“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
T.S. Eliot – Little Gidding
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On June 24th of this year, the government of British Columbia lifted many of the COVID-19 restrictions within the province. This decision signaled the beginning of Phase 3 of their ‘restart plan’ for B.C. residents and businesses. Included in this phase was the announcement that we could all return to travel within the province in a “…smart, safe and respectful…” manner. Many Provincial Parks and recreation areas had already reopened on June 1st (part of Phase 2), and within a week, most campsites were sold out through Labour Day. People want to move! They want to get out and go somewhere, see something, do anything but sit at home and reflect on the past four months or ponder what’s next.
Make no mistake; this is serious business, but the gradual loosening of travel restrictions means we are allowed to once again travel within the province. The government is actually encouraging us to do just that.
So, when Lonely Planet sent me a new paper guidebook and its ebook cousin to review, I was more than happy to take advantage of it.
This particular guidebook is entitled, “Pocket Vancouver: Top Sights, Local Experiences” and is written by John Lee, a Vancouverite who has contributed to more than twenty other Lonely Planet books covering topics from B.C. and Canada to Europe. He is also a travel columnist for The Globe and Mail. It would appear at first blush that Vancouver is in good hands.
But in my mind, a question arises… Are guidebooks still relevant?
Travel guidebooks in one form or another have been around since before Shakespeare’s day when the ‘known’ world was much smaller. Even Marco Polo relied on the experiences and crude maps of previous adventurers. I’m sure “If you go…” is chiseled into a clay tablet somewhere!
The modern travel guidebook owes much to the original mass-produced gazetteers produced by the Baedeker family of Germany back in the early 1820s. So influential was their printed output (in German and English) that even today, the word ‘Baedeker’ has become a collective noun in referring to any form of a travel guidebook.
There are many flavours of travel guides available, and most have been in existence for a long time: Michelin, Moon, Fodor’s, Frommers, D.K. Eyewitness, Rough Guides, Bradt, Inside Guides, and even ubiquitous TV presenter Rick Steves makes his travel ‘tips and techniques’ available in print.
But it’s a Lonely Planet guide book that most travellers pick up when looking for detailed and accurate information about hither, thither, and yon, foreign or domestic. LP continues to stand out.
I’ve lived in Vancouver and environs for more than half my life, and I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of the city’s ‘top sights’ and ‘local experiences.’ This mini-guide was first published in 2009, eleven years ago. In ‘Vancouver time,’ that’s an entire generation – a lot has changed, so an update was undoubtedly in order. Time to dive in with both feet (wearing good walking shoes) and tour my city.
The book itself is small – 10.8cm x 15.2cm (roughly 4 ¼” x 6”) – so it fits nicely in a pocket, purse, or backpack (it is a pocket guide after all). The ebook version is an exact PDF copy, so carrying it on your Smartphone or tablet is simple, and possibly preferable.
One thing of note… The electronic version of the guide – and I assume this would be the case for all LP ‘pocket’ guides – does not have the handy ‘pull out map’ of the print version (obviously). However, you can download a mobile version of the LP guides from within your Smartphone in both Apple’s App Store and Google Play. These are smaller, abbreviated city guides (and free), but you can also download a very robust city-wide map from within the app. I found it immensely helpful, and the perfect companion to my ‘Pocket Vancouver.’
Straight away, I’m struck by the design and layout of this guidebook – it is simply beautiful. It’s colourful and informative in an engaging way. The photos are large and, most importantly, current – no stale-dated visuals here. Each page introduces enticing landmarks and restaurants big and small. There are four individual sections: Plan Your Trip, Explore Vancouver, Survival Guide, and Special Features. Each of these segments drills down to suggest more specific details on the city: Top Sights, Shopping, Eating, Nightlife, all manner of Entertainment options, family-friendly activities that include children, museums, etc. This is a guide you can open to almost any page and find something fun and exciting to do.
My favourite section turned out to be ‘Four Perfect Days.’ Each day is laid out with food, drink, shops, and sights. Day 1 begins less than a five-minute walk from my home, and I confess it’s a day I have enjoyed more than once.
There’s the ubiquitous ‘Need To Know / How To / Essential Information’ sections, of course. These contain Advance Planning tips, Airport navigation, forms of transit, public and otherwise, and three different daily travel budgets tailored to the city – each, in my experience, pretty much bang on. If you wish to wander different neighbourhoods, there are ideas, thoughts, suggestions, and maps to assist you there, too. And this leads to a lengthy section entitled ‘Explore Vancouver.’ Walking tours, including such experiences as the Stanley Park Seawall, Granville Island, Commercial Drive, and even a ‘Downtown Grand Tour,’ are each described in detail. North Vancouver is included as well, with a wander around Lower Lonsdale and a separate trip to the Capilano Suspension Bridge.
So, are travel guidebooks still relevant? Yes, I think they are. ‘Pocket Vancouver’ especially hits a sweet spot. It is well researched, well written, and I would say perfectly laid out. I would go so far as to say it is superior to larger, more detailed travel books about the city, including LP’s own. It still makes sense to me that having a single reference source when travelling is the best medicine. Think of it as your personal concierge. This one’s going in my backpack.
If you want to know more about Lonely Planet and its diverse history of travel literature – something original owners Tony and Maureen Wheeler began in 1973 – you can join Amazon’s own book club, “Kindle Unlimited,” and receive a FREE copy of their first travel guide: “Across Asia On The Cheap.” ‘Cheap,’ in 1973 terms, begins with the original price of the book: $1.80!
While reading this guidebook and following its suggestions, I was reminded of the words of author Robert Louis Stevenson. Long before he put quill and ink to paper to regale us all with tales of ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, he was a travel writer. He knew then what I think we all appreciate now, and his words serve as a fitting exclamation to describe our journeys around this lonely planet:
“I travel not to go anywhere but to go. The great affair is to move.”
Lonely Planet Pocket Vancouver
Top Sights, Local Experiences
Author: John Lee
London: Carlton, 2020 (3rd edition)
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This book review first appeared in The British Columbia Review #886 – August 15, 2020