January 30, 2008

Lonely Planet eBooks Make Travel Lighter, Research Easier
Lima, Peru

I'm a fan of the Lonely Planet (LP) guidebooks because of their maps, and their details regarding local transport (times, prices, modes). Although cheaper and available for travelers willing to search a little, I tend to shy away from illegal photocopies of the LP guidebooks because they're thicker, and the maps don't come out very well. Besides, I feel that the purchase of guidebook is a solid investment, and generally worth the money (often upwards of US$20-$35 per country or region).

What bothers me about guidebooks is carrying them. Books of any type are a luxury in the world of a perpetual mover. Space and weight are often a concern—not just for the sake of one's spine, but also because of stringent airline limitations.

Last August I noticed Lonely Planet had finally gotten around to offering electronic versions of their guidebooks (just a few to test at first, which has grown since). Better yet, LP wasn't just offering the entire book, but the ability to purchase specific chapters, referring to the service as 'Pick & Mix'.

What's Pick & Mix?
Over the years many travelers have told us they'd like to take just the parts of our books they really want and need. We've thought about how best to do this, and are happy to present our first foray into the world of Pick & Mix. Pick & Mix is just that—you can buy, download and print the individual chapters you need in digital (PDF) format.

My upcoming jaunt into southern Ecuador and northern Peru hardly warranted the purchase of a guidebook for each country, so I thought this the perfect opportunity to give Lonely Planet's Pick & Mix a spin.

Price and Process

The entire purchase process was quite easy.

First, you head on over to the Pick & Mix section of the LP online store. Then, you select an available guidebook from the regionally sorted listing.

Each guide is broken down into chapters, and every chapter has a price. Previewing the chapter is suggested, as you should verify it contains the information you'll need to reference.

Pick & Mix pricing structure. Buy more, save more.
The price of a chapter is determined by the price of the book it comes from, and the length of the chapter. In other words, longer chapters cost more than shorter ones, but most fall within the US$2-5 range. Buy 3 or 4 chapters and save 20%. Buy 5 or more chapters and save 35%.

I paid a total of US$6 for the pair of chapters I selected: Ecuador: Southern Highlands and Peru: Northern Coast ($3 each).

I used a credit card, and was immediately funneled to a download prompt:

Are there any restrictions or limits to accessing your Pick & Mix chapters?
To make them easier to use, access to Pick & Mix chapters is not digitally restricted. You can download each chapter up to 5 times, and printing is unlimited.

Searchable Text

LP PDF Screenshot: Search

Easily one of the most enjoyable aspects of properly constructed PDF files is the ability to search the text. I've probably accrued several hours of time over the past few years searching for a specific sentence or statistic I knew I saw in the guidebook, somewhere. The ability to search for a city or attraction name allows travelers to not only find the chapter they're looking for quickly, but to find out what other cities or sections of the book are referencing that particular name or phrase.

Mobility

You don't need to carry a laptop to use this resource—many devices are capable of opening a PDF.

Q: Will Pick & Mix chapters work on a phone, an iPod, or handheld device?
A: Any device that can view PDF files should be able to handle Pick & Mix chapters.

I tossed the downloaded pair of chapter on my Palm TX PDA, which should allow me to discreetly reference them without exposing my laptop. Better yet, if you're like me and like to have a map handy, it's easy to hop into an Internet café and print out a single page from the PDF, which can be stored on something as lightweight as a thumb drive.

A traveler who doesn't know what type of path he or she might take could potentially load several guidebooks onto a thumb drive and reference or print the relevant material at Internet cafés.

A creative traveler with a digital camera, but no desire to carry a thumb drive, could probably just drop the electronic guidebooks onto the camera's memory card (as the chapters are only about as big as a three-megapixel JPG).

Practical

Yes, it's nice to have a physical guidebook to highlight, take notes in, staple business cards into, have others write suggestions in, or hand over to another traveler at the end of a journey. Some vacationers like to hold onto worn guidebooks as mementos of their travels. But the ability for me to carry many, many guidebooks without adding bulk to my burden, and be able to reference them at a whim, is invaluable.

Comments:

MB

February 2nd, 2008

I definitely like the idea, but the execution wasn't all that, so far. For my recent trip to Prague (which took the place of my aborted trip to Peru), the cost of the useful chapters exceeded the cost of the printed guidebook (if I'd bought it in Atlanta, anyway).

Ideally, I'd like to see some sort of annual all-you-can-eat sub and e-book-less-than-printed pricing. As to format, I'd be down with PDF and plain text.

Dillon

December 6th, 2008

I just bought some Lonely Planet guides and was very disappointed to find that due to the layout, it's not possible to print the PDFs booklet style. The only way to print them is 8.5×11 landscape, with weird page flips. Very bulky and annoying.

Bulgaria

Craig | travelvice.com

December 6th, 2008

Howdy Dillon — how annoying, and good information to have.

I suppose if you're in the US and have access to a Kinkos (or whatever FedEx has renamed them to) they might be able to use one of their fancy printers to shrink two to a page and print double-sided. Just a thought –

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