Ditching The Rough Guides In Favour Of… 

I would happily class myself as an enthusiastic early adopter of technology, especially when it comes to cycling. Back in 2009 when I cycled along the Pennine Cycleway as a shakedown of my skills as a first time touring cyclist I blogged as I travelled having moved on from writing copious notes in a Moleskine book. I’m still doing it nearly six years later hopefully without too much repetition, hesitation or deviation. Perhaps. When I cycled to southern Italy along the Eurovelo 5 in 2010 I had upgraded to a smartphone – an iPhone – but was also using a small satellite tracker to trace my route. In 2013 when I cycled along the Mediterranean coastline, the iPhone itself had been upgraded and with a much greater amount of data available to me as a European ‘roamer’ as well as almost continuous 3G coverage along my route, I dabbled to a much greater extent with online resources; Google Maps, and tracking my route live (for those with too much time on their hands) via the excellent Cyclemeter app.

There has, however, been one aspect of the digital eta that I have not been keen to adopt early: the world of the travel guide eBook. This, I suppose, is rather ironic in that much of my own success has been built upon my ability to sell my own books via the various eBook platforms out there. But the thought of rocking up at a café or a campsite, opening up the guidebook and leafing through the pages is, in the widest sense, quite a romantic one. It’s the Michael Portillo thing of having something tactile through which to flick from one page to another, perhaps at random, to discover facts, figures, stories and history about the place in which you happen to be. Michael Portillo doesn’t have much choice; the Bradshaw’s Guides that he makes use of probably don’t exist in eBook format. But the Rough Guides do…

In 2010 I cobbled together my own ‘Rough Guide to the Eurovelo 5‘ by removing the relevant sections from the Rough Guides to France, Switzerland and Italy, drilling some holes along the spine and tieing them all together with a shoelace. I was quite impressed with my efforts! In fact so successful was I in my publishing hatchet job that I did the same thing in 2013 to create a two-volume ‘Rough Guide to the Eurovelo 8‘. I sent part 2 to my contact in Venice and once again I was kept fully informed as I cycled.

But was I being a bit too Michael Portillo for my own good? The clear advantage of having an eBook while you are travelling is the weight thing. I carried both of my two volumes of Rough Guides across northern Italy in 2013 because volume 1 didn’t finish until I reached the French border! But it’s not just the ‘weight thing’… When creating my Heath-Robinson Rough Guides I only included the regional sections. Much of the other parts of the books – the contexts sections, country histories and the like – were not included. But they are very useful things to have available to consult, especially if you are in the business of writing travelogues.

So, when starting to plan the upcoming 2015 trip along the Eurovelos 1 and 3 I decided to dabble with the digital guidebook for the first time and downloaded the Rough Guide to Norway (I planned in reverse so as not to neglect the latter countries, a trap I had fallen into back in 2013). I was soon an enthusiastic convert to the format, especially the search functionality of the books. Gone was the endlessly consulting the index (annoyingly written in tiny print at the back of the physical books) and in came an ability to read a section of the book, put it down and then pick it up again three hours later and it still be on the same page. I was also able to read every single paragraph mentioning ‘cycling‘ (for example), there were weblinks embedded into the text and maps that I could expand as I saw fit. It quickly became apparent that for me and my cycling trips, the eBook was most definitely the way forward and this morning I downloaded the final book in the eBook journey across the continent: the Rough Guide to Spain.

The eagle-eyed will have noted that the Rough Guide to Denmark isn’t actually the Rough Guide to Denmark. The eBook version doesn’t exist so I downloaded the Lonely Planet guide instead; I’m sure it will be a fine substitute. Their ‘Secret Europe‘ guide was a freebie on Apple iBooks so that’s coming along for the ride as well.

There are a couple of downsides to the eBooks. To use them to the best of their ability I’ll be taking a mini iPad wth me as I cycle which itself has a weight (along with its charger and case) but I was planning on taking it anyway. The iPad (or iPhone) do need to be kept charged which, in the more remote corners of Norway might become an issue. That said, these minor inconveniences will, I believe, be outweighed significantly by the advantages of having ditched the Rough Guides in favour of… the Rough Guides (and one Lonely Planet guide).

So, my reputation as an adopter of technology (although in this case not an early one) remains in tact. There is just one aspect of ‘old technology’ cycling long distances to which I remain wedded: the paper map. But who knows what will happen in the future?




1 reply »

  1. How can they publish a book called Secret Europe? The moment anyone reads it it ceases to be about secret Europe and becomes a book about known Europe!

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