This morning, I was in the bathroom thinking about how I planned my monthlong trip to Europe back in 1997. I had a book about Europe written by Rick Steves. It came with the Eurailpass I bought which, at that time, entitled me to travel 30 consecutive days on trains in 17 different countries. I was 25 years old at the time, so I was able to buy a second class pass. If I recall correctly, in 1997, that 30 day pass was selling for approximately $560.
I went to Europe without much of a plan. I was going to meet a couple of friends in Zilina, Slovakia on one date, and my sister in Madrid on another. Other than that, I was free to go wherever my heart desired. Armed with my trusty travel book, I decided to visit Bacharach, Germany, an adorable little town on the Rhein. It was my first stop and I probably never would have heard about it had I been left to my own devices. Rick Steves made it seem like such a cool place. He was right. It is a great little town and I was delighted to get to go back there last month.
It's funny to watch this video and realize that Bill and I walked in the same places Steves is walking…
But then, after that, I kind of quit using Rick Steves' book. Once I got more comfortable with riding the trains, I started getting on and off whenever I felt like it. Often, I ended up in major cities, but sometimes I ended up in suburbs or small towns.
Nowadays, I have a lot of travel books, but I rarely take them with me when I travel. Now I have an iPad and an iPhone. They are easier to carry and have a wealth of information that is updated more frequently and accurately than books are. A travel book comes out yearly with marginally new information. Much like a textbook, it's a resource that can't be easily or inexpensively updated, but must be up-to-date in order to be worth anything. Good luck selling your used copy of a 2012 travel guide, even if you've never opened it. You won't get near what you paid for it… thought that could probably be said for just about any book unless it's a very rare title.
With an iPad, I can research a city and make hotel reservations without leaving my seat, as long as I have access to WiFi. I can read descriptive passages and look at photos without having to turn pages or lug heavy volumes that take up precious space in my luggage.
As someone who loves books-- even heavy travel books-- this realization is kind of sad to me. However, as someone who purchased Rick Steves' 2008 guide to Europe and realized that much of the same information was in it that was in the 1997 edition, I think this development could be a good thing.
We're still waiting to find out if our future has Europe in it. I'm hoping something happens soon…