It is a common sight to see Western backpackers in Southeast Asia armed with their Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guide books. For many, it is like the Holy Book and they are devout followers of it. They won't stay at any guesthouse or hotel without first consulting their Lonely Planet. They will only eat at Lonely Planet recommended restaurants. They will only go to Lonely Planet recommended sights. They will follow Lonely Planet recommended itineraries, and so on. Doing anything not mentioned in the Lonely Planet truly makes them uncomfortable. And god forbid, if their Lonely Planet is lost, then they would be lost too! Indeed, Lonely Planet has taken the fun out of backpacking, i.e. exploring a new place.
What not to use Lonely Planet for?
Do not use it for budgeting. Most prices in the book are outdated, especially transportation ticket prices. Also, keep in mind that as soon as any guesthouse, hotel or restaurant makes it in the Lonely Planet, their prices are likely to go up! The business card of a hotel in Hanoi that I stayed in actually mentioned that they are "working to be in the Lonely Planet". Indeed, it is lucrative for businesses to make it in the book.
Do not use it for deciding which restaurant to eat at. C'mon people, it is not difficult to find a restaurant in Southeast Asia.
Do not use it for deciding which hotel or guesthouse to stay in. Several Lonely Planet recommended guesthouses that I stayed in turned out to be absolutely filthy. Overall, I had better experience staying in places that were not in the book.
The Golden Rule to remember is that just because something is in the Lonely Planet does not mean it is good and if something is not in the Lonely Planet does not mean it is bad.
So what is Lonely Planet good for?
Hands down, the most useful thing in Lonely Planet are the detailed maps (location of bus depot, train station, monuments, post offices etc. are clearly marked on the maps). The books are also good for getting information on the various sight seeing places. The books also contain some historical information, which can be interesting to read. That is all that I recommend using Lonely Planet for.
What are your thoughts on the Lonely Planet books?