Many of the newest travel titles lure would-be adventurers with the guidebook equivalent of clickbait headlines—but these books deliver on their promises. They offer a visual grab bag brimming with recommendations for the world’s most beautiful locations and the best, most epic experiences.
The first edition of 2016’s Atlas Obscura (Workman) was a major success in this vein, with 361,000 print copies sold, per NPD BookScan, of a book disclosing some 700 of what the subtitle called “the world’s hidden wonders.” In October, authors Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, and Dylan Thuras return with a revised and updated second edition, with about 100 new entries as well as a foldout map for a global road trip and miniguides to L.A., Mexico City, and Tokyo, among other metropolitan areas.
New entries include man-made and natural wonders such as the Mafra Palace Library in Portugal, a resplendent example of Rococo architecture housing almost 40,000 copies of books from the 14th to 18th centuries; the glowing termite mounds of Emas in Brazil; and Thrihnukagigur volcano in Iceland.
“Here’s this book with all these marvels you’ve never heard of,” says Maisie Tivnan, executive editor at Workman. “Could you go? Sure, why not? It inspires not just wanderlust but the desire to be more adventurous and do the unexpected.”
Moon offers its take in Wanderlust (Oct.), a large-format hardcover that mixes full-page photography with snapshots and spot illustrations. The book opens with an illustrated map of the world pinpointing 50 natural wonders, then widens its scope in chapters for urban explorers and outdoor adventurers alike—think “legendary bars and cafes” or “10 treks of a lifetime.”
“This is a departure from our bread and butter, which is the travel guidebooks,” says Grace Fujimoto, v-p of acquisitions at Moon Travel. “We do a lot in the planning and experiences space, but we didn’t have anything that concentrated on dreaming and inspiring.”
The book’s roots lie in a 2011 study conducted by Google, which sought to quantify how travelers used online tools to guide them in the travel-planning process. The study’s authors broke down the results according to what they termed the five stages of travel: dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing, and sharing. It was intended as a marketing tool for the online travel industry, but publishers also took notice.
“The articulation of the five stages of travel has opened up my imagination,” Fujimoto says. “It’s inspiring many new ideas that, hopefully, will take shape in the near future.”
Best and Brightest
Europe’s Top 100 Masterpieces (Nov.) may sound more like a BuzzFeed article than a Rick Steves guide, but the title, which Steves wrote with frequent coauthor Gene Openshaw, is informed by the hours of art history talks Steves has given. It includes, alongside full-page color reproductions, essays in which Steves muses on his favorite works, such as Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, Duccio’s Madonna and the Venus de Milo. Of Vermeer’s Kitchen Maid, Steves writes, “She embodies that most prized of Dutch virtues—hard work.”
DK Travel is reviving Where to Go When, which the publisher first released in 2007 as a guide to what the subtitle called “the best destinations all year round.” Lucy Richards, project editor at DK, differentiates the title from a traditional guidebook this way: “We’re transporting a reader rather than informing the reader.” After the book first published, similar, regional books in what Richards calls the “inspirational” segment of travel followed through 2011—books that focus on aspirational experiences rather than nuts-and-bolts details. But the publisher pulled back, as that corner of travel publishing was the first to suffer during a decline in the overall market, she says.
For the forthcoming Where to Go When: Unforgettable Trips for Every Month (Oct.), the previous cover, an assemblage of multiple specific destination shots, has been replaced with a full-bleed image of a solitary hiker dwarfed by stylized, misty mountain ranges, evoking a more contemporary travel ethos that emphasizes unique personal experiences. Inside, the book has been updated to engage with current problems, such as overtourism, and changing attitudes in travel.
The entry for Machu Picchu, for instance, suggests that travelers begin not in Cusco but in Sallapata, a three-hour drive away and the start of the Salkantay trek, which draws fewer visitors than the Inca trail. In the 2007 edition of Where to Go, the entry for Sweden centered on an ice hotel and didn’t mention the Northern Lights. Now “people want more of an experience,” Richards says. “They want to trek and see these beautiful phenomena, so an ice hotel didn’t fit quite right for our readers today.”
National Geographic has a deep bookshelf of inspirational titles, including 2015’s Destinations of a Lifetime, which has sold 95,000 print copies, per BookScan. October brings Epic Journeys, an assemblage of more than 200 adventures—dog sledding in Norway, tubing the glowworm caves of New Zealand—with plentiful photos and trip-planning info.
At Rough Guides, the fourth edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth (Oct.) amps up the photography, streamlines the font, and adds 150 experiential recommendations. Suggestions include walking in Odysseus’s footsteps on the Adriatic island of Mljet, hippo spotting off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, or strolling among David Hockney landscapes along Britain’s Yorkshire Wolds Way.
Also out in October is Rough Guides’ 100 Best Places on Earth, originally conceived as a one-off companion to Make the Most of Your Time on Earth. But given the popularity of books presenting an entire world of choice, says managing editor Rachel Lawrence, it will instead be updated annually to include emerging destinations.
Lonely Planet opts for a similarly sweeping approach with Dark Skies by Valerie Stimac (Sept.). The publisher first strayed from its longtime guidebook formula with 2004’s The Travel Book, a photo-heavy overview of every country in the world that’s sold more than a million copies worldwide over three editions, says associate publisher Robin Barton. “One of the best reasons for publishing compendiums of travel experiences is that they will hopefully inspire readers to plan a trip somewhere new,” Barton says.“Above all, we want to get people excited about travel, which we firmly believe is a force for good.”
Dark Skies, with the stated goal of directing the reader’s attention heavenward, includes all the basics for amateur sky watchers: where to go for the clearest nighttime skies, schedules for eclipses, and the best viewing destinations for meteor showers and auroras.
Lonely Planet is also adding to its Epic series, which launched in 2016. August’s Epic Runs of the World and Epic Bike Rides of the Americas, Barton says, reflect the growing popularity of vacation planning around bucket-list races or trail runs. Each ride or run is accompanied by what the book calls a “toolkit” of practical information—how to get there, where to stay, and when to go. Yet the books, with their fanciful illustrated covers and pages of location photography, also fit neatly with other inspirational titles. “You may have no intention of doing some of the gnarlier rides, runs, or hikes,” Barton says, “but you’ll enjoy reading about them and perhaps dream of trying something similar one day.”
Veteran Australian outdoorsman Cam Honan, whom Backpacker magazine once called “the most travelled hiker on earth,” details multiday expeditions and day treks through America’s wild lands in Wanderlust USA (Gestalten, Nov.). Roaming from Maine to Hawaii, Honan selects hikes suitable for a range of skill levels and shares tips honed while logging more than 60,000 miles trekked over the last 30 years.
Gestalten also has updated and acquired global distribution rights for Remote Places to Stay by Debbie Pappyn and David De Vleeschauwer (Nov.), first published in 2014. Each of the 22 accommodations, whether a Himalayan retreat or a Southern Italian convent, enjoys a privileged setting in an invitingly photographed landscape where serenity is billed as the true luxury.
A similar attitude fuels Slow Travel by Penny Watson (Hardie Grant, Nov.), a manifesto for the unplugged journey. “Our connectedness to the digital world, as illuminating and groundbreaking as it is, also underscores a driving need for more downtime,” Watson writes, and “more time to connect to something other than our device.”
Melissa Kayser, publisher at Hardie Grant, says the book’s anecdotal, experiential approach—suggestions include rock climbing in Oman, volcano trekking in Bali, and ice swimming in Denmark—is in keeping with the needs of the modern traveler. “People buy travel books for different reasons than they used to,” she says. In explaining how she envisions readers using the information in Slow Travel, she could be speaking for the publishers of other titles designed to inspire.
“We’ve very much moved on from your standard travel guide,” Kayser says. “We’ve created a beautiful object that includes a range of destinations. That’s the jumping-off point, and if you’re interested in visiting one of these destinations, you can go on from there.”
Below, more on the subject of travel.
An Olympian Effort: Travel Books 2019–2020
Ahead of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, publishers are setting their sights on Japan.
See the World: Travel Books 2019–2020
Guidebook publishers strike a balance between image and information.
Just the Messenger: PW Talks with Nuseir Yassin
In ‘Around the World in 60 Seconds,’ the popular travel vlogger behind Nas Daily expands on his most meaningful experiences.
Fantastic Voyages: Travel Books 2019–2020
These books portray the bygone glamour of travel.
Local Impact: Travel Books 2019–2020
Moon Travel Guides ask tourists to consider the footprints they leave behind.
Hello Again: Travel Books 2019–2020
Here’s what’s new at three major guidebook publishers.