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The Monday Rant: Dream Books Giving Nightmares?

Scott Vogel

I'll admit it. I've taken my swipes at Conde Nast Travel on occasion, chiefly for its fixation on trips that 99% of the public couldn't or wouldn't ever take (Bay of Kotor, anyone?). But it's a rare month when I don't learn something of immediate relevance to my travel career.

Let's take the June issue, here, since it's handy. Flipping through the mag, I come to page 98, which has several wonderful tips on how to handle oneself while at dinner parties in Croatia. Chief among them is this: Never bring up the fact that Croatia supported the Nazis during World War II. "It's over," says a Croatian chef as quoted in the mag. "We're not interested in it anymore."

Of course, if you're like me, suddenly you're dying to book passage to Dubrovnik and get yourself invited to a dinner party, all for the sole purpose of working the Third Reich into the dinner conversation. Just to watch the fireworks, ya know. (There goes my theory, I guess, about Conde Nast Traveler not actually inspiring any trips.)

All kidding aside: As you probably know, this is an unusual time for the travel media, not to mention the public at large, which is more concerned with $4 gasoline and staving off foreclosure than trips to Far Tortuga. Which brings me to a question: Am I the only one who feels increasingly tortured by travel magazines these days? And what would happen if they suddenly began to reflect how people actually spend their vacations (sample headline: "Virginia's Secret: Luray Caverns!")? Would you buy them?

By Scott Vogel |  June 23, 2008; 12:09 PM ET  | Category:  Monday Rants , Scott Vogel
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I read Budget Travel and wonder whose budget they are working with ... certainly not mine. I have also leafed through Travel and Leisure and found that they really don't reflect what most of us do on vacations ... but it does give us something to dream about doing someday.

I do wish that these magazines would focus on areas here in the US. Southern Living does a great job of introducing areas that most of us would love to see. I tear out pages each month and save them for when we are looking for something special to do.

Posted by: peapod | June 23, 2008 12:43 PM

They make me a little sad. Or getting me thinking poorly - like, instead of buying a new dresser, I could pile my clothes on the floor for a year and go to Paris...

Posted by: md | June 23, 2008 1:12 PM

I've had a subscription to Budget Traveler for several years and I actually have used tips given in that magazine and cut out articles for future trips. They also have many 3 - 4 days trip itineraries for the U.S. which have interested me. While their trips probably don't satisfy the backpacker-type budget, I find their choices (particularly their domestic ones) to fit a middle-income budget.

Posted by: Nova | June 23, 2008 2:21 PM

With the web - there is no need for travel magazines. It seems like their audience is for people who sit at home and read the perfume ads.

Travel books are also extinct. No one ever really reads them, the hotel and dining info is 2 years out of date and at 1000 pages, each can weigh more than the rest iof the carry on.

So many good websites -
Tripadvisor, www.tripcart.com, nile guide, tripwiser, etc. Throw out the mags (but at $12 a year - don't cancel)

Posted by: elliot | June 23, 2008 6:31 PM

I beg to differ with Elliot. Sure, I surf the web for travel info all the time. But, if I'm visiting an area for the first time and spending a couple of days exploring, I still may pick up a guide book. Not for Hotel or Restaurant suggestions, just to look at what is in the area to check out. I want to learn about the house museums, botanic gardens, and things of that nature. Guide books also tend to give a brief history of the area, which I always find interesting. As far as the size of the books go, if that is an issue, all you need to do is rip out/ or photocopy the pages that relate to what you have decided you want to check out.
But as far as the magazines are concerned, I just see them as insperation to explore a new place. But, not necessarily the same place that they talk about.

Posted by: rja112 | June 24, 2008 1:38 AM

With the web - there is no need for travel magazines. It seems like their audience is for people who sit at home and read the perfume ads.

Travel books are also extinct. No one ever really reads them, the hotel and dining info is 2 years out of date and at 1000 pages, each can weigh more than the rest iof the carry on.

So many good websites -
Tripadvisor, http://www.tripcart.com, nile guide, tripwiser, etc. Throw out the mags (but at $12 a year - don't cancel)

Posted by: elliot | June 24, 2008 2:41 AM

With the web - there is no need for travel magazines. It seems like their audience is for people who sit at home and read the perfume ads.

Travel books are also extinct. No one ever really reads them, the hotel and dining info is 2 years out of date and at 1000 pages, each can weigh more than the rest iof the carry on.

So many good websites -
Tripadvisor, http://www.tripcart.com , nile guide, tripwiser, etc. Throw out the mags (but at $12 a year - don't cancel)

Posted by: elliot | June 24, 2008 2:43 AM

rja112 -

You have a point. I would scale down the books. Strip out the stuff better researched on-line (wouldn't it be nice if they published - ** and updated - *** that information on-line as an add-on to the book).

Another problem is that you need a few books, for your interests. Michelin for museums and historic sites, moon for hiking. And if you cross the border from Northern California to Oregon - well thats a new set of books.

The web will eventually offer a good solution to the ripping out pages method.

Posted by: elliot | June 24, 2008 2:49 AM

I actually have been to the Bay of Kotor. It is hardly the worst example of travel magazine writing, being a mere 3 hours from Dubrovnik--which travel writers seem to still pretend is off the beaten track. And that is the problem: I often wonder if the writer even went to the place, rather than just recycling things they read elsewhere. Travel sections in newspapers are not really doing that much better. The NYT has ridiculous articles, but at least they write for the rich and don't try to be all things to all people.
The point of these magazines is supposed to be inspiration, but I find the writing tired and repetitive, as I find most travel writing in general. I agree, there is great stuff online.

Posted by: 1shot | June 24, 2008 2:32 PM

I like the Wednesday Post Escape columns. They cover short quick trips to nearby places at a reasonable price. I check the column regularly from Richmond, VA for fun things to see& do. I get Budget Travel which is definitely more everyday than Travel & Leisure which I think I'm going to cancel.

Posted by: anon | June 24, 2008 3:02 PM

I not only buy several guides to a country of interest, but I read and re-read them. And I buy maps to arrange my route between the sights I have chosen from the guides. I usually start a year from my intended depaarture. Anticipation is half the enjoyment, and I sit too long in front of the computer as it is. The internet is good for comparing commercial offerings like organized tours, or car rentals, or places to stay once you know where you want to go and what you want to see--and to make the reservations and buy travel insurance, etc.

Posted by: lovetotravel | June 25, 2008 11:02 AM

To me, travel books are like any other reviews (restaurant, movie, etc.) in that you often develop a level of trust (or distrust) for a particular line of books after you've used a couple of them and found that you tend to agree (or disagree) with the tastes of those reviewers. I find sites like TripAdvisor.com to be of questionable utility because (a) I don't know who the reviewers are, (b) they tend to have disproportionately negative reviews because it's the people who want to complain who are motivated to post, and (c) it takes a fair amount of time to sift through the garbage commentary ("This hotel was crummy and I hate it") to find well-written and well-thought-out reviews that are actually worth reading (i.e., a negative review may be very useful if the writer explains WHY he disliked the hotel and gives specific examples).

I doubt I would buy a travel magazine that focuses on local travel for two reasons: (a) theoretically I have the Post's Travel section to give me that info and (b) it's not interesting to me as a large-scale topic. Part of what makes reading about travel interesting is the opportunity to dream about places you'd like to go, even if you aren't likely to get there. Reading about, say, Luray Caverns just wouldn't get me yelling "ROAD TRIP!"

Posted by: Rich | June 25, 2008 4:16 PM

Well, I'm for Bay of Kotor! The day after tomorrow, we are going to Montenegro and, surprisingly, staying in a hotel mentioned in the mag. Interesting coincidence, isn't it?
About books: In my opinion, travel books and travel guide books are two different thing. Guide books may age, good travel books never get old.

Posted by: htihti | June 26, 2008 1:46 AM

I like reading travel magazines, and articles, and books, to live vicariously for a little bit. I actually enjoy reading about somewhere I have absolutely no plans to ever go to.

Posted by: PQ | June 30, 2008 10:58 AM

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