Backpacking with a guidebook can – despite its weight – be very handy. Guidebooks contain maps, info about the country and its cities, interesting things around, the location of hostels, the transportation system, etcetera. Naturally number one guidebook is Lonely Planet, often referred to as the ‘Backpacker’s Bible’, but there are also other good publishers available.
Travelling without a guidebook is possible as well, and can be even more fun because you’ll be exploring everything completely by yourself. However, in less touristic destinations a guidebook is a bare necessity. In countries that do lend themselves for backpacking without a guidebook: to get the info you need (the location of a hostel for example) you will have to go to the Tourist Information Center (and find it first..!) in every single place you visit, an activity which can become quite a burden.
Buy your guidebook second hand, or exchange it with a traveller who doesn’t need it anymore for another book or some money. A common practice among backpackers. Another tip is to borrow a guidebook from somewhere or someone and make copies of the pages you need. It saves weight, space and money.
Tourist Information Center
Tourist Information Centers are very common in every city where there is some form of tourism. The employees always speak English (sometimes other languages too), and have all the info you need about the city and surroundings. You can often get a free map of the city with all the sites worth seeing, the locations of hostels, etcetera. A very useful institution, even for people who are travelling with a guidebook.
Provided that they’ve been around for a little while, fellow backpackers can tell you all about the hotspots of where you’re at, fun things to do, cheap places to eat, the public transport system, and so on.
Usually local inhabitants know their town very well. People on the streets, in stores, restaurants are often willing and happy to help a backpacker out. However -depending on where you are of course- it can be tricky to find somebody who speaks English or another language you understand.
The world wide web can be a very useful resource to get information about where you’re at. Almost every piece of information can be found on the internet. The only problem is: where to find it? Well, for general info about a city or country, you can try the Worldguide of the Lonely Planet website. For anything else: seek and you might find. Try a search engine like Google or Yahoo!, type in what you want to know, and hopefully a relevant site will pop up.