DIY Travel: Why I Love Lonely Planet

Road Trip IV, Days 26-28: Puerto Rico to Durham, NC

Sometimes you just have to get away. And sometimes you just have to get away from other people who are getting away.

That’s why I am a loyal Lonely Planet-head. For those of you who don’t know, Lonely Planet is a series of travel books (originally) published in the U.K. I haven’t yet been to the country they don’t cover, but I’m sure there is one…at least for now.

Besides offering essential amenities like detailed maps and lengthy snippets (snips?) of history and culture, LP guides feel like they were written for me…that is, for people who prefer

–restaurants where locals eat
–knowing how to get around as cheaply and independently as possible
–accommodations with a certain amount of quirk
–knowing when to eschew, and when to spring for, the services of guides
–staying away from crowds
–finding undiscovered gems to brag about later
–exercise
–understanding how local people feel about us tourists

Being thorough, LP books do describe the 500-pound gorillas of travel, the big resorts and postcard tours. But they do so with a certain amount of tongue in cheek. Here’s what they have to say about the biggest resort in Puerto Rico: “If your idea of a good vacation revolves around golf, tennis, spa pampering, water sports, fine dining and gambling–with lots of company–this could be your bag.”

(In other words, “If you want to go there, bless you…but we really doubt you want to go there if you’re the kind of person who buys our books.”)

LP’s stock in trade are the personal touches within each section that The Mate and I have learned to rely on. The Ceiba Country Inn is described as having “friendly owners and even friendlier pets.” Bingo! Our kinda place. Our room was cheaper than the one we stayed in off the interstate in Van Horn, Texas last month, and believe me, that one did not feature fresh papaya for breakfast.

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When LP tells us something is a must-do, we believe them. MUST eat at the food kiosks (friquitines) by the beach? Sure. MUST try the local special, fried pork with rice and beans? Well, if you insist… (It cheers my cheap soul when LP’s directives are also inexpensive.) The only MUST for the northeast region that we were unable to follow through on was taking a nighttime kayak tour of a bioluminescent bay, but this was not for lack of trying; we made this trip on the fly, remember, and all the tours were booked. Sorry, LP.

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When LP sent us to El Yunque, the rainforest mountain that rises 3,500 feet an astounding 40 minutes from San Juan, the writer actually apologized for the limited number of hiking trails, as if knowing, “Oh yeah, it’s the Wings. They’re gonna want to get dirty.”

 

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For those of you who hate looking at maps and making reservations and dealing with people on the phone, by all means, go with a tour group. It’s way easier for sure. But for those of you who prefer to make your own plans but want a solicitous, well-traveled friend looking over your shoulder, make Lonely Planet your friend. That’s what it feels like.

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Anyone want to second the motion, or weigh in with a bad experience? The lines are open.