Four Months Without A Guidebook

Our dropout to northern Thailand has been a wonderful adventure – a series of wonderful adventures, really. And part of the fun has been doing it all without a guidebook.

The lack of a guidebook is more a result of poor planning than a commitment to no-guidebook travel. But after experiencing the benefits over the past four months, I’m a fan. I think I prefer exploring a place for myself, rather than ticking things off a “must see” or “must do” list in a guidebook.

When I decided to quit my job and move to Chiang Mai to set up a location independent business, our priorities were getting rid of our Singapore stuff, getting ourselves to Chiang Mai and finding a furnished house to settle into for six months. While we planned to see the sights of our new home, we didn’t think of ourselves as tourists.

We spent the first week or so without a map, before spotting one in a bookshop near a real estate agency. It’s a heavily annotated tourist map, marked with all the major tourist sites. It’s a very handy guide and a much-used resource, but it’s not actually a guidebook.

Without a guidebook we’ve managed to find a house, rent a motorbike, hire a part-time nanny, find our way round the local wet market and find the nearest supermarkets.

Without a guidebook we found the amazing Wat Phra Doi Suthep and explored it thoroughly. If we had a guidebook we would have felt under pressure to “do” the wat so we could move on to the palace a few kilometres higher up the mountain. But we didn’t even know the palace was there. Phuping Palace, for us, was an amazing discovery after our second visit to Doi Suthep when we decided to see what we’d find if we turned right from the wat, rather than turning left to go back down to town.

Without a guidebook, our exploration of Chiang Mai has involved many “discoveries”. We stumble across something interesting, look around, then we go home and research what we’ve found. Then we go back and visit it again. We feel like real explorers.

Our exploring has led us in and out of many of Chiang Mai’s wats. Some of the wats, we’ve discovered, hire out kayaks to paddle up and down the river. I’m sure that fact is in a guidebook but it has been just so much fun discovering it for ourselves.

With only our map to guide us, we’ve visited the lovely village of Lamphun. With only our nanny’s recommendation we visited the pretty Pai, high up a mountain range (discovering along the way that the baby gets motion sickness.) With the help of, we’ve traversed Thailand by train. Recommendations from friends (and their blogs) have led us to a lantern festival, a hot air balloon festival and night markets.

With the extra free time I have without a commute and with the more relaxed attitude that extra time gives me, I am happy to drive aimlessly around town “exploring”. I am happy to stop in at restaurants and cafes that look interesting. I’m happy to pull over and wait while Darling Man takes photos of the sunset. I’m thrilled when a quick trip to a café turns into a full day of exploring. In the past the “waste” of time would have made me feel agitated – a little niggle of anxiety that would have expanded the longer we were “wasting” time.

We’ve even discovered rose gardens here in Chiang Mai. And guess what? We really do stop to smell them.

What about you? Do you need to slow down a bit and take time to smell the roses? I highly recommend it.

*This post is brought to you by, the Edinburgh hotels specialist.

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The happy pottery people in the photos are from a groovy little cafe we found last week. These kind of pottery figures are incredibly popular in Chiang Mai and I just love them. Stand by for more on “our” groovy cafe.

8 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. I think I told you that i ditched my Lonely Planet hard copy in Bangkok a couple of months ago. I still pull out the old PDF version every now and then though. More to look at hotels to avoid than anything… 🙂
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..Putting the Grrr back in Green

  2. John says:

    There is certainly something to be said for exploring and finding out on your own. It adds to the sense of adventure!

  3. i love this. and what the heck are those crazy pottery statues?!

    travel without guidebooks – if you have a place to stay! – is so liberating. brava!
    wandering educators recently posted..Living and Learning the Omnivore’s Dilemma in Italy

  4. Tracy says:

    You have to explain the statues. I was sure there was going to be an explanation by the end … but no you tease!

    We started out travelling with guide books and now rarely use them. There’s so much information out there these days … internet, guidebooks, maps, brochures … I kind of like occasionally going somewhere without knowing everything about the place before I get there. And I didn’t know about that Palace at Doi Suthep … probably cause I read the guidebook and it didn’t mention it so we didn’t think to explore further. What a great find!

    • Barbara says:

      Ah, so sorry Tracy. I had an explanation for the statues and I took it out right at the last minute. I’ve put it back in now. 🙂

      I’m even more thrilled about finding Phuping Palace now if it’s not even in the guidebook. It is a fabulous place. Darling Man and I are working on a photo essay of it!

  5. Amy says:

    Sounds like a much more relaxed way to travel…have you been given “must see” places by any locals?
    Amy recently posted..Dolphins herding Salmon – What a Christmas!

    • Barbara says:

      We’ve been giving some advice … and stumbled on other places on our own. I’m really enjoying this no-pressure way to travel. I don’t even care if we miss a “must-see”!

  6. I would love to challenge myself by ditching the guidebook. I tend to use them less these days, as it is.

    • Barbara says:

      I have to confess I’ve ordered a guidebook for France. Our no-guidebook method has only really worked because we were living in one place for six months. If we need to move every few days, we need a bit more information! Because we’re traveling with a toddler, at the very least we need to know where to get medical help.

  7. Bernice R. says:

    Not having to bring a guidebook sounds pretty exciting. How’s your business now? I hope it’s going well. Thanks for sharing your adventure.


  8. […] in our no-guidebook phase, we were pretty much lost before we got there. Luckily, our potterings delivered us to Wat Phra […]

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