En español | The best travel guidebooks provide accurate, insightful information. But it's a big world out there, with lots of ground to cover. And guidebook writers face plenty of practical challenges. Here are five things that many guidebooks don't tell you — keep them in mind to help you plan the best possible trip.
1. What's missing
Some of the hardest choices I make as a travel writer are what not to put into the guidebook. In big destinations like New York, for example, the selection process can be ruthless. Space is limited. It's easy to leave out well-known spots that don't cut it, or are living on their reputation alone, but sifting through cozy cafes or terrific little noodle joints can be tough. Still, the best travel guidebooks do give you the top selections so you don't have to eat at that over-priced restaurant or visit that overrated attraction.
2. The unvarnished skinny
Many guidebooks are trying so hard to sell a place they've forgotten how to advocate for real travelers. Yes, it's a beautiful drive to the top of Mount Magnificent, and that island could well be a castaway's dream come true. But if the drive up the mountain is frightfully longer than its mileage indicates, or the island is a hotbed of mosquitoes, readers need to know.
3. The latest deals
The best travel guidebooks keep travelers abreast of hidden fees — and also point out those properties that lay out their fees transparently, so you know what you're paying for in advance. Many big resorts tack on a 10 percent service charge across the board, for example. But if you want the latest travel deals, head for the Web.
4. What's happening right now
A printed guidebook may not be as up-to-date as its Web or app counterpart, but the best travel guidebooks can be utterly invaluable in providing a visceral sense of place. I write a lot about the Caribbean and, believe me, every island is unique and has its own story to tell. Travel writers need to climb into the bones of a place to bring the story back to the reader. What are the locals talking about? Why, in the context of their history and culture, do they live the way they live?
5. Their favorite place
It's always a dilemma for the passionate travel writer to relinquish his or her secret spots — ironically, once the guidebooks include a truly local option, from a hole-in-the-wall joint to a hidden trail, it's no longer really off the beaten track. But the investigative journalist in me itches to share my latest finds. To me, the best travel guidebooks treat readers like close confidantes. Serendipitous finds — like a bottle of champagne — are best shared with friends.