Probably the most popular guides to ever be packed in a backpack. Founded in 1972 in Australia, Lonely Planet started with a shoestring guide to Asia and has since grown into a guidebook empire of more than 500 titles in eight languages. The guides still focus primarily on budget travel options. BBC Worldwide acquired a 75% stake in the company in 2008.
One of the more popular alternatives to Lonely Planet, the Rough Guides series was founded in 1982 with a guidebook to Greece. It’s based in the U.K. and covers more than 200 destinations. The target audience has primarily been budget backpackers, although the books now include a few options that are outside the true “budget” realm.
The Let’s Go series of guide books was started in 1960, and it’s long been one of the best guides for student backpackers. It was founded in Cambridge, MA and remains 100% run by students at Harvard – it’s written for students, by students. They don’t have as large a library of titles, with just over 50, but they tend to be much thicker books and targeted completely at serious budget backpacking students.
Student-written guides that are often found in the hands of college students abroad.
These days, Rick Steves is as much a company as he is a real person. His “Europe Through the Back Door” series of books focuses (as the name suggests) on Europe; it’s a step above the real budget backpackers, but Steves still encourages and writes about traveling without spending a ton of money. The first “Europe Through the Back Door” books were published in the 1980s, and the company is based in Edmonds, WA.
In the late 1950s, a man named Arthur Frommer wrote a book called “Europe on $5 a Day.” Today, there are more than 350 titles in the Frommer’s library. The books still focus somewhat on budget travel, but the main audience seems to have become Americans over the age of 30 or 40 – so while they don’t advocate only 5-star hotels, they’re also not only talking about hostels, either.
Started in 1993, Travelers’ Tales thinks of itself as having a different mission than most travel guidebooks – they try to “paint a portrait of a country through the experiences of many travelers.” Toward that end, they focus more on true stories than hotel reviews. Travelers’ Tales even provides sample chapters on their website so you can try before you buy. They’ve got more than 100 titles, and they’re based in Palo Alto, CA.
The Fodor’s name has been legendary in the guide book world since its founding in 1949, and the company remains one of the biggest travel guide publishers in the world. It’s a part of the Random House empire, and tends to be more popular with older travelers – budget travel isn’t a priority with the Fodor’s guides.
Moon Travel Guides
Moon Handbooks was founded in 1999 and is a publication of Avalon Travel, based in Berkeley, CA. The guides originally focused almost exclusively on Mexico, Central America and South America, but now they cover more than 100 destinations all over the world. The target audience is budget travelers of any age.
As you can gather from the name, this series focuses exclusively on Europe – all the “Hello” books are written by Margo Classé, who writes primarily about budget hotel rooms in Europe. She can even tell you which hotel rooms have bathtubs.
Footprint travel guides began with the publication of a guide to South America in 1924, and the company now offers titles which cover more than 150 countries. They’ve long been known for their great books about Latin American countries. The company is based in Bath in the U.K.
Hunter Travel Guides
In addition to destination-specific guide books, titles in the Hunter Travel Guide series also cover certain types of travel – you’ll find guides to diving and cruises and adventure travel, as well as guides that focus simply on the hotels and restaurants in a destination. The company was founded in 1985 and is based in Walpole, MA.