Sunday, July 21, 2024

REVIEWED: Lonely Planet – The Best Things In Life Are Free

If you’re travelling on a budget, or you can’t shake your lifelong backpacker outlook on travel, this money-saving travel guide is for you

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Travel isn’t about money, except when it is. The finest hotels, the plushest spas, and airline upgrades … all are folly purely designed to part the plucky traveller from his or her hard earned cash. We all know this, and yet we lust after the so-called finer things of travel. So the arrival of The Best Things In Life Are Free from the Lonely Planet stable is a timely reminder that the world is not an expensive place to see. Not at all. If you know where to go, and when.

A-Z of travel

Taking an A-Z approach for each continent, this fabulously formatted and illustrated hard-cover book zeroes-in on one location at a time and attempts to reveal six or seven attractions that can be enjoyed for free. As a random example, Tokyo’s pages include tips on how to watch Sumo training sessions for free, visit a really cheap Onsen spa (most cost £££s), and where to see the cherry blossom in spring. All entries have an excellent, clear and colourful map.

Museums & more

Some chapters do have a scattergun feel. For instance, the extensive six-page treatment for London includes recommendations to visit some of the famous graves in Highgate Cemetery and do some early morning exercise with Project Awesome. Both great ideas borne from first-hand experience. However, the advice to visit the Science Museum, the Tate, the Wallace Collection and the Natural History Museum do seem a tad lazy since all London’s museums are free … and what about the daddy of them all, the British Museum? It doesn’t get a mention.

Top secret

It can feel like a list of museums for some of the world’s largest cities, so it’s in the excellent themed, multi-destination pages that The Best Things In Life Are Free is at its best. These magazine-like sections – including Free Spectator Sports in the USA, Free Wheelin’ All-American Adventures (including stuff like canyoneering, storm-chasing and nordic skiing!) and the awesome Asia’s Best Cheap Gourmet Grub – there are some top secret tips. However, not everything is free … perhaps the book should have been called The Best Things In Life Are Quite Cheap.

Walk this way

Resolutely a coffee table flick-though title, The Best Things In Life Are Free does often tread the same ground as Lonely Planet’s destination-specific books, listing areas of cities that you should walk around. For free, of course. But then, walking is kinda free anyway. Any guide book would give you the key areas to visit. If the book does have a weakness, it’s that it’s focused almost entirely on big cities. There are some helpful sections on going on safari in Africa, for instance, and the best wild experiences, and it’s these pages of the book that standout for originality.


The Best Things In Life Are Free makes for a great read, but unless you’re all and only focused on big cities and are planning some kind of round-the-world city highlights tour, there’s not much here that you can’t get in the rest of the Lonely Planet series. It’s best read by backpackers who just can’t decide where they want to go on their Gap Year. The rest of us probably have bigger horizons (and probably wallets, too), but there is an argument about getting back to backpacker roots (if you ever had any). Because what The Best Things In Life Are Free does do very well is underscore how much fun travelling on a budget is, and how central to the whole experience it is. So stop looking at luxury hotels and TripAdvisor reviews, and grab that backpack!

Price as reviewed: £16.99

Buy the Lonely Planet – The Best Things In Life Are Free