It’s a strange new phenomenon: people who once couldn’t find Peru on a map are now planning a trip to Machu Picchu, or maybe one to that Thai restaurant—in Thailand—their neighbors raved about. Long-entrenched East Coast or West Coast residents are realizing that the U.S. has a large middle area—one with cities, art, people, food, and festivals—all worth visiting.

Yes, travelers are still going in large numbers to “heavy-hitter” destinations like the great capitals of Europe—especially this year, with the summer Olympics in London. But when travel experts name Ghana; Greenland; Portland, Ore.; and Cincinnati, Ohio, as among the top travel destinations for 2012, when Down Under’s on the upswing and Antarctica’s hot, it’s clear that Americans are packing a whole new attitude when they set out to see the world.

What accounts for the change? An uncertain economy is partly responsible, but not in the way you might think. Americans are not traveling less, nor are they grimly making do. Indeed,’s annual survey reports that 31% of Americans are planning to spend more on leisure travel in 2012, and 24% are planning five or more getaways this year. But the economy has forced people to question what they want in return for their valuable dollars.

And what they want, both here and abroad, is a valuable experience.

No Dough for a Cookie-Cutter

“Travelers want the most out of their trips,” says Tony Fouladpour, public relations director at Michelin. “They want to experience a place the way that locals do.” Accordingly, off the beaten track locations—lesser-known restaurants, theaters, historic sites, and neighborhood haunts—are the focus of the publisher’s Like a Local series, a Michelin and Peter Greenberg Publication launching in April. The guides advise visitors—to Miami or New Orleans in the U.S., or Buenos Aires, the Caribbean, and Cuba (popular now, due to relaxed travel restrictions)—on ways to avoid spending money on unpopular “cookie-cutter” type trips. “Independent travelers want substantial information about immersing themselves in the local culture,” says Fouladpour, adding that the guides include commentaries by residents themselves on their city, along with the famous Michelin ratings.

National Geographic’s Keith Bellow points to the continuing strength of the travel industry even in the face of changing expectations. “Travel is still one of the top two or three businesses in the world,” says Bellow, the company’s travel expert and editor-in-chief of its Traveler magazine. “But we will be seeing shorter trips, travelers eating and lodging more locally, whether here or abroad. People want a real experience, one that’s more than cocooning in a hotel.” Among the publisher’s new guides are Switzerland, Colombia, and Vienna, along with revised editions for Cuba and China, among other destinations.

U.S. travel, adds Bellow, hasn’t changed, “but a big trend for 2012 is heading for smaller U.S. cities, like Cincinnati, where there is young artistic talent.” Hoping to enhance stateside trips, National Geographic will launch a new national parks app in April, through which users can earn park stamps and share itineraries, among other features.

Rana Freedman at Lonely Planet is similarly bullish on America’s national parks, calling them “a huge draw.” Along with adding new editions this month to its national park series, the publisher is capturing 25 favorite parks in its March title, Discover U.S. National Parks. Lonely Planet has also increased its coverage of other U.S. regions, with first edition guidebooks—Eastern USA, Western USA, and Northern California—and two new titles in its Discover series, Discover Florida and Discover USA.

According to Brice Gosnell, Lonely Planet v-p publishing, Americas, Europe “remains an aspirational destination for Americans,” noting that “over half the guidebooks we’re publishing in the next four months will be for European destinations, helped by a strengthening of the dollar against the euro.” The publisher continues to innovate in the app sphere, Gosnell adds, with plans to release country guide apps in the App Store, starting with Italy, Costa Rica, Spain, and France.

Local Customizing

Whether they’re planning trips within or outside the U.S., publishers agree that travelers are focusing on smaller, more specific areas, and thus are looking for targeted information. As e-reader and tablet adoption grows, says Frommer’s associate publisher Ensley Eikenburg, “We’ve designed a new product uniquely suited for the device, Frommer’s ShortCuts.” With these guides, he adds, “Travelers have the option to mix and match destinations according to their preferences.” Current ShortCuts include the Loire Valley, various regions of New Zealand, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel, and County Cork, with new titles added monthly; more than 300 will be available by the end of April.

In the print arena, says Eikenburg, Frommer’s itinerary-based Day by Day country guidebooks will add first editions to five new destinations—New Zealand, Peru, Japan, Great Britain, and New England—regions, he notes, that are “garnering tremendous buzz among avid travelers and growing rapidly in widespread popularity.” He cites a steady sales increase in heavy hitter city destinations, such as New York City, Paris, and London, “indicating that travelers are seeking out shorter, more quick trip options.”

At Fodor’s, whose top-selling guides for 2011 were Italy, New York, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Ireland, public relations director Sheila O’Shea reports, “People are definitely traveling, in spite of the economy, and we see that travelers want to make every dollar count.” They’re looking, she says, “to expert recommendations more and more to know they’re choosing trusted and vetted hotels, sights, and restaurants that are worth every penny.” She adds that traffic is up significantly over last year: “for example, we’re seeing interestingly high click-through to such sights as Turks and Caicos and Berlin.”

New developments include the creation of a quarterly Bookseller Newsletter, highlighting destinations, new content, and trends, plus a May bookstore tour by executive editorial director Arabella Bowen, designed to help bookstore enthusiasts and travelers plan their summer trips, with social media promotions in Houston, Chicago, Denver, Miami, and New York City and environs. In the guidebook category, the publisher is releasing its first Brazil guide (“an emerging market,” says O’Shea) and will update its Tokyo guide—“travel to Japan is picking up after 2011’s earthquake and tsunami,” reports O’Shea. “Travelers can find good deals now on hotels in Tokyo.”

The news from DK is all in the family, as the company launches its Eyewitness Travel Family Guides series in March. Says publicity manager Mindy Fichter, “While some travel guides focus on activities for children, our guides are the first to appeal to both parents and kids, so everyone gets the most out of their vacation.” The books, she explains, offer child-friendly sleeping and eating options, detailed maps of main sightseeing areas, budget guidance, age-range suitability, and activities for each site. First up are New York City; Washington, D.C.; Paris; and London, with more due in May.

Also new, says Fichter, is the recently launched Eyewitness Travel Back Road series: “They suggest lesser-known activities and routes in popularly traveled countries.” The guides—to France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, and Ireland—feature off the main road driving tours ranging from two to five days, and include local road rules and driving instructions, GPS programming guides, and customizable itineraries.

The publisher is also relaunching its Rough Guides, the venerable series that turns 30 this year, and adding Southwest China and Bolivia to its titles. Fichter reports that titles pubbing from here on out will be in full color and include improved maps and enhanced practical information. The guides will feature area-by-area chapter highlights, color-coded mapping, Top 5 lists, and the popular Things Not to Miss section. And technology will now be entering the picture, with each revised title having a digital “side-shoot”: there will be e-books for all of the Family Guides and new Rough Guides, as well as regional Snapshots coming from Rough Guides at a price of $2.99. And coming in July is a Family Travel Sticker app.

Travel Guides: Stronger than Fiction?

Regional travel titles may have received an unexpected boost from the disappearance of one important destination for travelers: Borders. “The resulting gap in the market has provided an opportunity for many independent booksellers to rebuild their travel sections,” points out Bill Newlin, publisher of Avalon Travel, whose main series are Rick Steves and Moon. “Many stores have found success carrying titles with a tight regional focus, and travel guides are now outperforming many other categories, especially fiction.”

Avalon now publishes more than 180 Moon titles along with 40 Rick Steves guidebooks. Last year, it launched the Rick Steves Pocket Guide series to accommodate the trend toward shorter trips. The success of the first three titles in that series—London, Paris, and Rome—has led to plans for 10 more, beginning with Athens, Prague, and Istanbul, set for later this year.

The company also offers marketing support to regional stores; it includes original travel content for Web sites and author participation in stores’ Twitter communities. “Both the Rick Steves and the Moon series were initially discovered by the independents,” Newlin says. “We want to demonstrate that travel can be a successful category for them again.”

Local Motion

Travelers are consulting not only the top publishers but also those offering regional books as well. The University of California Press publishes guides that appeal as much to locals as to visitors, says regional editor Kim Robinson. “In April we’ll publish A People’s Guide to Los Angeles, which avoids the clichés of Hollywood and the beach, and reveals the lives of real Angelenos. Plus, our California Natural History Guides give bikers, birders, and hikers a deeper knowledge of the flora and fauna of the region. The proliferation of new apps that cover natural history shows that this is increasingly a way that people want this sort of information, and we are exploring options in that arena.”

Portland-based Graphic Arts Books has been producing books about its backyard for decades, say its publishers. Upcoming titles include The Oregon Almanac: Facts About Oregon; Oregon, Portrait of a State; Mount Hood: Portrait of a Place; and Portland from the Air. The company’s Alaska Northwest Books imprint brought out the annually updated Alaska Almanac in late 2011, while the Alaska Homesteaders Handbook, due out in May, demonstrates that a home in Nome need not be in a dome. It also offers advice from local pioneer types ranging from how to cross a river to dealing—successfully—with bears.

Graphic Arts’ Portland pride was buoyed by a recent analysis conducted by researcher Yen Lee of more than 200 million Facebook comments, status updates, photo descriptions, and check-ins from hundreds of thousands of people. The results put Portland in the top 10 travel destinations for 2012, along with Luang Prabang, Laos, and Cartagena, Colombia.

It Is Your Grandmother’s Vacation

It’s not only a changing economy that’s influenced travel in unexpected ways—it’s changes in technology, too. Sure, everyone knows that e-readers and tablets have joined print guides in many travelers’ kits. But social media—like Facebook, with the 200 million–plus exchanges analyzed by Yen Lee—whet an interest in previously overlooked places, especially when you get to know the locals. “My personal feeling is that social media make it easier to explore destinations,” explains Lauren Xie, digital and marketing director for Let’s Go, the Cambridge, Mass., travel publisher that originated at the Harvard Student Agencies. “The so-called millennial generation tends to prioritize budget-driven travel and cultural experience over five-star hotels or packaged vacations, anyway,” she adds. “They don’t necessarily want to fly and flop.” In March, Let’s Go will publish 11 new Let’s Go Budget guides, including those for Berlin, Istanbul, Prague, and London. It’s produced Let’s Go city guide mobile apps for five cities and will also develop an extended blogger network at its Web site.

But young people, be warned: those travelers beating down the path just ahead of you could be your parents. “This is the 53rd year that Let’s Go has been publishing travel guides,” points out Lauren Xie. “While our readers are primarily young, we also have those who began with us as college students and have stayed with us because our continuity inspires trust, which is very important.”

Moira Megargee of Interlink believes that the majority of people buying its travel books are over 35. “This is solely my own observation,” she emphasizes, “but I’d say that older people travel way more than the older generation that preceded them. They are going to less traditional destinations, and doing it in more unusual ways. “I think that, outside of areas where safety is a real issue, the only thing that holds the elder crowd back is financial, and in an era with so many cheap ways for them to travel—from work vacations to hostels, house swapping, finding cheap lodging through the Internet—the one real expense is airfare. But I think the economy has eased enough that we aren’t stuffing all our money under the mattress anymore, and by now we’re all used to the hassles of airport security, so it’s not the impediment it was in the first years of this century.”

Interlink will be bringing out guides for physically active travelers who want to hike and cycle through a region as well as for those who want to eat and drink their way through it. Two new spring titles in its wine guide series include A Traveller’s Wine Guide to California and A Traveller’s Wine Guide to Spain. New titles in its In a Box Walking & Cycling Guide series—61 waterproof, reusable cards in a slipcase—feature Britain, Tuscany, and Provence.

Print It!

The economy has changed, technology has changed. But neither has meant the end of print guidebooks, as some have feared. “We’re still seeing a healthy amount of print travel book sales,” says Therese Burke, DK sales and marketing senior v-p, “which we wouldn’t have forecast a year ago.”

“People are looking for travel information in every and all formats,” adds Bellow at National Geographic. “They still want to purchase the traditional travel books—but smaller, lighter, more utility-driven versions. They do want e-books, but not just print revised for digital delivery.”

The up-to-date information and reliability of travel guides—in print or digital form—make them preferable to the abundance of free material on the Internet, points out Margot Herrera, senior editor at Workman. “There’s no shortage of travel information these days—just go online and do a search on almost any place; you’re deluged! That’s why people need to have that information and advice curated. I also think that’s why we’ve done so well with 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” Patricia Shultz, whose second edition of 1,000 Places was published by Workman in 2011, adds Estonia, Greenland, and Ghana to her latest list of destinations. Her current travels, though, will take her on a promotional tour to 20 U.S. cities where those attending her events may be eligible to win—what else?—a trip.

Thames Times

Traveling to London for the Olympics this summer? Leave the hurdle-jumping to the athletes. These guides provide tips, maps, history, and other information you need for a hassle-free trip—even if your favorite sport is pub-crawling.

Among Lonely Planet’s title quartet is London City Guide, which provides specific info on the games, including facts about their effect on local development and economy. Also included: extensive coverage of Olympic Park and the East London neighborhood. Discover London focuses on the city’s main sights, while the smaller Pocket London highlights prime locations. Lastly, Not for Parents London aims to inspire the next generation of travelers.

Parents with offspring in tow can check out Let’s Take the Kids to London, from Roaring Forties Press. Among the highlights: discovering where Paddington Bear lived.

London is one of the cities covered in National Geographic’s new Walking Tour guidebooks; the publisher is also producing an “e-short” pegged to the Games—Quintessential London: 21 Iconic Experiences from Shakespeare to Shopping.

New titles from Interlink that range beyond the Olympics include Jewish London: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Visitors and Londoners by Rachel Kolsky and Roslyn Tawson; Café Life London: An Insider’s Guide to the City’s Neighborhood Cafés by Jennie Milsom; and Walker’s Britain in a Box: The Region’s Best Walks on Pocketable Cards by David Hancock and Nick Channer.

Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World (Riverhead) is authored not by the 18th-century lexicographer but by the popular London mayor, Boris Johnson, who chronicles his city through the lives of its legendary residents.

Nick Wood’s 360-Degree London (Carlton Books, dist. by Sterling) contains specially commissioned panoramic/skyline images of the city’s greatest landmarks.

Three titles from the U.K.’s New Holland Publishers (dist. by Sterling) include an updated Royal London by Jane Struthers, which includes maps for plotting your own royal tour; London’s Afternoon Teas by Susan Cohen; and if tea’s not your cuppa, London’s Best Pubs by Peter Haydon and Tim Hampson is a thirst-inducing guide to 117 of the city’s best.

Cars: Going the Way of the Dodo

Coming from Times Books in April is, we thought, a potentially alarming title: Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile, in which, according to the publisher, “author Taras Grescoe rides the rails all over the world and makes an elegant and impassioned case for the imminent end of car culture and the coming transportation revolution.”

Though it’s a well-reasoned premise (and one that could, of course, come to pass), not all auto enthusiasts will subscribe to Grescoe’s theories. Reader’s Digest president and publisher Harold Clarke offers an opposing view: “We have found that more vacationers are taking to the highways not only as an alternative to expensive airfare but also as a green alternative. Coming out on March 1, we have our newly revised and updated edition of The Most Scenic Drives in America, an all-in-one trip planner and travel guide, which features 120 spectacular road trips, also available as an enhanced e-book.”

North to Alaska

How many travel books can boast of having released an annually updated edition for 64 years? That’s the story of The Milepost—dubbed “The Bible of North Country Travel” since 1949—whose latest edition launches in March. Every year, The Milepost’s editors drive the roads of Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories to provide detailed, up-to-date information about the areas—which led the publication’s Kate Bandos to a “milepost moment” of her own.

“After doing public relations for the guide for about 15 years, I wanted to experience Alaska for myself,” she recalls. “My husband and I brought along a copy of The Milepost and planned each day’s itinerary. Many people commented on how much we were able to see and do.

“One night in a restaurant, I saw a couple at the next table opening The Milepost! Without telling them of my relationship with it, I asked if they were finding it helpful. ‘We couldn’t be doing this trip without it,’ they said. They also said—when I told them who I was—to tell the publisher how much the book was adding to their enjoyment. “I was thrilled,” says Bandos. “And I’m also looking forward to our next trip north.”

Guidebooks Redux

In the upcoming Call of the White: Taking the World to the South Pole (Trafalgar Square, May), author Felicity Aston describes how she led an expedition of “ordinary women” from all over the world—including some who’d never seen snow—on one of the world’s toughest journeys, skiing to the South Pole. The results: frostbite, injuries, hardships—and also newfound persistence, strength, and friendship. For their chronicle, Live Fast, Die Young: Misadventures in Rock ’n’ Roll America (Trafalgar Square, May), radio producers Chris Price and Joe Harland, wisely eschewing a southern route, drove cross-country in search of the roots of their favorite sounds.

In Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day: One Man, Eight Countries, One Vintage Travel Guide (Perigee, Apr.), author Doug Mack explains what can happen when you head for present-day Europe with a nearly 50-year-old copy of Arthur Frommer’s Europe on Five Dollars a Day as your guide. He spends a lot more than a sawbuck a day, of course, and discovers the many other ways in which the world has changed. (Among other things, the Louvre is no longer free on Sunday, and the guards aren’t pleased if you try to sneak in.)