Publishers of travel guidebooks for those on a shoe-string budget, or at least for the demographic who should be on a shoe-string budget. The Let's Go Guide to Europe is easily found on many North American students' bookshelves, often littered with post-it notes and jotted-down plans concerning a much-dreamed-about grand tour of Europe*, just like in A Room with a View.

Guides are available for large areas (Europe), countries (Belgium), and in some cases, cities (uh...city in Belgium). Generally, they're quite informative and certainly easy to use. Personally, I vowed never to touch them again after I read up on my home city and discovered that they'd listed the Brunny as a top night spot for travellers. Let's Go travel guides are written exclusively by Harvard students - which means if you want to go where the Harvard students go, buy their books. If you want to avoid them, try Lonely Planet or The Rough Guide instead.

*As Eddie Izzard says: "Europe is where the history comes from."

Let's Go: Background

Let's Go is a series of books by a travel book publisher. Their books don't want to give you a thorough description of where you're going--you'll learn that yourself--they want to give you methods and means of travel that will save you money and time. Their logo used to be a "thumbs up" sign--in homage to hitchhikers, perhaps--but now they distance themselves from the association:

"Do not hitchhike! In Los Angeles, it's not just dangerous, it's suicidal."
--Let's Go USA 2001

I met a Let's Go student writer in Glasgow. He got around 50 quid a day for his 60 days of research, traveling around Scotland reviewing the previous year's book and adding content. He had to stay within his budget while trying out restaurants, clubs, hotels, and hostels. The writers don't get too much money, so (theoretically) the readers shouldn't have to spend much money.

Curious, I asked him about how he got the job. "I met a recruiter at a job fair and signed right up." Odd, I thought, we don't get Let's Go recruiters at state college. I asked him where he went. "Harvard."

How to Use Let's Go

I've had the opportunity to use Let's Go Europe and Let's Go USA on two separate long trips. Let's Go Europe got me through a month and a half of traveling on my own, and Let's Go USA coordinated a whistle-stop ten-cities-in-thirty-days Greyhound bus trip.

The books are invaluable baseline guides for getting oriented to a city. Let's Go isn't going to help you discover the hidden treasures of a town; treat the books as good "scouting" tools to become comfortable with a city and establish a point of reference.

Read the introductory section beforehand, as described below in "Book Structure." Get a reservation in the first city you want to visit, sometime before you go. Once you get there, your three tools should be Let's Go, advice from fellow travelers and hostelers, and a good set of public transit maps.

Caveats

Fellow travelers from Europe and Australia have complained that Let's Go is too USA-centric. For those that live in the USA, though, that's not as much of a drawback.

Do not rely on the listed prices. You will be charged more than what Let's Go says you will be charged. Generally, you can figure that if a quoted price is off by 10%, all the prices for that city will be off by 10%.

Book Structure

Each book introduces its topic by describing the people, history, and popular culture... and then introduces the "Essentials": "Getting There", "Getting Around," etc. This introduction will also guide "specialty travelers" like vegetarians, BGLTs, single travelers, and women. Read to find out the cheapest and safest ways to travel. You can find tips on student fares, "flex tickets", courier discounts, and Eurail passes. These chapters are the only parts you have to read before you leave: you have to buy Eurail passes outside of Europe, for example, or you may need a visa to see a certain country.

You can also find a map and a few suggested ititineraries. The popular cities in these itineraries will help you find starting points for regions you need to investigate.

The core of the books are then broken up by city. Let's Go Europe lists entries by country, then by town, ordered by the popularity of each town. Let's Go USA breaks the country into regions--like the "Southeast"--then state, then city. Let's Go Amsterdam just dives right in to a description of the city.

The cities tend to be organized by "things you need to know, in the order you need them": how and when to get there, where to stay, where to eat, what to see, and where to party. Recommendations are marked by the "thumbs up" sign. Each entry will have the cost, a description, hours of operation, critical things to know (the YMCA doesn't accept visitors after 10 PM, everything's closed on Sunday, or you will need a combination lock).

Perhaps the most frightening part of traveling on your own can be finding a (cheap) place to sleep in a new town. You never know if you're getting ripped off or if the place where you've called ahead to make reservations is in a convenient location. Let's Go can give you that detail, and tell you how to best begin your visit in a new town.

Books (as of 2004):

Sources

http://www.letsgo.com
Personal experience.

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