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Just for you: customized Offbeat Guides

My husband was heading to a teacher’s conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan last July, so I thought we’d check out Offbeat Guides.

The Grand Rapids guidebook selection is pretty thin at our local Barnes & Noble north of Austin, Texas, and Sainted Husband had very little sightseeing time, so there was no sense in shelling out a bunch of money for information. I’ve written an article for Education.com — Must-Sees in Michigan for Family Fun (which included the Grand Rapids Fish Ladder) — but we still wanted a little more depth.

I first heard of Offbeat Guides in a Robert Scoble blog post last summer; Scoble is a tech explorer for Fast Company and I was intrigued by his description of the product.

Guides founder Dave Sifry wrote up his own blog post about why he started the company, and you can follow Offbeat Guides on Twitter.

To order a guide, you go to the Offbeat Guides front page, type in your destination, put in some other info on the next pages — when you’re going, where your hotel is located (if you know,) some of your specific interests — then Offbeat Guides takes a few minutes to generate a custom guidebook based on your input.

Our Grand Rapids guide included an AccuWeather forecast for the teacher conference days, restaurants/bars/pubs near the hotel, Google maps, city history because I’d requested it, sites of cultural interest, music concerts and arts events during the specific conference days in July, local transportation (including local street-naming quirks) and even a discussion of the large amount of Grand Rapids public art and where to find it.

The Guide had lots of details, like the fact that Grand Rapids is a center for Christian publishing, and that the surrounding area of Michigan is known for fruit production (apple, peach and blueberry.) Grand Rapids sister cities include Bielsko-Biala, Poland.  I love that kind of obscure stuff in a guide, but others may not care for it.

A nice touch was a list of local radio stations, so that visitors can immediately program their favorite sort of music into a hotel clock radio or rental car radio.  Sainted Husband, the actual user of the guide, was less interested in that feature.

There are a few photos, most of which still need proper captioning; Offbeat Guides is still in beta, so not everything is smoothed out yet.

The Events section was packed with all sorts of activities that were scheduled for the days of my husband’s visit. Here’s my favorite:

“Kuhnhenn Beer Dinner — The chefs at Hop Cat are putting on another of their famous beer dinners with the focus on the beers from Kuhnhenn Brewery. The dinner will be a 4 course meal paired with 4 drafts….The whole event will be graced with the presence of the brew crew from Kuhnhenn Brewery.”

That’s the kind of cool, localized information that made my husband a hero with his fellow high school faculty members. He distributed some PDF copies of his guide to the other teachers at the conference, and they were all impressed with how well he’d gotten ready for the trip, and how many things there were to do in the city during their event.

The primary sources of data for the guide were Wikipedia and Wikitravel, so it’s obviously not edited by any travel experts other than a general “hive mind” of wiki contributors. I’m OK with that when a guide is a nice-to-have adjunct to a trip, not my main planning document.

Would I depend on such a guide for planning an entire family vacation? No, but it’s certainly a terrific starting point. Customers need to understand that there’s no editorial vetting of any of the information, but the hard work of collating it and focusing it on your particular days of travel is a worthy endeavor.

A full color printed guide (mailed to you) is US$24.95, a downloadable PDF guide (our option, we printed some of the pages ourselves at home) is US$9.95 and a full color printed guide AND Downloadable PDF together are US$24.95.

Offbeat Guides offers a money-back guarantee if you aren’t happy with their service.