It’s the first Friday in December and the rush is on to find the perfect gift that fits both receivers and your budget. If you’ve got travelers on your list (or you are one), I’ve got a suggestion: books.
They are wonderful because if cost is keeping you home, books can transport you for almost nothing and you’ll learn something, too. If you can afford to go, books preview what you’ll see and do. And if you can go but can’t decide, books will help. List prices are given below, but Google the titles and you’ll find all for much less:
“The 10 Best of Everything: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers” (National Geographic Books; $19.95). OK, these lists of best golf courses, walking tours, ski runs, historical journeys, barbecue joints, cathedrals and much more are a matter of opinion — in this case the authors’ — but their choices might be hard to argue when you peruse the pages of prose and colorful graphics and photos. “10 Best” will keep any traveler entertained and debating for hours.
“The USA Book: A Journey Through America” (Lonely Planet Publications; oversized hardcover; $39.95). As comedian Yakov Smirnoff might say after reading this one, “What a country!” If nothing else, this tome exudes appreciation for the stunning beauty and diversity of this land. States and regions are profiled in splendid photos and succinct, informative text, which includes at least one intriguing legend for each state. (No one knows why Indiana residents are called Hoosiers, but the guesses are interesting; two-time felon Buddy Cianci has served six terms as mayor of Providence, R.I.; and Arkansas hikers claim to have seen more than once a hulking 7-foot, 800-pound hairy beast called the Fouke Monster.)
Lonely Planet also offers “The Cities Book: A Journey Through the Best Cities in the World” (oversized hardcover $50, softcover $25). The 423 pages give you spectacular photos of an alphabet collection of cities from Abuja, Nigeria, to Zanzibar, Tanzania. (San Diego is absent, but Detroit is there in the “10 Additional Cities” list – picks of Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler.) Open any page and find not only alluring images but fun lists and summaries of each city’s unique facts and attributes: profiles of typical residents; defining experiences for visitors; don’t-miss foods (in Anchorage, it’s coconut-beer-battered Spam; in Singapore, it’s garlic stingray); and strengths and weaknesses. No sugar-coating here. For instance, weigh seeing the Winter Carnival and Latin Quarter of Quebec City against its reputation as the world’s second-highest exporter of asbestos. Or visit Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and mingle with friendly residents and colorful shops, but protect against pickpockets and pollution.
Looking for a unique and affordable holiday activity? You need wait no longer than 5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 10 and go no further than Palm Springs. This year marks the 14th annual Walk of the Inns, a walking tour of historical hotels, restaurants and buildings that are decorated for the holidays. There will be hot spiced cider and cookies, too. Pick up maps at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive. Dress warmly and bring a flashlight, although some are available for free at the museum. For more information, call (760) 320-9346 or (760) 325-9346. There is no charge for any activities, but the Marines from Twenty Nine Palms will collect “Toys For Tots” (bring new unwrapped gifts).
While in town, don’t miss Villagefest, held Thursdays in the heart of downtown for 16 years. It begins at 6 p.m. and features more than 200 booths offering art, handcrafted items and unique food. Critics say the people-watching rates five stars and the event is dog friendly.