After booking flights, the first thing Andrew and I do is purchase a travel guidebook for our chosen destination. For us, this is actually one of the most agonizing parts of trip planning. I mean, whatever decision we make will have a significant impact on what kind of experiences we have on our trip. Will it be too heavy? How much of it will we actually use? Will it turn out to be just straight-up WRONG about things that end up being very important for us?
We’ll stand in the travel section at McNally Robinson for what seems like HOURS. Our conversations go something like this:
A: What about this one? It’s small, and comes with a map!
E: Eyewitness? Ugh, no. Remember that time were in Chicago and learned that a tonne of their info is WRONG?
A: Yeah, but look at the map!
E: Ooh… that IS a very handy map. But… but I don’t know if I can trust it. Eyewitness has let me down before.
A: Really? How?
E: I… I don’t remember. But I do know that Eyewitness is BAD. If we want to get super-lost and walk an extra ten miles, then yeah, we should get it. Otherwise, please no.
A: It’s the smallest one, and we’ll only be there for a few days.
E: True… but if we’re only there for a few days, we can’t afford to waste time with incorrect information.
A&E: (together) *sigh*
Now, here’s the thing about me — though I may be fuzzy on the details, I’m often left with very strong impressions. For example, Andrew and I took a trip to Chicago with Andrew’s friend Jeremy in 2004. That’s a LONG time ago. Our guidebook of choice on that trip was an Eyewitness Top 10 Chicago book. We chose it because it was small and easy to carry, and yes — it also contained that alluring map.
It’s difficult to argue with the detailed map of the downtown and other key areas, which is just inside the front and back covers of Eyewitness guides, and the handy train system map at the back as well. No other guidebook has it arranged quite so conveniently.
And you know what? THAT BOOK LET US DOWN. I don’t remember how… I don’t remember where… but I know that I was following that book religiously. RELIGIOUSLY. It’s like it was glued to my fingers. And I remember staring at the book’s information, then staring at whatever street sign or museum sign or whatever, then looking down at the book again, and declaring angrily, “We’re not the idiots — it’s this book! It contains incorrect information! How could they?!? We were relying on this book to be RIGHT! I now hate Eyewitness travel guides! FOREVER!”
Sure, sure — every book contains errors. But this isn’t just some innocuous typo on a blog (ahem). An error in a travel book can mean that you’ll find yourself wandering around in the intense heat for HOURS, searching for a street that simply doesn’t exist. And yes, I have a more recent example of this… but it’s still the same Eyewitness Chicago book that’s responsible! Because in 2013, Andrew and I returned to Chicago. We may have been a little cocky this time — we’d been there before, AND we’d been traveling for several years by now, to countries where we couldn’t understand the language or culture. So surely this time Chicago would be a BREEZE.
We grabbed our now-severely-outdated Eyewitness Chicago book, and hopped on our flight to O’Hare.
I’d mentioned that we were maybe a little cocky by now. If we can run around Istanbul just fine, surely we could handle Chicago without too much fanfare. Well, that may be true enough, but I’d probably get frustratingly lost even in my own hometown if I was trusting an incorrect map in a new area.
We ventured out, to see Chicago as older, wiser adults. So wise, I figured, that I left a good deal of information behind in the hotel room.
Traveling unencumbered by useful, accurate guidebooks. Yay!
But we DID have that Eyewitness book along. I know, I know… relying on a 9-year-old guidebook does seem a little foolhardy. However, in this case we were just trying to find one street in Oak Park. Just ONE STREET. There was a little neighbourhood map on page 31, but let me tell you, that map is FAULTY. Eventually we just gave up on the stupid book and asked people for directions and found the visitor centre and obtained a current, accurate map. Upon comparing our shiny new map with the 9-year-old Eyewitness map, I was very angry to discover that the Eyewitness map was completely missing streets, or had utterly mis-named streets, etc. I was mostly angry at myself. “How could I have trusted this book AGAIN?” I felt betrayed… by my own stupidity.
Interestingly… I know that it was precisely page 31 that let me down on this occasion, because WE STILL HAVE THIS DECEPTIVE GUIDEBOOK. I should’ve just chucked it into Lake Michigan.
Thanks a lot, Eyewitness. I’m done with you!