post war Europe on $5 a Day. It was a smash hit.

With Europe being the number one destination of traveling American, backpacker Rick Steves published Europe Through The Back Door in 1980. He brought the same pragmatic approach to visiting Europe and a great dedication to keeping his work up to date. Both books warrant a read by any serious traveler regardless if Europe is at the top of your list or not.

What’s on the bookshelf…

Rick Steves and Europe Steves continues to dominate the European guide market and does provide excellent, reliable information for the general tourist and traveler. He, however, is not the man you are looking for to string hostels together for a hiking trip through Switzerland or a super specific guide to island hopping in Greece.

Count on Rick, his TV show, and his multi media empire to give you a good read on the basics. His Rick Steves Guided Audio Tours are certainly illuminating and, yet, some can find that his focus is on the arts and humanities…. which can come across as a little dry. We recommend using the official Bingo game when watching!

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Beyond Europe…

As travelers expanded past European boundaries and set their sites on places like Japan and Australia, guide books kept up with demand. Arthur Frommer certainly expanded his base and his daughter, Pauline, continues to update 350 guide books for pretty much every destination around the world.

Lonely Planet follows suit with 200 authors canvasing the globe for the next greatest find in travel. LP leans toward eco tourism and outdoor adventure which can be super helpful for those looking to get out of the the general tourist lane.


Moon rounds out the big four and likes to invest in Central and South America with great guides for Belize and the Dominican Republic. Look for Moon to be helpful in other outdoor centric areas like the National Parks.

The digital bookshelf…

Big trade guide books are an incredible place to get information. However, with so many choices, they can feel a bit overwhelming. The question now becomes, “how do I narrow down all these great choices?!” The best suggestion is to follow a few bloggers.

This is the newest treasure trove available to travelers. A simple search on Pinterest leads to pin after pin of blog posts that will give you more information than you can imagine. That, in itself, can be a little overwhelming. Narrowing your search can be a huge help and following several bloggers that approach your destination from different perspectives can also bring on the best info to help you plan. Again, use Pinterest as a springboard so you can find writers that write about your interests like camping, wine, shopping, and more.

Digital guides on platforms like Amazon hosts a few digital picks which can make download and print an easy task. These guides are often written by niche experts who have well established blogs. They can be super helpful when you are looking for very specific information like fishing guides or foodie guides.

A few amazing bloggers are:

Your traveling tour guide…

You’ve researched all your choices and you’ve got a list tailored just for you. One tool in your arsenal that you may forget about your smartphone. The huge amount of apps that can be sourced is astounding. From Rick Steves, like we mentioned above, to Cool Cousin, the choices are endless. Apps can be a great on the go, last minute resource for any traveler.

Beware of crowdsourcing apps like Yelp! and Trip Advisor. Do they give you the best advice? It’s a mixed bag: Yelp! Seems to come out of the haze and tends to be accurate but Trip Advisor is dealing with a ton of bad reviews based on personal experiences that usually involve a crappy guest who didn’t get their way.

A few great app choices are:

  • Google Arts and Culture
  • Public transit apps like NYC subway or Eurail travel planner
  • iExit

Listen In…

Podcasting is a fabulous way to gather information and cross check a lot of the choices that you’ve already read about. Podcasts often have expert guests and plenty of kitchy tips to blend in to your own tailored needs. Some podcasters hope to be storytellers while others are working toward giving you the just facts in a fun format. Like all other areas of digital media, podcasting is flooded with too many choices to ever listen to, but here are a few of my faves:

Travel Think Tank

Gift Experience!

gift experience to unleash the global citizen in each of us

As everyone is out and about on Black Friday tracking down all those deals, I’m sitting back enjoying a little well deserved me time. After all, I did 16 hours in the kitchen yesterday! So, why am I not out there hoofing it from store to store? I gift experience! My gifts to my family focus on experience! I am a true fan of the gift card, the ticket, and the voucher. You may think that gifting like this is a bit impersonal and doesn’t hold the thrill of a traditionally wrapped box. I beg to differ. I am a fan of promoting the global citizen in all of us by experiencing the world around us. Here are five ways to infuse experience into your gift giving this season.

Add a friend!

If you are gifting a trip to the zoo (A great first start! Zoos are underrated!), add a stuffed zoo buddy with the tickets so there’s a little something to hug in the moment and something to look forward to. Consider other add ins like t-shirts, sunglasses, accessories, or other event specific gear to add in to the gift. It doesn’t have to be big, just a good match to the experience.

Plan ahead!

Gifting an experience like going to a national park or theme park? Add in a camera to save those memories. Cameras come in all shapes and sizes these days and there’s one that’s just perfect for the trip and your price point!

Make it fun!

One way to make a gift fun is to make it an experience in itself. How about a scavenger hunt? Perhaps a gingerbread house building contest? Maybe an ornament hunt is just your style.(Think Easter egg hunt in the winter.) No matter what the experience, have a few reindeer games to make it fun!

Match it up!

Tickets to a concert? Add the CD! Passes to a museum? Add a field guide! No matter the destination, a companion gift is a perfect pairing for your experience. Mouse ears are great if your headed for Disney and a pasta making kit could be just the thing if you are going to Rome. Perhaps this is your first travel experience and your young recipient needs a piece of luggage.

Read all about it!

No matter the experience, no matter the destination, there is a book to support your experience. Fiction and non fiction options are endless! Guide books, stories of destinations, historical accounts, and notable novels all work like a charm. If your interested in something more personal, a journal or a day planner may be just the right fit. Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

No matter the age, no matter the interest, there’s an experience out there that’s just the right match for the loved ones on your list. Happy holidays!

There’s plenty to experience!

There are tons of great last minute ideas for great last minute gifts that focus on experience. Some are big and some are small. Here’s hoping you find all kinds of fun and creative gifts for the ones you love!

  • Escape Rooms
  • Hunting and fishing experiences
  • Concert or live performance tickets
  • Art classes at a museum or local studio
  • Movie tickets
  • Food crawls
  • Zip lining experience
  • Hot air balloons or sky diving
  • Unique restaurant experiences
  • Museum tickets

Looking for more? Check out our eco friendly picks, our subscription box picks, and our 2020 gift guide for plenty of great picks!

multicolored umbrella hung outside brown wooden house
Travel Lifestyle

8 Ways To Include Storytelling In Your Travel

I am thankful for travel in so many ways. It does more for my spirit than any other activity I partake in. In fact, I consider travel the jumper cables in my life. It is there to jump start my attitude and rejuvenate my weary self after the day in and day out of a full time job. I think of the adventures, the learning, the insight that I get from travel and it gets me motivated for the next trip I have planned. But, out of all the amazing things that travel gifts me, it is storytelling that brings me the most joy.

Storytelling opens up a wealth of possibilities when I travel. It puts things into context and creates connections through experience after experience. No matter what corner of the world I find myself in, I always, always have the ability to find the storytelling and enjoy the moment that much more. Here are eight ways for you to add storytelling to your next travels (and maybe a story to go along with it…).

red tower hill bus
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Find destinations that are rich with storytelling.

I once went on an amazing cruise from Istanbul to Athens. I didn’t realize when I booked how many biblical stories I would encounter at port after port. It was spine tingling to walk where Paul had spoke in Ephesus and to dip my feet in the same waters where he baptized Lydia. At other ports, I walked the labyrinth at Knosses where Icarus and Daedelus soared and sunk on the pages of Greek Mythology. Having an amazing context like the Bible and Mythology bring a destination to life.

Some destinations take the literal to a whole new level! The International Storytelling festival in Edinburgh, Scotland takes place every October and includes 10 days of music, stories and more. Click here for more information.

Using storytelling to gain context in your destination.

There is no greater way to understand a destination better than finding a connection to it. And, the only way to make those connections is to learn about where you plan to travel. There is a fragile balance between traveling by the seat of your pants and educating yourself. I find that having some sort of understanding, whether, historical, familial, linguistic, or culturally, makes travel so much more engaging. So, read, research, explore, become globally literate. Then, you have some frame of reference to use as you read plaques in museums, research which piazza has the best pizza, and explore hidden chapels and nooks in churches and castles.

Pass storytelling traditions on to younger generations.

While storytelling is an oral tradition, using great literature to pass along these amazing stories to a younger generation is a great way to create a deeper connection to any destination is always, always a great idea. I once was at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. I was waiting with my mother at the bottom of the road for the rest of our party to join us. The teacher in me remembered the great story of Fin McCoul. Have you heard it? Check out the storyteller below if you haven’t! I was relating this great story to my mom in the very spot where the story happens. When I finished, the people around us all applauded! It’s so much fun to share!

Engage guides as great storytellers.

June 6, 1944. The waves are choppy, the air is tense. The Nazis know something is going to happen but they are not sure when. Northern France, is bound in Nazi occupation and prays daily that their beloved Normandy will find it’s hero. Then, all hell breaks loose. Landing boat after landing boat need to get to shore on the main beach while the Army Rangers have about 30 minutes before they will no longer have any shoreline to climb the cliffs and overtake Pointe Du’ Hoc. The battle is only beginning and will last for two months as the Allied forces slowly push back the Nazis retreat through the rubble.

Imagine standing on that hallowed sand hearing this story and the many many more that good guides can provide. Contracting a good guide is not only a great investment to learn more about your destination but can also create a much more memorable experience if your time is short. Consider taking a food tour wile on a layover or a ghost tour to round out your 48 hours in a city center. The possibilities are endless!

I once found myself in the great Wieliczka Salt Mine just outside Krakow, Poland on a Sunday morning. Our guide, Agnetha, was brilliant. She gave us an incredible tour as she maneuvered our four person group through the different spaces deftly avoiding large groups and making our experience a magical one. Her stories about all of the famous carvings and events that occurred in this medieval masterpiece (and UNESCO World Heritage Site). Tour guides are that good.

Even in today’s COVID travel world, there are great opportunities. Check out these Virtual Storytelling Experiences with Spanish tour guide, Drica. She is making the most of this time with some wonderful storytelling including a virtual feast through El Prado.

Find storytellers that teach.

There are moments in travel when you give pause to the momentous twists and turns in history. Battlefields, prisons, and cemeteries all come to mind. But, perhaps the most overwhelming of them all is Auschwitz. The Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp is an experience like no other. All at once, you are fearful, saddened, angered, maybe even embarrassed that humanity had even made it to this point. It’s so many emotions at once that it can be difficult to take in the full scope of what you are seeing. This is all so very important to feel all the feelings. The unbelievable guides that walk visitors through this time in history are to be valued. They help negotiate the facts and emotions so that you can reflect on how important your time visiting really was. The tour guide makes the difference.

Experience ghost tours and other walking tours.

The great city centers of the world have heard you travelers! Cities have developed incredibly creative ways to engage visitors. They take great tales from history and wrap them into fun walking tours that let you hear this great storytelling while seeing a slice of the city. Look for great tours about literature in Dublin or spooky closes in Edinburgh. You can even check out the Nightwatchman’s Tour in Rothenburg.

Become your own storyteller.

Sometimes there are moments when guides and literature are not available. There’s no harm in having a little fun and becoming a storyteller yourself! When you find yourself in a castle make up a silly story with all your vacation buzz phrases (you know you have them!) Take time to record (on video) your thoughts about where you are and how you feel about it. Reflect on your trip by adding stories to your photo albums. I’m partial to Shutterfly but there are tons of choices these days.

The ultimate way to earn your Phd. in storytelling skills is by getting out to western Ireland and kissing the Blarney Stone. Here’s what you need to do. One. Arrive at Blarney Castle and climb to the very top. Two. Review the legend of how the Queen got fed up with the Lord Blarney creating the gift of the gab. Three. Meet your stone attendants (who are most likely named Paddy and Mike). Four. Lay down on your back and let Paddy and Mike SWING YOU DOWN INTO THE WALL GAP TO KISS THE STONE! FIVE!!!! NOTICE THAT THE ONLY THING BETWEEN YOU AND THE GROUND IS TEN STORIES OF AIR AND TWO PIECES OF REBAR!!!! ACK!!! If the string of curse words that comes out of you doesn’t jump start your storytelling mojo, recounting the experience to everyone who will listen will!

Enjoy music as storytelling.

Irish music and American folk music are a cornerstone in the storytelling arena. The Irish storytelling tradition is definitely a huge part of the culture as the suppression that was experienced did not allow for anything to be recorded. The goal was to eradicate these stories and traditions. But the Irish persevered and came out with an amazing poetic sense of telling those stories. Don’t believe me listen to this famous goodbye by the incomparable Makem and Clancy. So many cultures across the world have amazing music that tells of history and traditions for so many.

Books that inspire storytelling…

More on Storytelling…

Samantha Brown’s Places to Love

Virtual sources and podcasts that inspire the storyteller in us all…

  • The Radio Vagabond Podcast ~ Travel guru Palle Bo immerses you in his adventures to relate to you the amazing potential any trip can foster.
  • True Crime Obsessed Podcast ~ While not travel, these two are the best recappers in the business and can help you hone your storytelling skills with a bit of a laugh at the same time.
  • National Geographic Article on Storytelling delves into the history of how storytelling became such an amazing platform for communication and connection.