Pausanias, Vade Mecum, Murray, Baedeker, and the Frugal Traveler

What do Pausanias, vade mecum (Latin, “go with me”), Murray and Baedeker have in common with Seth Kugel’s weekly column/blog in the New York Times, the “Frugal Traveler”?

In a lively and informative discussion about which is the better tool, Kugel’s Dec 24, 2013 piece, “Planning a Trip: Guidebook Versus the Web,” pits the worldwide web against old-fashioned guidebooks. Travelers have relied on them for millennia. Pausanias authored his great guide to ancient Greece in the 2nd century, CE. During the Renaissance travelers used a vade mecum, generic for a reference guide, to help plot their trip. Modern guidebooks began with the publications of Murray (UK – 1830) and Baedeker, historically the German sine qua non of guidebooks, inventor of the “star system,” the one that today makes Michelin the arbiter of fine dining.

Seth’s friend, Doug, says he doesn’t use guidebooks because he’s “forgotten they exist.” Without doubt, they are on the mature part of the sales curve that marketers call a product life cycle. According to Seth, purchases are down 42 percent since 2006.

Even prior to the Web, guidebooks inundated us with advice, adding an intellectual dimension to sightseeing, justifying the oohs and ahs over the Sphinx or any gallery of the Hermitage, providing good reason why a site is Worth the Detour, not coincidentally the title of Nicolas T. Parson’s marvelous and captivating history of the guidebook.

Kugel’s article has links to webs that are useful when planning a trip, sites that illustrate the vast breadth and depth of travel info available on the Internet:

If the web is a fully stocked kitchen where an experienced chef given enough time can produce a brilliant meal, guidebooks are an energy bar, packing all the nutrients you need into a handy package that can be tossed into your bag.

Kugel’s “energy bar” is in the mature phase of its life cycle. It has good maps, contains info not available, at least for now, online and is convenient. The latter is a short-lived benefit in this, the Age of the Seoul Syndrome: my bad, coined after a visit to the South Korean capital, the most highly wired place on earth, where no idle moment wastes away, all staring intently into their smart devices, absorbed, connected and alone.

– Tucker Cox, contributor

After working and living in Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo and managing a small, high-tech company, Tucker Cox taught marketing at The University of Georgia. He recently earned Master of Liberal Arts at the University of North Carolina Asheville. Tuck’s lifetime travel goal is 100 countries and 7 continents. He stands 87 and 6, Antarctica excepted.

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