Will one country fit into a single volume? Can you really list all the essential travel details, plus the cool, must-see, and quirky? Especially with a nation as huge as Canada, covering about half a continent, this may turn out to be quite a challenge, but the
settles for no less. Or at least that’s what the authors are aiming for.
It’s a hefty 900-page volume, adding 1.5 lbs to your luggage, if you want to take it with you. But should you?
The Canadian provinces and territories make up the chapters, plus there are, of course, the standard nuts and bolts of a Lonely Planet guide, and a few extras on Canadian national parks. The structure of the guide is Lonely Planet-specific as well, and what you can expect from this: Info on transport options, how to get there and how to get around, the essential and not-so-essential sightseeing, and hotel and restaurant recommendations listed by price and area. Small maps make scenic tours and walks more appealing; some of the suggested tours give you ideas which you won’t find in typical tourist brochures, and outdoor activities are listed as well. That’s good and helpful info.
2 years ago, with the predecessor of this guide on my hands, I planned a trip to Canada, which we took a few months later. While we did an extensive backpacking tour through Malaysia in 2008, with the Lonely Planet Malaysia Singapore and Brunei as handy guide in our backpacks, this approach seemed wrong for Canada.
Why? Starting with geography – Malaysia is pretty much the size of Germany, and although it has a complex and quite interesting culture, the essentials easily fit into a book. Canada, on the other hand, stretching over almost 10,000,000 km², is way too large physically to fit into one guide. Ontario alone is three times as big as Germany…
The basic info part of the guide, plus the Ontario chapter, consists of 275 pages, which would have been way sufficient for my purposes – and in some areas, I would have loved more complex and differently focused information, more in-depth tours for example, instead of recommendations for territories I may never see in my life.
While planning, I soon found most of the general info to be rather irrelevant for my purposes. What I did like, though, were the sections with tipps on what to do and see in a specific city during a 2, 3 or 5 day-stay. It gives you a good idea on how much time you may need there, and what may be worthwhile.
The info on airports and airport connections, buses, subways, trains, ferries is useful, for sure, but if you plan ahead (which is highly recommended coming from Europe), you’ll find that inevitably some is outdated, and the info you really need is usually more specific than what a guidebook can offer.
Which is the main culprit here, really. In my opinion, the printed travel guide is sort of outdated in itself – dead wood, if you pardon the pun. To find all that info I really need, all I have to do is open a web browser and start typing – it’s faster, more customized, and usually I have accurate and in-time information right at my fingertips. Having arrived at my travel destination, a prepaid mobile SIM card for the smartphone might be more useful than a pound of printed guide in my backpack, and I can find the stuff I am looking for, even if it is not in the guide, by using location-based services and/or a quick web search.
Hotel and restaurant recommendations are usually outdated even before a guide makes it to print, and I’d rather use other resources to choose them (although the Malaysia Lonely Planet gave us one of the loveliest B&B recommendations of that trip). And the stuff I really want to know (e.g. how long is a car or train trip from Toronto to Montreal, and is taking the ferry or going by plane a better option?) is something that remains unanswered, since it is too specific a question.
Still, the Lonely Planet Canada (Country Travel Guide) is a solid guide book, providing you with lots of info, and covering areas you’d probably never have thought of setting a foot in, too. If you are not good with computers, or maybe far from any viable internet connection (say, in the NWT), this would be a good book to take with you in your car or RV. But on all other kinds of trips this seems to be too big and heavy to carry it around. In a way, the idea of a printed all-in-one-guide is very much last century.
The folks at Lonely Planet have obviously come to similar conclusions – they have started to offer apps and ebooks, the latter in PDF format; the ebooks are available as single chapter PDF as well. So for me a Toronto traveller app, or the Ontario chapter of the Lonely Planet guide would have been a great choice, a lot more useful than a book on paper. Consequently, the business model of travel publishers will have to change, but that’s a different story…
Would I buy the guide (again) or recommend to buy it? No. Not, because it isn’t a good guide (it is), but because it is not what I need or require or want from a travel guide these days, and I’d rather buy digital.