REVIEWED: Marco Polo SouthWest USA travel guide

The ‘in a nutshell’ approach is ideal for those who like to plan their trip while on the plane

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Is the guidebook dead? A decade ago it was acceptable for backpackers to carry one or two large guidebooks, but now you’d be hard pressed to find any traveller carrying more than a Kindle and a phone. This super-light travel attitude is one we at TravGear adore, but it can leave a few problems.

Rely on Wi-Fi?

How many times have you visited a country where your roaming agreements were all in place and you were able to make online bookings and conduct online searches without any problems? More normal is that a multi-stop visit to any country is plagued by one problem; your phone can’t get on the Internet. That’s precisely what happened to us during a recent trip to Las Vegas and Arizona – and that’s where Marco Polo SouthWest USA came in handy.

Superficial information

At 19x11x1cm and weighing just 234g, Marco Polo SouthWest USA is ideal for storing in the back pocket of jeans, or putting in the side-pocket of a car door. It’s a rather ambitious guide attempting to cover four of America’s largest states, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. The coverage of some out of the way places is naturally very short; for instance, Gallup in New Mexico gets a very brief treatment, going no further that one single recommendation on where to eat, and only one place to stay. Is that really enough for a guidebook? There should be at least three recommendations for each destination, though the truth is that apps like Booking.com are taking over when it comes to accommodation. Should guidebooks leave all of that to the Internet unless there’s a really, really special place worth mentioning?

Insider Tips

With the Internet now so dominant among all kinds of business and leisure travellers, it’s with insider tips – which we would define as things that only a proper, experienced travel writer who knows the area very well would know – that a guidebook that can justify its place in luggage. Marco Polo SouthWest USA does good job here, flagging-up – with visual arrows and yellow highlighting – all of its insider tips, which tends to concentrate on unusual or good value choices of things to see or do. For instance, the Las Vegas chapter recommends staying at The Tropicana resort, which is hard to argue with – it’s easily the best located and best value hotel on strip. Ditto the recommendation to book a room on the northern side of the Cosmopolitan Hotel if you want to get a free view of the Bellagio’s fountains and hourly water/light show. Nice work, though many of the insider tips seem to have been added during production rather than the writing; there is at least one insider tip on every spread regardless of whether anything is actually particularly interesting or great value.

Driving tours

If you’re going to do a lot of long-distance driving around the States covered in this book, you will need to buy a proper road atlas with city centre maps, as there are none in this book. That’s a shame, because the back of the book includes plenty of handy maps, while there is a nice foldout map in a plastic wallet in the inside back cover, too.

Pre-trip planning

If you’re planning on driving around aimlessly or jumping on and off Greyhounds, and it’s likely that you’ll arrive late in many places, this book doesn’t give you enough information to survive in those kinds of scenarios. What it does do, however, is to skilfully identify the very best and most interesting things to see and do in the vast South West, which makes it the ideal book to peruse before you go, or on the plane while you’re on the way.

Price as reviewed: £6.99

Buy the Marco Polo SouthWest USA travel guide