Sometimes it’s a funny coincidence when a new product, service or advice from friends meets a need like a hand in a glove. Singapore-based GuideGecko, a new travel guide website, just launched a series of Backpacker Cheatsheets that are turning out to be a very useful starting point for our upcoming trip to SE Asia.
Steve and I are beginning to plot out a rough plan for our trip, though we aren’t making any reservations beyond the first week, just letting the trip unfold. If we like a place we’ll stay longer and if we don’t we’ll see the sights and move on. However, we do feel like we need a rough itinerary or we might not see everything we want to see. What if we love the first place in Vietnam and stay 3 months? Then we’d never get to Laos, Cambodia or Thailand.
We will be carrying our gear in backpacks for ease of travel on crowded buses, boats and trains, but, at our stage of maturity, won’t be bunking in the rough backpacker havens that attract hordes of young people throughout SE Asia. We do love a bargain though, and I scour the guidebooks for accommodations that contain our favorite (not all required) items for a reasonable price: AC, pool, breakfast, private room, private bath and bathtub.
We have Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books, in fact, a large stack of them acquired from previous trips, my globe-trotting mother, and friends. It is pretty overwhelming to even know where to start at times. “While every traveler researches his own trip, 95% end up on the same itinerary,” says Dr. Daniel Quadt, Chief Backpacker at GuideGecko.com. So true! We spent hours investigating various locations in Vietnam on our last trip, yet almost everyone we met was doing the same things we were, and in fact, we started recognizing familiar faces on about the 3rd town we were in.
Enter the Backpacker Cheatsheets, which are perfect for our ADD-infused society and a perfect visual overview of a country. Each country is represented on 2 succinct pages, including a map of the country and a brief, 500 word, summary. The downloadable PDF version features a map dotted with numbered text balloons, while on the second page you can quickly locate the numbered location, with a brief description of what makes it special.
Looking at the guide for Vietnam, a place that I’m familiar with, I could verify that it contained all the key elements that a visitor would want to hit on their first visit, including places like Saigon (yes, it’s officially Ho Chi Minh City, but many in the area still refer to it as Saigon), Nha Trang, Hoi An, the DMZ and more. You may feel like you’re just part of the crowd, and, well, you are, but on your first visit to a country you probably want to get a sense of what the most interesting and/or scenic places are, and that’s where tourists go. On subsequent visits you may want to venture further afield and do some exploring of lesser known sights that are off the beaten track.
We have found the succinct guides to be a helpful starting place for countries we’ve never visited. Right now the Backpacker Cheatsheets are in launch mode, though Gecko does produce 2700 guidebooks on 169 countries and 270 cities and regions around the world, and outside of Asia the Cheatsheet offerings are a bit limited, but I’m sure as time goes on they will be filling in the blanks. Their timing couldn’t have been more perfect for us.