“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.¨
This list is in alphabetical order. I do not want to give the appearance that I prefer any one of these resources. They have different audiences and benefits. However, they should be part of any Fifty-Plus Nomad’s library.
The Top Twelve Travel Advice Resources
Other than Anthony Bourdain and Lonely Planet, the Amateur Traveler Podcast is one of the few sources for travel information to off-the-beaten-path countries. One of the first podcasts, Amateur Traveler has managed to retain a homespun feel and be useful. I like the fact that the interviews are often with people who are not professional travel advisors, including expats and more casual travelers.
I am so sorry that Anthony Bourdain killed himself. Parts Unknown (you must pay to watch) and No Reservations were the only travel TV shows consistently worth watching. (Samantha Brown, Lonely Planet’s Globetrekker, and Rough Guides TV shows were also worthwhile. However, they more or less disappeared in the 2010s).
Even though Anthony Bourdain shows were ostensibly about food, they did an excellent job of giving viewers a sense of a given place. Anthony always featured astute commentary, made from his unique voice, that was not afraid to be controversial. I always made a point to see one of his shows before going to a particular destination.
While I do not often use Anthony’s restaurant recommendations while traveling, I have been to nearly every restaurant that he recommended in Montreal. The food was always outstanding. (It can be hard to get reservations at his recommended restaurants. The restaurants can be hard to find).
I love that his shows went to places that were genuinely off-the-beaten-path like Kurdistan and Liberia. His programs are the only widely available tourist information about some parts of the world. Bourdain’s episodes on Mexico (Parts Unknown) and the US Mexico border (No Reservations) should be required watching for all Americans.
Barbara Winter’s publications are an essential resource if you need to find a way to make a living on the road. Her materials are great at helping entrepreneurs find business ideas that match their personality and goals. She is also incredibly inspirational. I feel extremely blessed to know Barbara. I took her classes at the Learning Annex in 2003 and followed her ever since. She has been a mentor and I am sure that she can help you, too.
Facebook is a vital source of information if you plan to stay somewhere for a while. Once I started to join expat forums in Merida, I discovered many cultural events, restaurants, and businesses I did not know about before. For shorter trips, Facebook is more useful for determining what cities, etc. you want to visit than helping you plan the details for your trip.
International Living is the behemoth for people looking to live outside of the US. In my opinion, it is often overly commercial and uses too many hard-sell tactics. Sometimes their books can be excessively pricey for information, especially if you can find more exhaustive books elsewhere. That aside, International Living does have some excellent, hard to find information, particularly about places that are not on the map for US expats. They also have some outstanding writers and research.
More than anything else, International Living is an excellent source for figuring out where US expats might want to live. International Living does not, however, contain enough information about legal residency requirements or adjusting to life overseas. It is also overly targeted toward upper-middle-class readers.
Johnny Jet is one of the best sources for travel tips for airline travel, credit card bonus offers, and traditional accommodations on the internet. The site does not have much information geared toward extended travel or off-the-beaten-path places or experiences, etc. Johnny Jet also features a lot of sponsored ties with travel providers.
Evelyn Hannon, the founder of Journeywoman, was one of the internet’s earliest travel voices. Until she died in 2019, her website was one of the most trustworthy places for travel advice on the internet.
I had the pleasure to get to know Evelyn while I participated in Semester at Sea. She was as full of homespun advice and enthusiasm in person as on her website. Perhaps more than anyone else, Evelyn gave women the tools and courage to travel. I am glad that Journeywoman still exists after her death. It appears that while the site will be modernized, it will continue to keep Evelyn’s spirit.
Lonely Planet guides are encyclopedic. Some of my favorite things about Lonely Planet include that they:
- Feature excellent listing of alternative travel experiences like volunteering and classes. (In fact, most of the unique alternative travel experiences that I have done came from Lonely Planet listings).
- Contain enough information so that you can stay for a long time in one place using their recommendations. Rick Steves only the other hand only has enough information to last about a week
- Cover almost everywhere in the world.
- Have the best background information about the history and culture of their destinations of any guidebook series.
- Are well adapted to the Kindle format.
- Are even-handed and objective. Lonely Planet is diligent about avoiding any links with any of the businesses covered in the guidebooks.
A few faults of Lonely Planet:
- I wish the guides had more practical advice on things like how to buy tickets, etc.
- They do not have much information about their sights. (Rick Steves guidebooks, for example, have enough detail so that you could see a site in some detail just using his books).
- They can be daunting in size. Lonely Planet’s extensive country guides can be over 1000 pages long, in small type.
Moon Handbook is similar to Lonely Planet; however, their guidebooks feature more of the individual author’s voice than Lonely Planet. Their guidebooks are a little less daunting and readable than Lonely Planet. They do not cover as many parts of the world. If I had a choice between the two guidebooks to use in North America, I would choose Moon.
My only criticism is that Moon Handbooks assume at times that their readers have a car. (Lonely Planet does a better job of covering public transportation). Moon Handbooks used to have an excellent series of guidebooks about living in other countries. (Sadly, these guidebooks appear to be out of print).
Matt Kepnes, the founder of Nomadic Matt, has become one of the most respected sources of travel advice on the internet. I recommend several of his posts and publications on my site. I have also attended his TravelCon, a convention for travel bloggers, and used his blogging course to help me start my business. Keep in mind, however, when looking at his site, his audience is mainly budget travelers who tend to be under thirty years old.
The Smarter Travel website is an excellent source to find out about travel trends and issues. The site has a lot of sponsored content and can be a bit dry. I encourage you to subscribe, however, to be aware of changes in the travel industry.
Other Resources—Tourist Boards, etc
- Most traditional travel magazines and newspaper articles will help you get a sense of whether you want to visit a place. They do not, however, provide much concrete travel advice. Traditional travel media also creates the illusion that travel is expensive when, in fact, it can be quite inexpensive! Besides, many of the magazines and newspaper articles are going out of business.
- National tourist offices are excellent places to get specific questions about a place answered. Still, most of their information focuses on people with unlimited funds and limited time. They are often swamped with requests for information and thus may not be useful. Sometimes the best tourist offices are from the most unlikely places.
And, last but not least, Rick Steves.
Why Rick Steves May Not Be the Best Source of Travel Information for Fifty-Plus Nomads
Why is Rick Steves Important to Fifty-Plus Nomads?
If you travel to Europe chances are, you’ll notice that almost every American sports a Rick Steves‘ guide. I don’t blame them.
Rick is one of the few travel guidebook writers that has been unafraid to have a one-of-a-kind voice. He is the only travel guidebook writer who has become a household name in travel in the US. My usual answer to several of the most common questions I get asked about traveling in Europe is “read Rick Steves’ guidebook.”
Rick Steves also infuses everything he does with a very admirable philosophy. Travelers should respect and interact with the people and places they visit.
In Rick’s eyes, travelers are students that should reserve judgment. Instead, we should just learn about other place’s history, culture, and society. Just by advocating this view of travel, Rick has done a lot to improve how Americans travel to Europe.
I am always a little nervous, saying anything negative about Rick because many people feel so fond of his books. Fifteen years ago, I went to hear him speak at the book passage bookstore in Marin County, California. Many of the audience said things like, “I am so happy to meet Rick; I feel like I traveled with him on my recent trip to Italy¨. I felt like I was at a rock concert rather than a bookstore.
That said, the travel world is better off because of Rick Steves. Rick Steves has probably done more to help Americans feel comfortable traveling in Europe than anyone else. He has also taught hundreds of Americans how to interact comfortably with Europe’s people and places. In fact, one of my most intense criticisms is that he should have books that cover travel outside of Europe.
The following video does a better job of explaining Rick’s philosophy than I can. I would encourage you to watch it yourself. You will see why he is liked and admired by millions of American tourists. https://www.facebook.com/ricksteves/videos/970218983415858
Why Fifty-Plus Nomads May Not Want to Use Rick Steves’ Guides Exclusively
Yet, I don’t think his guidebooks are suitable for many Fifty Plus Nomads.
His guidebooks target a decided segment of the travel market. Upper middle class, Americans, mostly women, who nonetheless want to have as much interaction with local European life as possible in a short time frame.
Yet. even if you don’t fit this niche, his materials are valuable for the first few days of your stay. It is just that if you are going anywhere for more than around four days to a week, you should bring another guidebook along on your travels (Lonely Planet’s guides are excellent). Or you should supplement his guidebooks with other resources. (At least, that has been my case).
So here is a list of what I consider to be Rick Steves’ strengths and weaknesses:
Rick Steves’ Strengths
- By carefully paring down hotel and sightseeing options (and assigning ratings to each city’s sights), he makes it easy for travelers to find and enjoy their vacations quickly. While most guidebooks (particularly Lonely Planet) are much more comprehensive, it takes time and effort to determine the best options for you using these guidebooks.
- His descriptions of the sights of Europe give you enough detail so that you can understand what you are seeing. Most guidebooks give you some basic facts about the sights. Besides, Rick Steves peppers his commentary with enough detail and facts so that the places come to life more than with other guidebooks.
- While other researchers write his guidebooks you feel as if you are traveling with Rick. One student told me that she loved his guidebooks because she could almost smell the cookies that he described at a bakery in Scotland. Most guidebooks almost wholly avoid having a sense of the author; his books reflect his voice.
- He tries hard to find hotels and restaurants that reflect the best that the country has to offer at a fair price. Unfortunately, however, since the guidebook is so popular, sometimes the places are hard to reserve ahead of time.
- His practical travel advice on subjects like how to use public transportation, order foods from a menu, etc. saves time and frustration. Most other guidebooks assume that travelers can figure these things out for themselves. Yet, even after traveling in the world for years, I still sometimes find useful advice in his books and websites.
Rick Offers Excellent Advice Outside of His Guidebooks
- His tours, though not cheap, reflect his travel style and are exceptionally well-done. In 2014, I went on his nine day tour of Sicily. (By the way, Sicily is the cheapest of all the trips he offers). The guide, Tomasso, was outstanding — extremely personable, knowledgable, and accommodating. The tour featured a lot of opportunities to interact with Sicilians in off-the-beaten-path places. (The first-day visit to a local Count’s home was something I doubt you could do any other way). Besides, the tour was well planned and an excellent way to get to know Sicily in a short period. The hotels and restaurants reflected the style of his books- rustic places patronized by Sicilians. (Keep in mind, however, that his tours require more walking than most other tours. ln addition, while the hotels and restaurants are quite good, they may be a bit too basic if you are used to more traditional tour companies like Colette or Trafalgar tours).
- His podcast (also on public radio stations throughout the US) features a wide range of different voices. The podcast has a lot of excellent advice on traveling in Latin America and Asia, parts of the world that his guidebooks ignore.
- One of my favorite memoirs is Rick Steves’ book Travel as a Political Act. This book explains a lot of his travel philosophy and experiences around the world (not just in Europe). It helps to understand why his books and TV series were developed. It is also an excellent way to learn a lot about Rick himself.
- Rick’s Europe 101 should be required reading for Fifty-Plus Nomads who plan to travel or live around Europe for extended periods. Each European region (sometimes even town) has a long and complicated history. Trying to appreciate how European tourist sites relate to each other historically and culturally is difficult without this book. Most other books about European history and art are overly dense: They also do not focus enough on putting the sights of Europe into their historical and cultural context to be useful to most tourists.
Rick Steves’ Weaknesses
His Guidebooks Only Cover a Few Places
- His books are limited only to a few areas of each country. Most of the places he covers are integral parts of the established tourist path. When I was in Italy, I liked Emilia-Romagna as much or more than Tuscany. Yet his guide contained a hundred pages on Tuscany and not one on Emilia-Romagna. Worse still, his guidebook did not include Sicily at all, even though it is one of the most famous European tourist centers. (I suspect this is because he perceives that Sicily is too exotic for most of his readers.) On the other hand, I am kind of glad that his books don’t cover these areas because otherwise, the regions might get as many tourists as Tuscany.
- His guidebooks only cover Europe. I would love to see him do a guidebook on Emerging Countries, particularly Mexico. I think he could make these great countries seem accessible to his audience in a way that no other guidebook can. (Strangely, when someone asks him for his favorite places, Rick often mentions places, like India, not covered in his guidebooks. One of his early books was called Asia through the Back Door).
- His guidebooks do not even cover all of Europe’s countries. In the past, they used to cover the entire continent. The first time I used his guidebook was to travel around the Baltic states in 1995. Today, this guidebook, which I found to be extremely useful, is no longer available. I guess he did not sell enough copies as the Baltic states are a relatively little-visited corner of Europe. (It is a shame that more people don’t visit this region. Each Baltic state has its distinctive personality).
General Problems with the Guidebooks
- Sometimes, Rick pooh-poohs a place unjustifiably. Reading his description of Marseille, France (in 2014) discouraged me from wanting to visit this city. He described Marseille as a rundown, questionably safe, and dirty place. Instead, when I was there, I saw Marseilles as a lively hub of great museums, a lovely revitalized port area, and a multicultural hub.
- He does not list any exchange, volunteer, and study programs. These are the best ways for Fifty-Plus Nomads to learn about the life and culture of their destination if they have enough time available.
- Lonely Planet guides have a more thorough discussion of the politics, history, and culture of a region than Rick Steves’ guides.
Rick Steves’ Advice is Not Geared Toward Fifty Plus Nomads
- His advice assumes that tourists intend to travel to a lot of places and stay only a couple of days in each place. You will run out of options for sightseeing using his guide if you spend more than a couple of days in one city. I was in Copenhagen and Vienna for 10 days and:
- saw all of his recommended sites within the first week, and
- had to rely on Lonely Planet for site recommendations for the rest of my visit.
- I once heard Rick say on his radio show “now that it has been cleaned up for the Olympics, Athens is worth three days.” While teaching seminars, I spent nearly two weeks in Peoria, Illinois, and did not even see all the exciting things there. No doubt I could spend many months (or even years) in Athens and still have great things left to see.