Is Lonely Planet really the Bible for travelers?
I bought my first guide book back in 2000 or 2001 when I started travelling around the Eastern Europe. At that time there were no travelers`blogs, forums or other similar sources of info online. And Lonely Planet guidebooks provided invaluable information which saved in many situations.
Later I bought a guidebook for Western Europe and it helped me a lot during my first years of travels. I was already traveling with the help of Couchsurfing, but Lonely Planet guidebooks provided a lot of useful info on sightseeing, transportation & food. But eventually I realized that I don’t need Lonely Planet anymore.
For long time I traveled without any guidebooks as Couchsurfing replaced it. In 2010 I went to the South East Asia for 2 months, and to Japan for 1 month. Before the trip I decided use LP again and ordered both SEA on a shoestring and Japan guidebooks. During this trip i started noticing small discrepancies between what was written in the Lonely Planet guidebooks and reality: streets missing (quite big ones) on maps, guest houses are far from what is described in the guidebooks, description of places is seriously exaggerated on the negative side.
Quite a number of guest houses listed as “Top choice” for a destination were quite crappy ones with high prices. The reason is simple – once a guest house or a restaurant gets listed in the Lonely Planet, it raises prices very often without raising of even keeping the level of service. Just because most of backpackers like sheep follow the word of “Bible”. You did not know that many travelling backpackers call LP “The Bible”??? Yes, they do. I find it stupid, but that’s how it is. People don’t take a step aside from anything written in the guidebooks. This taught to avoid places mentioned in LP, what brought good results – guest houses with comparable quality, but lower prices and usually not crowded at all.
Of course, prices and places tend to change over time. But all this looked very much like Lonely Planet scouts either don’t work properly, or information collected is not verified at all.
Among other things I was using Southeast Asia phrasebook by Lonely Planet and found out that many phrases indicated in it do not correspond to how actually people speak in those countries. this was noticed in particular in Thailand, Burma/Myanmar and Vietnam.
Preparing for the last long term trip I decided we are not going to use any guidebook but online travel blogs and travelers’ forums. The latter provide up-to-date information, prices, cancelled transportation or any other potential disruptions. Besides being fresh such information comes from different people which helps you to make a more informed decision.
3 months into our trip we got scammed. Iran was one of the planned destinations and we had two options to get a visa: 1) Agency or 2) Consulate in Trabzon. It was decided to make it in advance via an agency. We did some research online and chose an agency(Iranianvisa.com), asked our Turkish friend to help us with money transfer to a Turkish bank, had a lot of communication with the agency, and in the end we got scammed.
By the time we realized it was a scam, we were already in Trabzon. Hence we simply went to the Iranian consulate and got our visas within 3 hours. I have made a post with full account of the situation, our communication with Iranianvisa.com and the outcome. Plus I decided to warn other travelers via Lonely Planet / Thorn Tree forums from being scammed. Several users of thorn Tree forums confirmed that it is a well-known fact that Iranianvisa.com are scammers.
Several days later my post disappeared. I wrote to the Lonely Planet asking what happened. They told me that they cannot post such information as it is very subjective and cannot be verified. I posted again on Lonely Planet that warnings about possible scams are being censored. Several people answered that their posts about Iranianvisa.com had been deleted in the past. One guy wrote that Lonely Planet and London office of Iranianvisa.com are in close cooperation. They even have offices close to each other.
Since that time some more of my posts(with supposedly prohibited info) on Lonely Planet forums have been censored. Looks like the Lonely Planet deletes all undesirable information or criticism about their partners. It reminds me so much of the ways all Western media work, having double standards and misinterpretation of information to their friends’ or owners’ benefits.
So how can I trust Lonely Planet if the company provides:
1. Wrong & unverified information in guidebooks (for which you pay money)
2. Biased censorship on the Lonely Planet/Thorn tree forums
It is up to you whether to continue purchasing LP guide books and use info from their forums. The times have changed. The Internet is full of freshly updated info on any destination on this planet.
Probably the comparison to the Bible is not that incorrect. Both are full of wrong and unverified info.