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21 December 2011 / leggypeggy

On guidebooks—they drive me crazy

I get so frustrated with guidebooks. You want to believe and trust them, but you shouldn’t.

In Ouagadougou (pronounced wah-ga-doo-goo), Burkino Faso, West Africa, we walked in search of a hotel that was clearly marked on a map in the African edition of the Lonely Planet (which is often referred to by travellers as the Lying Planet). By following that damn map, we walked to the edge of town before we met a nice local woman who seemed to know where the hotel really was. She bundled us into a taxi and told the driver not to charge us more than a couple of dollars. Turned out the hotel was about two blocks from where we began our marathon stroll.

But this sort of glitch happens all the time. Some guidebook errors are genuine mistakes—misinformation and such—and some reflect blatant ignorance of indexing conventions. I’ll try to explain. We wanted to visit Mount Bromo in Indonesia. Is Mount Bromo listed in the Lonely Planet? No. It’s listed under G for Gunung Bromo, with gunung being the Indonesian word for mount. It’s also listed by its national park — Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.

It boils down to the fact that I am not likely to know that gunung = mount.

But I’m only just getting started. The Rough Guides are just as bad. The Tibet version says the Potala Palace in Lhasa is covered on a single page. In actual fact, there are 18 pages devoted to the palace.

This is what annoys me about poor indexes—they don’t reflect how we think. I’m a tourist and I’ve heard of Mount Bromo. I want to go there. I try to look it up in an index of a guidebook. M for Mount = no answer, B for Bromo in isolation = no answer, G for gunang = numerous answers. All mounts in Indonesia are called gunungs. How in the world would I know that?

A friend, who is a professional indexer, says it’s better to have no index than a bad index. I have to agree. With no index, you are forced to explore.

I’ve seen a lot of book indexes that don’t mention what I’m looking for, but after a thorough search of that book, I finally find the info I want. Not surprisingly, most people don’t think to cruise through the content, if what interests them is not listed in the index.

That said, I shouldn’t complain too bitterly. Travel guidebooks are filled with lots of useful and helpful information. It’s the errors and gaps that are so annoying.

Also don’t forget to pick a number before 29 February 2012.

One Comment

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  1. Derrick / Dec 23 2011 1:55 am

    I can appeciate this, sometimes it does make me wonder if they have done any real research on these areas, or better still been to these places, okay, you would only have 1-2 peoples perespective on a place, but to actually not put the location of a hotel is just daft, or to even put it in a completely diferent area does sghow a complete lack of respect for the reader

    I have found the lying planet guide to the USA completely hopeless

    As for an index, sometimes they are just to pad out the pages and so it looks more, makes you think you are getting value for money, but I have always found, you cant beat the locals for gettting help/information/recommendations for hotels/something to eat, even places to see or try, I have always said, try and get the locals on your side

    Like

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