A Guide to Buying Guidebooks

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Have you ever stood in front of a shelf full of guidebooks wondering which one to buy? While the options can seem overwhelming, there are smart ways to narrow the search.

Rule out the obvious mismatches right away by figuring out who the book's target audience is. That way, you'll know if the book is right for you. If you're unsure of a brand's slant, scan the guide to your hometown and note what kind of restaurants, hotels, and activities receive glowing reviews.

When choosing between a guidebook that covers an entire country and a book devoted to a smaller area, always pick the more specific one. So, if you're only going to Florence, pick a guide focused solely on that city, rather than one that covers all of Italy.

Read the author bio closely. Publishers want readers to have confidence in their writers, and the bio section will point out the author's qualifications and special interests. As you read, think about what's not in the bio. If it's all fluff--or worse, nonexistent--that's not a good sign.

Browse the index for a sense of how thorough the book is. Look specifically to make sure topics that are important to you are listed. To get an idea of how sensibly a guidebook is arranged, try a little role playing. Locate a museum or beach you know you want to see. Then, pretend you're hungry and want to find a nearby restaurant. If the search takes more than a few minutes, you probably want to find a guide that's easier to use.

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