I've been Rough Guided through Mexico and parts of Europe. Sometimes I had to use the Guide's own advice and cadge copies from fellow travelers when I was too broke to buy. Rough traveling has its own special dynamics and engenders the best experiences and the sharpest memories. A thousand nights in clean sheets can't match the one chilly afternoon I spent sleeping on a park bench in Barcelona, wondering vaguely if I had enough money for supper while letting melodious streams of Castilian and Catalan run through my exhausted brain.
Reading First-Time Around the World, I realized that travel ain't as rough as it used to be, but travelers may be softer than they used to be so maybe it balances out.
Some of the advice proffered seems just silly. Like how to rent your house and have your pet cared for while you're away. Real roughies just go! Other bits are spot on - the section on foreign toilets was frank, funny and fair. Don't take jeans - an excellent precept (too heavy for hot, too light for real cold). But - pack light? I would have thought this was far too obvious.
The Rough Guides were the first funky trekkie's friend, when Frommer had gone too upscale for the scruffy but literate crowd. A British brainchild, the Guides feature highly readable sidebar vignettes from people who've been there, sometimes more helpful than the guide itself. These days it can cost anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands of whatever currency to get all the way around the world. This latest guide tries to cater to needs at every income level and may be losing its subculture shine as a result. The copy I got with an accompanying mag of ads nearly as large as the guide itself would seem to indicate that roughing it is Big Biz.
Judging from the whole-world-in-a-few-pages section at the end of the guide, this old earth is getting mighty small. The Mideast is still a major roadblock for overlanders but Russia and China are more open. India seems to be (but is not) less exotic when you can hack around Viet Nam, Thailand or Tibet. Australia (and its neighbors) used to be only for folks interested in Australia, but now it can be part of the route thanks to frequent-flyer fixes.
Are there still rough travelers out there who don't need a guide or can't be bothered with buying one? I suspect so - in fact, I'm still romantic enough to hope so. But for a very general, very "rough" guide to the terra firma tango, First-Time Around the World is a starting point.