Travel editors breathe a sigh of relief as anxious adventurers dust off their passports, book tickets and gather reading material in preparation for a long-awaited vacation.
According to NPD BookScan, U.S. travel book sales for the first half of the year totaled 3.1 million units printed, an 8% increase from 2021. “When we looked at the numbers for the last six months, there was a very strong correlation. between popular destinations and high vaccination rates,” says Kristen McLean, executive director and industry analyst at NPD Books. “Travellers do the math in their minds: what is a safe and doable place? Italy, France, Spain and Britain were all doing well, and they all had higher vaccination rates than the United States.
Also booming are guides related to outdoor recreation, road trips and hiking, especially in North America. The best-selling travel book of the year so far is National Geographic Road Atlas 2022, covering the United States, Canada and Mexico. Title #2 is from NatGeo 50 states, 5,000 ideas by Joe Yogerst. (See the full list of the top 10).
At Fodor, “The most successful new books are The Complete Guide to US National Parks, USA Bucket Listand The best road trips in the United Statessays editorial director Doug Stallings; all were Fall 2021 titles. Fodor’s is also starting to look to the future; upcoming books include a new destination for the publisher, Seoul (November), notable for the burgeoning army of K-pop fans and K-drama acolytes. “When omicron started breaking down,” Stallings says, everything started to work better for us.”
Jaimee Callaway, vice president and associate editor at Avalon Travel, had a similar experience: “We’ve seen a surge of hope over the past six months. We started the year in a very dark place with Omicron, and over the past few months I’ve been surprised by the strength of the rebound and how pervasive it has been.
Fodor’s, Avalon and other guidebook publishers are optimistic about the lasting power of wanderlust. Here’s how they’re responding to pent-up demand.
Where when how ?
“A lot of people have spent two years putting off their travel plans, and now that they’re vaxxed, boosted, and comfortable taking risks, they’re not putting their dreams off anymore,” Callaway says. Avalon has 14 new editions of Rick Steves titles planned for fall – the first Steves guides to be revised since Covid restrictions were lifted in Europe, Callaway says – with updated information on favorite destinations including France (October), as well as Ireland and Italy (both Nov.).
In January, the publisher releases Rick Steves Italy for Foodies, Steves’ first guide to culinary travel. Co-written by Fred Plotkin (Italy for the foodie traveler), the book highlights regional specialties and offers advice on the best places to taste them.
Even the most dedicated travelers may have gotten out of the habit of planning their trip after such a long break and looking not only for advice, but also for new ideas. Publishers are adapting their offerings accordingly, continuing a recent trend in visually-oriented books that minimize Googleable information about museum opening hours and currency exchange rates. Instead, these titles function as travel lookbooks, matching readers’ interests to destinations and suggesting lesser-known ports of call.
“We’ve never really seen sales dwindle because we’re leaning toward ambitious travel guides,” says Allyson Johnson, senior editor at National Geographic Books. She quotes the 100… from a Lifetime series, thick hardcovers with full-bleed photos and text that favors experiential descriptions over pages of hotel listings. After books on diving, hiking, skiing and snowboarding, October brings 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime by Marcy Carriker Smothers, covering House of Mouse parks around the world.
Rough Guides was an early adopter of the inspirational format, publishing the first edition of Make the most of your time on Earth in 2007. The fifth edition of the voluminous, photo-filled paperback was released in September, touting experiences catering to a variety of tastes – hippopotamus watching in the Bijagós Islands off Guinea-Bissau, eating gelato at Roma, and more.
Experienced travelers and those wary of madding crowds will find plenty of alternatives in Go here insteada September hardcover release from DK Eyewitness, which recommends lesser-known but equally exciting swaps for popular locations and attractions. Fans of the Tate Museum in London, for example, might want to visit the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, while those longing for Norwegian fjords might try those in Patagonia, Argentina.
In the same order of ideas, quirky (September) is Lonely Planet’s guide to the road less travelled. “People are thinking about the impact their visit might have on their travel destinations,” says LP publisher Piers Pickard. “They take a step back, looking for interesting ideas. quirky suggests alternatives: if you’re interested in the Inca Trail, why not consider Choquequirao? also in Peru.
For others, even nailing an activity is a lot right now. “They’ve had three years off, and the choices seem overwhelming,” Pickard says. “From not being able to go anywhere, now they can go anywhere and they don’t know where to start.” To the rescue: a new edition of where to go whena travel planner for vacationers who know what time of year they would like to travel, but not where.
Pickard notes that the publisher’s recently launched Experience series (the first books published in March, with more to appear in the fall) is moving away from guides that are “just about sites—passive and observation— towards travel as an experience, as much about the food you eat and the people you talk to.Like other publishers, LP capitalizes on the traveler’s thirst for beautiful pre-travel content; The Islands Book (Oct.) is a high-end, large-format hardcover showcasing both the familiar and the lesser-known: Sicily, for example, and also Codfish Island, New Zealand.
Other books are about hobbies and passions rather than destinations. The recently published BuzzFeed: Bring me! by Louise Khong and Ayla Smith (Running Press), named after the platform’s travel vertical, compiles atypical attractions even in the most popular destinations. Readers looking to expand their activity repertoire can visit a pop-up sculpture garden on a Sydney beach, drive go-karts through the streets of Tokyo, and kayak in a glow-in-the-dark bay in Puerto Rico.
In November, National Geographic will release Joe Yogerst’s film 100 cities, 5,000 ideas, his latest collection of fast facts and tantalizing tourist things to do. Such titles, says NatGeo’s Johnson, are “more about the experience, less about the to-do list.” For example, because “food is an insight into culture,” books on culinary travel remain a must-have. The second edition of the publisher Food Trips of a Lifetime, an profusely illustrated hardcover, comes out in October; the first edition, from 2009, sold 42,000 printed copies.
The quick-hit offerings in these books “are more succinct,” says NPD’s McLean. “The listicle format is easier to read. My family tends to travel with printed guides, but I’m less keen on reading them thoroughly or to the end now. Travel publishers, with their best-of, go-here and unmissable books, bet others feel the same way.
Liz Scheier is a writer, editor, and product developer living in Washington, DC, and the author of the memoir Never Simple (Holt).
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A version of this article originally appeared in the 07/25/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: Itinerary