Most of the time, I’d be the first to extol the wonders technology has wrought when it comes to travelling. From interactive real-time maps, eatery-finding apps, event updates and customisable daily itineraries, the smartphone and the Internet have made globetrotting infinitely easier. It’s a far cry from the days of thumbing through a dog-eared copy of a guidebook while walking down an unfamiliar street.
There was a moment last year, however, when I longed for the solid, dependable comfort of a travel book in my hand: When my partner and I had trawled the steep alleys of Montmartre in Paris for an hour, drenched in a sudden downpour, holding our smartphones in various angles to get our GPS working, while looking in vain for a bistro our TripAdvisor app insisted was there but clearly wasn’t.
For all their almost-quaintness, there is still something to be said for these books, which are usually comprehensive, well-researched works by travel experts, and are unlikely to fail (unless perhaps you trip and drop it into one of those Parisian gutters).
Capitalising on their reputation for producing such tomes, Lonely Planet’s latest guidebook series, Make My Day, seems to be an attempt to marry the portability and customisable quality of various apps with the solid information of traditional guidebooks.
Aimed at creating “a perfect day” in some of the world’s most popular cities, each page in the spiral-bound guides are divided into thirds: “Morning”, “Afternoon” and “Evening”.
This allows readers to flip through each third, selecting different activities for each part of the day, thereby customising an itinerary from over 2,000 potential combinations.
The first instalment of the books covers the perennial favourites: New York City, Tokyo, London, Barcelona, Paris and San Francisco. The next set, out this month, will include Amsterdam, Berlin, Hong Kong, Rome, Sydney and Washington DC. Each guidebook also provides free access to the Make My Day app, which unlocks more content on these destinations.
It may sound simplistic, but the amount of detail put into these books is quite ingenious, making for a really nifty user experience.
Each activity, for instance, comes with an eating option within walking distance, and a handy mini-map to orient you. The feature that most impressed me, however, was the transport planner: Each activity meticulously lays out how long it would take you to get to your next destination by walking or public transportation.
There is something rather romantic about having just one day in a city, and with these books, I couldn’t help but devise my own “perfect day” in each:
New York City
This NYC day is made up of all the parts of the city I haven’t managed to cover before. Morning will be a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. This would be followed by a 20-minute subway ride to the Chelsea Market, where food would be the focus, of course (the guide recommends Foragers City Table for locally sourced dishes)! And in the evening, dinner and drinks at Williamsburg, which offers everything from beer and ribs to molecular gastronomy and bespoke cocktails.
First would be a visit to one of my dream destinations: the Ghibli Museum, dedicated to the works of master animator Hayao Miyazaki. The afternoon would be spent strolling the elegant Imperial Palace Gardens (see top image), with a stopover for lunch at a sushi restaurant nearby, as recommended by the book. In the evening, a 30-minute subway ride would take me to a kabuki performance at Kabuki-za – you can apparently get take-away bento from stands inside the theatre, too.
It’s going to be all about culture in London, starting with a morning visit to the majestic St Paul’s Cathedral. A 15-minute walk would then take me to the Tate Modern, the famed modern and contemporary art gallery on the Thames River, where the Borough Market would provide ample opportunity for a spot of lunch. And later, a five-minute walk to the Globe Theatre for a Shakespeare play in its authentic setting.
As a first-time visitor, I’d go to the places I’ve always wanted to see. First would be the La Sagrada Familia, the church with Gaudi’s awe-inspiring architecture. Next, would be the Museu Picasso, 30 minutes away on foot – five medieval mansions housing works by Picasso (El Xampanyet there is recommended for tapas, and bears the distinction of having been around from Picasso’s time). The evening, meanwhile, would be dedicated to seafood in Barceloneta, a district bustling with bars and fish restaurants.
Having spent a fair amount of time here, it’s off the beaten track in Paris. Morning would be at the Rue Mouffetard Market to check out local produce, and perhaps stopping for a crepe (or two) at Chez Nicos. Next would be a visit to Les Catacombes, Paris’ underground tunnels lined with skulls and bones. Come evening, it would be off to Rue des Lombards for live jazz: Le Baiser Sale for Afro and Latin jazz, or Sunset & Sunside for something more trendy.
The beautiful panoramic view of Victorian “Painted Lady” houses from the Alamo Square Park can’t be beat, and is a lovely way to begin the day; a snack from the very affordable Rosamund Sausage Grill won’t hurt either. Later, a 30-minute stroll to the iconic cable cars of San Francisco, and a ride through the scenic slopes of the city. As the sun sets, the bars of Mission Street beckon with everything from microbrews and organic cocktails to cult wines and colour-coded bar menus – perhaps starting the night with a perfect burrito at La Taqueria.