One of the best parts of travel happens before leaving home: reading books, checking out websites and watching programs about your destination.
Months before a vacation, I pore over travel guides and ponder possible itineraries. I pester my husband with questions.
Should we do the Amalfi Coast hike, or spend a night in Capri? Is there a production going on at the Naples Opera House? Is Pompeii worth a second visit?
The planning and research usually reaches a fever pitch on the plane. I generally tote a guidebook along; sometimes I buy a Lonely Planet, other times, I check some offerings out of my local library. The only downside, I've found, is lugging those heavy travel books aboard the flight and on the journey.
My upcoming trip to Italy will be different, however. Not only do I have an iPad — which weighs a feather-light 1.5 pounds — but I've downloaded one of the most impressive travel tools I've seen in a while: the "Discover Italy" e-book by Lonely Planet.
Available only from Apple's iBookstore, the guidebooks cost $14.99 to download (this is an introductory price; the price will likely rise a few dollars in the future).
The text is mostly the same as the softcover guidebook, with headers such as "Italy's Top 25 Experiences" and chapters on Italian history and culture. The book is organized into handy regional chapters, allowing the reader to tap on the city, town or area they want to explore.
But the e-book has some distinct advantages for travelers, especially those who are watching their weight in this era of charge-by-the-pound luggage: there's no added weight of a book in your bag.
There are other fun perks, as well. Colorful and easy-to-read maps are interactive, allowing users to tap and zoom into specific neighborhoods and streets.
Bookmarks and highlights are easy to make with the tap of an index finger; no more dog-eared, highlighter stained pages.
More than 3,000 hyperlinks allow readers to connect directly to a hotel or venue's website (if you are connected to the Internet, of course). I was able to tap on a link to the Naples Opera House and determine what will be on stage during my time in that city.
Full-color photos looked delicious; the only thing I could have wanted was embedded video links, as in Lonely Planet's "1000 Ultimate Experiences" iPad application.
I was curious about what else Lonely Planet had in store for the iPad, and had a short e-mail conversation with the publisher's executive vice president John Boris. He explained that they picked five of the most popular European destinations for Americans as the launch titles for the e-book: Great Britain, Ireland, Spain, France and Italy.
Boris said Lonely Planet's Discover series will be released as e-books soon. The publisher also has hundreds of titles on Kindle and more than 100 city guide and phrase book apps available for iPhone and iPad, plus "reality travel apps" for the Android and other offerings for BlackBerry.
"We anticipate travelers will use different products at different times," he said. "They may use guidebooks to plan for their trip while taking the mobile e-book with them on the trip itself. And different travelers like to access information in different ways so we want to make sure we have our products available on every channel."