Europe Stories and Tips

Guidebook reviews: Europe on a Shoestring (Lonely Planet), Sarah Johnstone

View of the Tower Photo, Pisa, Italy

Summary: A bumper pack of a guide to all countries in Europe, recommended to budget traveller, especially young backpackers "doing" Europe for the first time.

Europe on a Shoestring comes from the vast stable of Lonely Planet's travel guides and is very much aimed at the budget end of the market. Comparable to its nearest competitor, Let's Go Europe, it's a one-volume backpacker bible which attempts to provide the overview of a whole continent, every single country and the main destinations in each of the countries.

According to what was undoubtedly a careful research of the demographic characteristics of the budget traveller market, Europe on a Shoestring's model reader is not only travelling on the cheap, but is also definitely childless, in their 20's and quite possibly one that embarks on the journey for the first time (in fact I can't even imagine a first time traveller needing to be told to take their mobile phone or a power adapter). This target readership mostly affects the accommodation choices and attention paid to clubbing and night-life opportunities and is not really a problem, but shoestring travellers from more mature or family demographics should take note: for example apartments or private rooms often work out better as a family option than hostels that charge per bed.

As a whole, the guide is probably slightly more suitable for visitors from outside Europe itself, as some of its content (especially general sections) would be unnecessary for most people from here (and that includes Brits and Irish). On the other hand, most books covering Europe as a whole are like that and thus a British traveller just has to take all the useful information with the sprinkling of the redundant.

This is more noticeable in the general introductory sections, but even those can offer some interest to most travellers planning "doing Europe", including nice collections of highlights and "best of" which will appeal to all with a list obsession as well as suggestions of several itineraries and a good introduction to history, geography and cultures. The end part contains a very basic guide to languages of Europe, with pronunciation guides and selection of the absolutely basic phrases.

One of the big virtues of "Europe on a Shoestring" is how it manages to fit a lot of genuinely informative, useful and illuminating data into relatively small space.

The body of the book consists of individual country sections, arranged alphabetically and all organised in the same format. The format is excellent for a country-hopping purposes that "Europe on a Shoestring" supports. Each country section starts with a map and "fast facts" such as area, population, budget, language, money, a map, a few travel hints and a suggestion for a "roaming" itinerary. What follows is a basic information about what the country is like, a concise basics of history, culture and environment, info on travel in, out and within the country as well as suggestions for further reading and occasional factoid and anecdote snippets. This is all done rather well: "Europe on a Shoestring" has been written by a team of authors, of which most cover just one country, occasionally related few, and it shows. The text and the information content have a fluency and confidence that just a good knowledge of a place can bring, and for the most they also read well. Yes, a lot of it is stereotypical, but then Europeans have been living up to the stereotypes for several centuries.

A selection of places to cover is an issue with any paper guide, as it's impossible to include everything worth seeing in such a volume. "Europe on a Shoestring" includes the major obvious destinations (the capital and most visited places). In the country sections I used or had a good look at, it did seem to me that for example in Italy a disproportionate amount of space was given to Rome and some other worthy places were not included at all, but one can always dispute the selection and the amount of space devoted to each destination and does a respectable job of this thankless task.

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