Guidebooks and vaccinations – do you really need ’em?

Who needs them anyway?



Seriously, all of my travel research and planning has been done online. I compiled some must-sees and recommendations in Evernote before we departed, and referred back to them when we were in the corresponding country. On the road, the Triposo app has been a lifesaver.  I download guides for each city in advance, so I can access them offline. Even offline, you can use the city maps, and it will pick up and track your location (you’ll never get lost). It pulls in information and ratings from sites like Wiki and Yelp, offering ideas for sightseeing, places to eat and stay, and background on each destination, as well as the latest exchange rates, weather, local phrasebook and current time. For big cities, it usually includes a metro map. For free.

The problem with guidebooks is that information can be out of date by the time they go to print. Places close down, move elsewhere, or get pricier and more mediocre through complacency. I’ve learned to always seek out the most recent reviews and details online. Too often, I’ve been disappointed by places touted as the ‘must dos’. Personal recommendations and Yelp have yielded better results, especially for hole-in-the-wall type establishments. I’m not saying that long waiting lines and bulging crowds are always a bad sign, but they’re not always a good one, either.

As it turns out, overplanning stresses me out. When I feel I have an enormous list of sights to see and restaurants to hit, I really can’t enjoy myself. I need to pick just a few priorities, and then leave myself room to wander, snap photos and be a sponge.


I meant to get us both all our shots before leaving. I honestly did. I wasn’t worried about Europe or North America, but I was a bit concerned about south east Asia. Thing is, between wedding madness, moving madness, and winding up work madness, I left it to T to organise this (he has a family doctor and I don’t, which is something I need to sort out at some point).  Before I knew it, we were less than two weeks out and at that point, I threw my hands up. We weren’t travelling off the beaten track, and the odds of getting malaria in the main cities were low.

We took a gamble, and made it through without any serious illness. I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone, but I am now on the side of those who reckon it’s up to you to weigh up whether the expense/hassle is worth it, based on where you’re travelling and your general state of health.

I’m curious: what’s your stance on either/both of the above?

11 thoughts on “Guidebooks and vaccinations – do you really need ’em?

  • Reply Funny about Money October 22, 2013 at 10:04

    Hm…. Y’know, I think Americans can’t ship out for certain countries without evidence of specifically recommended vaccinations. But that may not be true…wouldn’t take my word for it, if I were you.

    I lived in the Middle East for 10 years, and…well, the endemic disease out there is just horrific. No. You couldn’t get me into a Third-World country without the full range of shots. We had typhus, typhoid, cholera, smallpox, polio, and DPT. In those days there was no MMR vaccine, which is something you ought to have wherever you live.

  • Reply save. spend. splurge. October 22, 2013 at 11:54

    I’d at least have gotten travel insurance just in case I needed a hospital ASAP.

    • Reply eemusings October 24, 2013 at 22:50

      Travel insurance is a must. My main concern would be theft/loss of belongings, but medical coverage is also up there. Doubt we’ll end up making a claim for T’s hospital bills from Bangkok since they are about equal to our excess anyway.

  • Reply Stephanie October 22, 2013 at 12:12

    I think that Funny about Money’s comment about vaccinations is correct – so we don’t even have a choice. But if you have a choice, then by default, it’s up to you to weigh the costs and benefits. In your case, malaria is a seasonal disease that peaks at the end of the rainy season, and you traveled through Southeast Asia right before its rainy season.

    As for the guidebooks, I’d have to agree with you 100%. Smartphones are much easier to carry around too!

  • Reply KK @ Student Debt Survivor October 22, 2013 at 14:44

    I typically borrow travel books from the library pre-trip and then make notes of what I want to see. I don’t carry the books with me, too heavy and stuff changes so frequently these days that cute restaurant I wanted to go to might be closed. I usually get the recommended vaccinations before traveling “just in case” and because I’m a worry wart.

  • Reply SP October 22, 2013 at 17:26

    I like guidebooks, but smart phones + internet are more practical these days. Guidebooks with pictures are fun. More organized than the internet 🙂 But I usually make rough outlines in advance and figure out from there.

    I went to SE asia with nothing more than the usual vaccinations (tuberculosis?). My husband took anti-malarial medication or something, but no one else I know did.

  • Reply Sense October 22, 2013 at 20:20

    I love tripadvisor and always check there before heading to a new place. It has helped me find some of the most unique and worth-it spots all over!

  • Reply Jules October 23, 2013 at 08:56

    I’m a bit 50/50 about vaccinations. If it’s a disease prevalent in Malaysia and I haven’t already gotten it in the 15 years I lived there, then chances are I wouldn’t vaccinate against it. Otherwise, I’d more than likely do it.

    With guidebooks, if I’m going for a trip of longer than 1.5 weeks and going all over the country, I always bring along a guidebook. I’ve just bought my NZ LP btw! 🙂 Saying that, as a first, I’m not going to be bringing a guidebook along for my Australia trip, just because I’ve already got everything pretty much planned out. I’m going to check out you Triposo tip though – never heard of it and sounds like it warrants a look.

  • Reply Deia @NomadWallet October 23, 2013 at 13:21

    I saw people lugging around thick guidebooks and, really, I can’t be bothered. My bag is heavy enough without it. Like you, I can find all the information I need online.

  • Reply Linda October 27, 2013 at 07:50

    Some guidebooks can be purchased in eBook format. A day or two before I left for Scotland I purchased a Lonely Planet guidebook in Kindle format through Amazon. It provided some good plane reading and recommendations on a few things to do and see on my free days. I would not have purchased a hard copy, though, as that would have been too bulky. While I did have Internet while in hotels, I found that the connection wasn’t always that great and free wifi at cafes was much harder to come by than I expected; maybe that’s because I was in so many small towns in the countryside. I was glad to have the guide on my phone and be OK without crazy high data fees.

    When I traveled to southern Africa and India several years ago I definitely got my vaccinations and prophylactic doses of meds for malaria. There were some serious diseases I did not want to risk catching (like typhoid, hepatitis, and polio) and it was required that I have a valid Yellow Fever vaccine to enter both South Africa and Zambia.

  • Reply John T November 5, 2013 at 06:51

    Sorry, but you’re wrong about guidebooks, especially today. Many are available in e-form and so are much easier to keep up to date and not heavy at all. And when you research online you’re getting a lot of paid content (a lot of hotels, restaurants and the like are putting their own reviews up, disguised as reader generated content). Plus guidebooks are written by local experts, so they give you a lot more in-depth context than you’ll find online. I rely on Frommers and always carry their E-Books. Try them. I think you’ll find them much easier to use, with more interesting suggestions, than you’ll find with random web searches.

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