Travel publishers are breathing a sigh of relief as antsy adventurers dust off their passports, book their tickets, and gather reading material in preparation for vacations that have been a long time coming.

According to NPD BookScan, U.S. sales of travel books for the first half of the year total 3.1 million print units, an 8% increase over 2021. “When we looked at the numbers from the last six months, there was a super-strong correlation between popular destinations and high vaccination rates,” says Kristen McLean, executive director and industry analyst at NPD Books. “Travelers are doing the calculus in their minds: what’s a safe, doable place? Italy, France, Spain, and Great Britain were all doing well, and they all had higher vaccination rates than the U.S.”

Also going strong: guides related to outdoor recreation, road trips, and hiking, particularly in North America. The single bestselling travel book of the year so far is National Geographic Road Atlas 2022, covering the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The #2 title is NatGeo’s 50 States, 5,000 Ideas by Joe Yogerst. (See the full top 10 list).

At Fodor’s, “The most successful new books are The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the USA, Bucket List USA, and Best Road Trips in the USA,” says editorial director Doug Stallings; all were fall 2021 titles. Fodor’s is also beginning to look ahead; forthcoming books include a new-to-the-publisher destination, Seoul (Nov.), of note for the burgeoning army of K-pop fans and K-drama acolytes. “When omicron started going down,” Stallings says, everything began working better for us.”

Jaimee Callaway, v-p and associate publisher at Avalon Travel, has had a similar experience: “We’ve seen a resurgence of hope in the last six months. We started the year in a very dark place with Omicron, and over the last few months I’ve been surprised by the strength of the bounceback and just how ubiquitous it’s been.”

Fodor’s, Avalon, and other guidebook publishers are feeling optimistic about the enduring power of wanderlust. Here’s how they’re meeting pent-up demand.

Where, when, how?

“A lot of people spent two years postponing travel plans, and now that they’re vaxxed and boosted and comfortable taking the risks, they’re not postponing their dreams any longer,” Callaway says. Avalon has 14 new editions of Rick Steves titles set for fall—the first Steves guides to be revised since Covid restrictions were lifted in Europe, Callaway explains—with updated information on favorite destinations including France (Oct.), as well as Ireland and Italy (both Nov.).

In January, the publisher is releasing Rick Steves Italy for Food Lovers, Steves’s first guide devoted to culinary travel. Coauthored by Fred Plotkin (Italy for the Gourmet Traveler), the book highlights regional specialties and offers guidance on where best to enjoy them.

Even the most dedicated travelers may be out of the trip-planning habit after such a long break and in search of not only guidance but new ideas. Publishers are tailoring their offerings accordingly, continuing a recent trend in visually oriented books that downplay googleable information about museum opening hours and currency exchange rates. Instead, these titles function as travel lookbooks, matching reader interests to destinations and suggesting lesser-known ports of call.

“We never really saw sales taper off, because we lean toward aspirational travel guides,” says Allyson Johnson, senior editor at National Geographic Books. She cites the 100... of 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, and skiing and snowboarding, October brings 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime by Marcy Carriker Smothers, covering House of Mouse parks across the globe.

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 chunky, photo-packed paperback is out in September, touting experiences catering to a variety of tastes—hippo watching in the Bijagós Islands off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, gelato eating in Rome, and more.

Experienced travelers and others who are leery of the madding crowds will find plenty of alternatives in Go Here Instead, a September hardcover release from DK Eyewitness, which recommends lesser-known but equally enthralling swaps for popular locales and attractions. Fans of London’s Tate Museum, for instance, might want to check out the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, while those yearning for the Norwegian fjords could try the ones in Patagonia, Argentina.

In a similar vein, Offbeat (Sept.) is Lonely Planet’s guide to the road less traveled. “People are considering the impact their visit might have on their travel destinations,” says LP publisher Piers Pickard. “They’re taking a step back, looking for interesting ideas. Offbeat suggests alternatives: if you’re interested in the Inca Trail, why don’t you consider Choquequirao?” also in Peru.

For others, even nailing down an activity is a lot right now. “They’ve had three years off, and the choices feel overwhelming,” Pickard says. “From being able to go nowhere, now they can go everywhere—and they don’t know where to start.” To the rescue: a new edition of Where to Go When, a trip planner for vacationers who know what time of year they’d like to travel, but not where to.

Compass mentis

Pickard notes that the publisher’s recently launched Experience series (the first books pubbed in March, with more coming out in the fall) is a move away from guidebooks that are “just about the sights—passive and observational—toward travel as an experience, as much about the food you eat and the people you speak to.” Like other publishers, LP is banking on the traveler’s hankering for beautiful content before the trip; The Islands Book (Oct.) is a large-format, high-end hardcover highlighting both the familiar and the less so: Sicily, for one, and also Codfish Island, New Zealand.

Other books speak to hobbies and passions rather than destinations. The recently released BuzzFeed: Bring Me! by Louise Khong and Ayla Smith (Running Press), named for the platform’s travel vertical, compiles atypical attractions in even the most popular destinations. Readers looking to expand their activity repertoires can visit a pop-up sculpture garden on a Sydney beach, drive go-karts across the streets of Tokyo, and kayak through a glow-in-the-dark bay in Puerto Rico.

In November, National Geographic will release Joe Yogerst’s 100 Cities, 5,000 Ideas, his latest compendium of fast facts and tantalizing tourist to-dos. Such titles, says Johnson at NatGeo, are “more about the experience, less about the bucket list.” For instance, because “food is an insight into culture,” books on culinary travel remain staple fare. The second edition of the publisher’s Food Journeys of a Lifetime, a heavily illustrated hardcover, is out in October; the first edition, from 2009, has sold 42,000 print copies.

The quick-hit offerings in these books “are more bite-size,” NPD’s McLean says. “The listicle format is easier to read. My family tends to travel with printed guide books, but I have less of an appetite to read them thoroughly or all the way through now.” Travel publishers, with their best-of, go-here, and don’t-miss books, are betting that others feel the same way.

Liz Scheier is a writer, editor, and product developer living in Washington, D.C., and the author of the memoir Never Simple (Holt).

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