Beware the new Lonely Planet format – especially the dreadful map redesign

Lonely Planet has always been The Rapid Traveler’s preferred guidebook series for its practical information, comprehensive coverage (for some destinations it is the only current option) and most of all, its superb maps. He has never understood why most competitors have such poor maps, while some, such as the otherwise excellent Rick Steves books have hand-drawn maps that presumably work for some people but are so frustrating for The Rapid Traveler that on Europe trips he gets a Rick Steves for the cultural information, such as museum tours, but a Lonely Planet for the maps.

So, he was crushed this past weekend when a last-minute trip flew together and he bought a new edition Lonely Planet guide in PDF format to find that it is a disaster. Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum, which is to destination info what FlyerTalk/MilePoint are frequent flyer info, has this thread detailing the failings of the redesign, which applies to guidebooks published roughly from April 2011 (also this poll). A company representative gave hollow spin, but essentially they Web 2.o-style dumified it. The current fad for make everything ‘elegant’ and ‘clean’ by hiding useful tools and information is frustrating.

The new Lonely Planet’s color shadings and layout, especially when printed in black and white, make it extremely difficult to scan information. One reader pointed out the difficulty of reading maps where water is white and land is blue, but that is just the start of the trouble with the cherished maps, which The Rapid Traveler compared side by side today in new and old editions of one of the guidebooks.

Scale was enlarged, details such as street names were removed, directional arrows vanished, and whole maps were scrapped. The old maps had directional arrows for roads leading out of town, essential for drivers, but those are mainly gone. Most cities had overview maps with enlargements of key areas, but for many cities those overviews are also gone.  Etc, etc, etc, those with interest can read the thread.

The other big frustration was the gutting of the food section, which previously was thorough, with a helpful food glossary. The food section has been compressed and the food glossary gone, only some generic words rolled into the language section. One might suppose that the attempt is to increase sales of phrasebooks.

Other elements of the redesign The Rapid Traveler can live with, and navigation will probably become easier over time.

Earlier this year the BBC bought the remaining 25% of Lonely Planet that it did not previously own, so founder influence is gone and it is faceless corporation time, making it unlikely that they will rethink this blunder. Cartophile’s should stick with old editions for all the but the fastest-changing destinations. A darn shame.

Readers, what do you think of the Lonely Planet redesign?

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Comments

  1. While I haven’t looked at the redesign, you’re explanation of it doesn’t sound very inviting. What good is a map without street names, and what of the missing overview areas. Maybe the smart thing to do is bring along your own printed maps (google maps), or print them off in an internet café when you get to a place…but then that’s not very convenient and kind of defeats the purpose of the guide book, if you have to carry around the guide book and a bunch of looseleaf maps to boot.

    Dave

  2. Thank you for the comment, I should in fairness say that the main street names still appear but many secondary disappear. Maybe not an issue for people on foot that don’t want to stray off the official grid, but a hassle for everyone else.

    Google Maps I have used at times but it is difficult to control what info is displayed at each zoom level, so street names often don’t appear until the zoom is too large to be helpful. For long-distance drives, such as I took in Tunisia and UAE they were a great help.

  3. I’m not a fan of the redesign either. Mostly because they took out all the quick reference information from the inside covers. No more flipping the cover to see how to say hello or thank you. You have to seriously dig into the book for that info.

  4. I have been using LP guides for about 1996, have always liked their maps and they tend to be quite accurate. Been using the new ones and my biggest issue is accuracy of locations. I have travel to Toulouse, Lisbon, Frankfurt, and Cologne with the new guides and each had accuracy problems. A couple sites you would have no chance finding with their maps without the aid of other maps. One example is the Arabian Baths in Valencia Spain. The map clearly shows it at an elbow in the road, 3-4 blocks to the NW of where it should be on the map in the middle of the road. This has been frustrating me for a couple years now, so I have started buying the old guides used just for the maps, which is really silly.

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