ONE HUNDRED years ago, it was easy. According to Gill's Atlas of India, the trail to India involved a P&O steamship from Woolwich in south-east London to Bombay. Those preferring to travel overland were guided through Constantinople (now Istanbul) and Cabul (Kabul), whence you could pick up a passing camel across the Gomul Pass to the Punjab.
Then, 21 years ago, the budget travel handbook was born: Across Asia on the Cheap, the first publication from Lonely Planet. I have managed to procure a copy of the first edition, and it makes telling reading about how much the world (and travellers) have changed in a generation.
The US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, for example, is recommended as having 'a groovy noticeboard with a list of do's and don'ts and gory details of what happened to people who did the don'ts'. Kabul was a good place for those who took the high road: 'Afghanistan is certainly the pot-head's paradise . . . you can get stoned just by taking a deep breath in the streets.' And in the Hindi language section, just 14 phrases are translated - one of them being 'Piss off'.
Not everyone, however, enjoys guidebooks. Bill Bryson, in his book Neither Here Nor There, is somewhat scathing of the genre: 'I had with me two incredibly useless guidebooks to Italy . . . one of them should have been called Let's Go Get Another Guidebook . . . and neither of them so much as hinted that Capri town was miles away up a vertical mountainside.'
Next month the latest edition of South-East Asia on a Shoestring is published, and we have copies to give away to the 21 readers who write in with the best guidebook-disaster stories. Lonely Planet is throwing in 21 T-shirts and pairs of fluorescent pink shoestrings. Send your tale of woe to Broken Shoestring, Weekend, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.
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