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Monday, March 2, 2009

There's more to beaches and malls in Dubai: the case for using a guidebook

Don’t you think there are some destinations where a guidebook is invaluable? There’s been a backlash against guidebooks in recent years, since the rise of freely available online travel content. And while there are certainly cities I’ll go without a guidebook, cities where you can stroll around and stumble across places of interest pretty easily, there are some destinations where you really need to know where to go to have a good time – whether those tips are coming from trusted locals, or if you don’t know anyone, a trusted guidebook or trusted online source, (note my use of ‘trusted’) is up to you. But Dubai so it seems is definitely one of those destinations where you're going to have a far better time with a guidebook.

How to experience Dubai on a budget and dispelling myths about Dubai are topics I find myself increasingly writing about, both for paid assignments and on this blog (see
Dispelling the biggest myth about Dubai and Dubai on a budget: the best things in life are free). Yet, I still feel like I have a lot more work ahead of me when I receive comments like those from Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere to yesterday's post. I wish I could turn back the clock for poor Gary to his arrival at the airport and hand him one of our guidesbooks, because Gary came away thinking: “Dubai is expensive and there isn't much to do other than shop. If you want to sit on a beach, I can think of dozens of other places in Europe or in the Indian Ocean which would be more attractive as a destination. The malls seem very orientated to luxury brands. Every month there is some sort of news story which comes out of Dubai about someone getting arrested over something trivial.” If ever there was an argument for using a guidebook, there it is. Guidebooks may quickly become out of date, but in Gary’s case, our 4-year old Lonely Planet Dubai city guide would have shown him a much better time than he seemed to have. And while some people don’t like shelling out money for a guidebook, there is a lot of stuff freely available on the web, including many of the articles we’re written on Dubai for magazines and newspapers. I’ll pop up another post with links to our Dubai content that's freely available online, and I’ll also write another Dubai myth-busting post. Because seriously, there are few cities in the world where it's easier to have a good time - without lying on a beach or stepping into a shopping mall.


ClearlyEnlight, said...

I have been traveling for one year and three months, just left the Middle east and now I am in Greece. I will be in Eastern Europe for the next two years, and yes, I just bought the Guide book for Eastern Europe.

I use the guide book for the maps navigation into big cities and for lots of detailed information.

Many travelers get their ego involved concerning "how to travel". Sometimes the guide book can help figuring out the subway system, too.

Anonymous said...

This is so true, Lara. I would have argued the point a few years ago, but I've come to realise just how useless any old bugger talking about stuff is. I really want experts to give an overview of a country or a city. Especially when I know nothing about it. At the end of last year I went to Melbourne for virtually the first time. I was so ridiculously sure that I would know and understand and be able to understand Melbourne just by looking around... which, you know, I did, because it's still Australia... but far out, It would have been so much better if I'd read up before I went. I was attending a week-long conference and they had a lot of info on the city and I actually found myself devouring it. It was so good to read stuff that was actually aimed at getting international people to understand a bit more about how Melbourne operates. I love reading travel books and anything on travel, but I don't think I've ever really relied on them before, and I am certainly doing it now.

Also, I really hated that there were no good guide books on Dubai before I moved there... it made it so much harder, and at that stage (in 1998) there really was almost nothing on the internet about Dubai. Actually funnily enough, the best website I found on Dubai was run by the place I ended up living at... and when I was in Dubai, I probably used the Concierge more than I did anyone else (I lived at Al Bustan near the College) and he was brilliant... he knew how to suggest beyond the tourist experience - and I recall you talking about the importance of a concierge... again I learned that I really need to do that each time.

And I dunno about the four year update issue... four years is probably at the long end for an update with LP or RG the only two that I usually use, but I think I'd prefer a ten year old copy of something than some of the stuff I read on the net. I do wish that the print guides would avoid listing actual accommodation places and prices (cos they do change a lot and rack rate is one thing etc), but they are so more minimized than they were a dozen years ago, that I think the editors must get that.

I remember wondering if travel guides would be the first to go as the internet took off... I remember talking to a friend about it in about 1995... and here we are 2009, and I'm about to go out and buy another one.