Twenty-five years ago a group of Harvard students created a 20-page booklet of tips for their Europe-bound classmates. That slim pamphlet was the beginning of the most successful and helpful series of student-style travel guidebooks available.
Now, 10 "Let's Go" guides cover the U.S.A., Europe, Mediterranean countries and (new for this year) Mexico. If you are planning a journey on a student-style budget in one of these areas, a "Let's Go" guide is one of the best investments you can make.
What makes the guides so good is that they cover all the information students really need, and they're up-to-date.
The series is produced by Harvard Student Agencies. Each summer, student researchers go out to gather information firsthand, checking previous recommendations and looking for new places. By January that information is in book form and a new edition of the series is being distributed to bookstores.
A Brief Background
Travelers are given a brief background of the area, information on budget transportation, sightseeing, including discounts for students or young people, accommodations, recommendations and warnings, plus tips on inexpensive dining, entertainment and where to exchange money at the best rate.
And information is provided on whom to contact in case of emergencies such as medical services, police and embassies.
The granddaddy of the series is "Let's Go: Europe," which offers 850 pages of information and advice on 31 countries including Israel, Turkey, Morocco, Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R. This year's edition sells for $9.95. It's the best buy if you are going to tour a variety of countries but there are a few minor drawbacks, which you can get around.
One of the hitches is its size; it's bulky to tote around every day when sightseeing. What you can do is remove the chapters you need and staple them together so they can be slipped into your pocket.
The other drawback is that because so many young travelers use this guide, accommodations it recommends are often filled early in the day. Don't let that turn you off from using it, though. Telephone numbers are included so you can call ahead and avoid trekking your luggage to each location.
If you do turn up at the door and there's no room at the inn, you'll usually find that there are comparable economical accommodations in the area. The hotel proprietor or hostel warden will probably know of suitable alternatives nearby.
If your European plans are limited to touring one country, you might choose a more detailed guide to that country. This year's series includes "Let's Go: France," $8.95; "Let's Go: Italy" (including Tunisia) $8.95; "Let's Go: Greece" (plus Cyprus and the Turkish coast) $8.95; "Let's Go: Israel and Egypt" (includes Jordan) $8.95; "Let's Go: Spain, Portugal and Morocco," $8.95, and "Let's Go: Britain and Ireland," $8.95.
Closer to home, the new edition of "Let's Go: USA" costs $9.95, "Let's Go: California and the Pacific Northwest" (including Baja California) is $8.95 and the brand-new "Let's Go: Mexico" (also including Baja California) also $8.95.
The new 500-page Mexico guide is set in the same helpful format. It can help you sort out confusing situations, such as that Mexico has two youth hostel associations, and it warns you about hostels that are not worth the walk from town. Transportation is another important area the researchers examined. Here's a sample of what they found:
Bear With the Cackling
"The bus system in Mexico is extensive, and therefore one of the best ways to see the country. . . . On some third- and second-class buses you may find yourself riding with as many chickens as people; bear with the cackling and remember they add color to the experience."
If that doesn't appeal to you, read on: "Like most other forms of transportation in Mexico, bus travel is extremely inexpensive. For example, first-class fare to Acapulco from Mexico City is equivalent to about $7."
Health and safety are two other areas the researchers haven't overlooked. The book tells you how to contact groups such as IAMAT, the International Assn. for Medical Assistance to Travelers. IAMAT publishes a list of English-speaking doctors around the world who have very reasonable fees. There are 24 IAMAT doctors in Mexico.
There is no fee for joining IAMAT but donations are requested to keep this valuable service going. IAMAT can be contacted at 123 Edward St., Suite 725, Toronto, Ont., Canada M5G 1E2.
Because of the wide range of information, you should not just pick one up a few days before you take off, but also use it during the planning stages of your trip.