to guidebook or not to guidebook

for the vast majority of the ten years i’ve been traveling europe, i’ve been an absolute rick steves fan. scratch that, disciple. on my very first europe trip, which took place in august 2004, i and a couple friends went through a local travel agency. and why not? it wasn’t very common at the time to plan your own trips and i was pretty green to the whole backpacking thing. she turned me on to the books of the local (washington state) hero and fellow UW alum, rick steves, and for many years i followed his itineraries absolutely by the book.

on some trips, if rick (yeah, i feel comfortable calling him by first name only) didn’t recommend it or write about it, i wasn’t interested, because that meant it wasn’t worth knowing about. i’ve found some spectacular places through his suggestions and a couple that i thought were duds. i wanted to love all that he wrote, but some of it just didn’t pertain to me as a backpacker in my early twenties. (like, recommending baden-baden, germany? unless you have money and like gambling, there’s nothing to do there)

on my tourism seminar in switzerland in 2008, my english professor constantly tried to persuade me to drop the guidebook… and of course i wouldn’t budge a centimeter. not then, anyhow. i love information. i love it at the tips of my fingers at all possible times. it was hard to imagine not being the know-it-all history buff of the group. (yeah, i’d always be the person standing in the front reading the guidebook blurb to everyone else)
but upon thinking about my favorite travel memories of the past ten years (which i will surely share in august for my “decade of europe” anniversary), i’m not sure how many of them were because of a guidebook, necessarily.

now, i’ve got a major poland trip next month to contend with. i haven’t yet bought the guidebook, mostly because i think guidebooks are generally downright horrible in ebook format, but also because i’m a little unsure of how dependent on books i want to be in the future. i’m thinking that some form of happy medium is going to be the key here: studying up on the train, and going out and, well, living upon arrival. (below, lake zürich, 2008)

these days i still am a rick fan, but lean more towards the lonely planet series as they are much more comprehensive when it comes to amount of places they cover, where as rick steves prefers to be comprehensive about a few specific places or cities.
but honestly, i really wanted to know: where do you stand on guidebooks? is it a must-have or do you prefer to go without?