Tourist guides lead travelers astray
Many '96s have just returned from Language Studies Abroad, and most took advantage of the opportunity to travel while in Europe or elsewhere about the globe. To these students and to all those who plan on traveling in the future, the name "Let's Go" is or will be permanently imprinted on their minds. I, too, was a "Let's Go" traveler and commonly referred to the book as the Bible. In retrospect, however, although this book opens the world to budget-minded travelers, it also has the paradoxical effect of depersonalizing that world and tragically making a once-unique experience cliche.
Planning your trip using a "Let's Go" book is a bit like selling your soul. You gain the means to see some of the world's most beautiful and historic places by discovering the cheapest places to sleep and eat. However, you also damn yourself to spending your vacation seeing the same sights in the same manner as thousands of other "Let's Go" devotees. I am grateful for "Let's Go" since I otherwise would not have been able to afford to travel. However, my greatest disappointment was how an alpine panorama, a turreted castle or soaring cathedral seemed almost boring when viewed in the company of a thousand other photo-snapping Americans, all of whom were carrying a bright yellow copy of "Let's Go" in hand.
An example of this paradoxical experience was my trip to the Neuschwanstein castle in Fusen, Germany. This famed fairy-tale-esque castle, was the model for the Disney castle. I took the tour of the castle, walked up to the bridge which afforded an excellent view and took a couple of nice pictures; just like a few hundred other "Let's Go-ers" did that day. Although I came away from the day with beautiful photos, I felt robbed, although the brief hike to the bridge cost nothing. The experience was as remarkable and personal as looking at a poster on public display.
"Let's Go" also contributes to the feeling that Europe is much smaller than it actually is. At first I thought it an amazing coincidence that I could see the exact same people at a beer hall in Munich as in the Old Town Square in Prague. However, these run-ins really weren't such a coincidence. We all went to the places that "Let's Go" said were good and avoided the places which were mentioned only in passing.
Yet, I found that the places mentioned in only one sentence or, better yet, not mentioned at all were the most memorable. A weekend in the small fishing village of Vernazza, Italy was my favorite traveling experience. I went without a clue of where to stay and had to go from restaurant to market, asking for a room. There were no museums, no discos. But I did take away the feeling of experiencing something unique.
So for those that plan to travel, definitely take a copy of "Let's Go." See the famous cities and places. But if you ever start to feel like just another tourist, get lost somewhere for a while. It will probably be the most rewarding experience you will have.