The Ongoing Life of a Guidebook

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Photo by Ali Nachman

In a flurry of activity, I threw the books into bags and boxes. I was on a mission. To battle clutter. To destroy excess.

I was–gulp–cleaning my bookshelves. Eleven bags and boxes later, I sat staring at the pile of guidebooks, now almost two decades old. These tombs had literally traveled around the globe with me, stuffed in my big blue backpack, once shiny and ready to help a naive gal from LA see the world.

South America on a Shoestring, Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Japan. Israel, Mexico, Hawaii, Europe. Mostly Lonely Planet. All slightly browned, with notes on the inside covers of names and places long forgotten. Inside were crushed flowers, postcards from my husband before his love was a possibility, letters from friends in Europe, California, New York.

I had carried them around the globe, moved them from Santa Monica to New York, to Venice, then Oakland, and San Francisco. I knew I would never use these particular books again.

Yet it hurt to consider letting them go.

No one else would use them. No one would look at that South America book and remember the kind Venezuelan family who invited my friends and I to their summer vacation rental, cooked us salad and arepas, while we danced late into the evening with them, their kids and the villagers that came to see the young lively Americans boozing it up.

No one would gaze at the Israel book and remember the night on the roof at the hostel in Jerusalem, when it seemed I had found the people who were the most like me on the planet. No one would look through these books and remember hitchhiking through Japan, or camping in the Kenyan bush. How could they? These guidebooks helped craft these memories. They guided me to so many moments that I hold dear that they seemed more a part of me than my shoes.

Yet so many times, these books had misguided me. Not just by listing a shuttered business–that’s to be expected of a guidebook researched and written at least a full year before its publication. My guidebooks had failed to list the pure bliss to be found at a Posada D’Ana guest house in Brazil, or the life changing experience that awaited in Auroville, India.

But that was ok. I enjoy that my book doesn’t inform me of everything. Because the joy of travel comes from the surprises that are individual and rich and terrifying and downright exciting. I don’t want a book to instruct me how to live. But I sure do like having a book act like a friend as I enter new territory.

Saying goodbye to those books felt necessary. I don’t have room for their weight in my life. However, their legacy lives on. In me. In my heart. Hell, in this blog.

I like to travel with a guidebook. I enjoy paging through someone’s opinions, whether I agree or not, and seeing a road that has been schlepped before. I dig the advice and the honesty. The rawness and the kindness of someone really wanting my trip to be as full as it can be.

But I know when to put down the book, open my eyes, and let my own experience be the guide. Which is why I was able to say goodbye to these books. I need room on the shelves for new books, new travels, new experiences and new memories. Bring on a new adventure.

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4 responses to “The Ongoing Life of a Guidebook

  1. Love your last paragraph. I haven’t been game to let any of my old guide books go (I skate around this by leaving them stored at my parents-in-law for now…) but I know they are too out of date to be used any more. At the same time, I want to hold on to the memories. I guess I just have to convince myself I don’t need them to do that. Your post gets me a step closer!

    • I hear you about holding onto the memories. They are so hard to part with. I wish you luck. I cried when I let mine go…I fell stupid just writing that, but it’s true.

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