Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How to Choose a Travel Guide for Your Little Sister

I'm travelin' home next week, back to the Midwest. My little sister has promised to pick me up from the Minneapolis airport and basically be my chauffeur for the week. In payment, I promised to bring her home a guidebook for her upcoming trip to Turkey. It wasn't until I hung up the phone that I realized the weight of responsibility I'd just assumed. My sister is a grown, independent woman who has lived in the Philippines and traveled SE Asia, but she's still my little sister, and she's bravely traveling by herself to Istanbul next month, with only whatever book I put in her hands as her guide.

Lucky for me, Turkey is our destination of the month at Booksmith, and our shelves are crammed with options for both guidebooks and literature to escort you around the country. The wide selection, however, did not make my task easier. I've spent the past week pouring over guides and unfolding maps, trying to find the best fit for my sister.

I lingered long over our new slim guide to Istanbul's Bazaar Quarter, which offers four tantalizing walking routes through the city's Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. Then there was The Sultan's Istanbul, which acts as a guide to the city's past, taking you back to the era of the Grand Tour, to the Istanbul the intrepid traveler of the 18th century might have seen. Ultimately I decided I needed to find a fuller guide to the country, though both of these guides would make an excellent supplement.

Next I flipped through DK Eyewitness's guide to Istanbul. I love Eyewitness guides for their aesthetic. They are full color photographs, architectural drawings, and wonderful cultural information about art, museums, and cuisine. I considered a few pocket guides: Eyewitness's 10 TenFodors, and Lonely Planet before deciding I needed to get my sister a guide to the full country, so she has the option of spreading out from Istanbul.

Now I was faced with the difficulty of determining a Fodors from a Frommers, weighing the reasonable price of a Globetrotter Guide, and oohing over the full page color photographs of the Insight Guide. Ultimately, I decided on Lonely Planet's guide to Turkey, which had a full 84 pages on Istanbul itself. While each of the guides seemed to provide sufficient and interesting information, Lonely Planet fit my sister's taste and style of travel--a little off the beaten path--while still being crammed full of the practical info she'll need to keep herself well fed and safe. Plus there were three whirling dervishes on the cover.

Next I went to our "Map Files" and found a wonderful laminated map to Istanbul from Marco Polo that folds up into pocket size. Finally, the most difficult choice: what should she read? We have so many great novels and travel narratives on Istanbul, it was a hard decision. Would she like The Bastard of Istanbul, a novel about an Armenian American girl who travels back to Turkey in a search for identity? Or Joseph Kanon's mystery, recently released in paperback, Istanbul Passage, which has been flying off our Books We Love table? Or would she go in for a travel narrative like Jeremy Seal's Meander, which follows the river of that name from its source in central Turkey to the Aegean Sea? I finally settled on a compromise between the fictive and real narratives and bought her the novelist Orhan Pamuk's memoir Istanbul. The man even has a museum in Turkey based on one of his novels.

My choices won't be for every traveler. Everyone has their own taste and style when it comes to hitting the road--whether it's packing light or taking your bedroom with you, dining at an expensive restaurant or trying the local market, couch surfing or luxury hotels, museums or mountain trails--so not every guide works for every traveler. At Booksmith we carry a variety of guidebooks and travel literature so you can find just the right traveling companion for you--or for someone you love.

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