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Independent Travel
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Tips for Independent Travelers:
Tip #1: Go Outside the Tourist Season
Tip #2: Seek Out Traditional Festivals
Tip #3: Learn to Say 30 Key Words in the Local Language
Tip #4: Meet Strangers
Tip #5: Get off the Beaten Path
Tip #7: Go to Nonpublic Centers
Tip #8: Carry Few Valuables
Tip #9: Write a Trip Summary

Tip #6 Don’t Carry the Whole Book

Take Only the Guidebook Pages You Need

A guidebook is unquestionably an essential resource for independent travelers. But that doesn’t mean you have to lug all 1,000 pages of it with you while you climb up hills to temples, bump through crowded markets, and dance at hot outdoor festivals. While away from your hotel, you’ll be able to fit a tad more food, water, or clothing in your day pack if you leave the book in your room. Just tear out the few pages that pertain to maps, sights, and food for your current location, and leave the other three pounds behind.

The evening before a 3-day hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge, in China’s Yunan province, I went food shopping with two French companions for the wilderness excursion. I picked up filling baba bread, made by the local Naxi people with eggs, flour, and sugar, as well as energizing fruit and non-perishable nuts. They bought local goat cheese, cooked chicken, and boxes of biscuits in Lijiang’s old town market. Before our 5-hour bus ride to the starting village the next morning, we all squeezed some water, extra clothes, and basic toiletries into our day packs.

After walking past wheat fields and Buddhist shrines and ascending a footpath at the base of the gorge, we lunched atop a dramatic cliff. One friend gazed up at the 15,000-foot, snow-covered peaks and said, “Man, my shoulders hurt from this heavy pack. I hope there’s an acupuncturist at our destination village.” Six hours later, after exchanging achy body tales at a rustic guesthouse with other hikers, he pulled out a map to see whether it was closer to hike back down or to continue going forward. When I saw him pull out the guidebook from his pack, I teased, “Just because you’re used to lugging around medical texts on campus doesn’t mean you need to bring a bible-thick book on a 20-mile hike.”

I got out the three pages I had detached from my guidebook, and he conceded, “As an academic, I didn’t even think of ripping apart a new book.”

The next day, under a strong sun, we celebrated reaching the top ridge with a hardy picnic. “At least our voracious appetites have relieved most of the weight in our packs by now,” he noted.

Sure enough, after winding mountainsides and rare tranquility had tempted us into staying one more day, we ran low on snacks. My friend mused “Okay, if I had taken an extra box of cookies instead of the entire guidebook, we’d be able to replenish our energy right now. And we wouldn’t have to share this last piece of hardened baba bread.” I gave my three removed pages to a pair of hikers just beginning the trip. They were astute enough to leave their entire guidebook in a hotel in Lijiang, but they didn’t realize how useful the map would be for navigating the unmarked paths.

Besides passing detached pages directly to other travelers once you finish with them, you can extend their useful lifetime by leaving them in hotels, tourist offices, and other places where travelers will find them. It will be a pleasant surprise for the unprepared, or a novel resource for locals. And for those people who worry that taking pages out of their books prevents resale or use at a later date, the point is moot. Guidebooks are updated every year or so anyway, so old editions age as quickly as a piece of baba bread.

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