The good news: travel is back. The bad news: travel is back, so much so that popular destinations are seeking to curtail unchecked tourism—see, for instance, Amsterdam’s “stay away” campaign aimed at unruly partiers or the daily cap on visitors to the Acropolis. Guidebook publishers are doing their part, steering readers away from overwhelmed destinations and toward spots that aren’t all over social media.

Another reason to avoid the throngs: “Popular and crowded usually also means expensive,” says Allyson Johnson, executive editor at National Geographic. Forthcoming books from NatGeo and others could help travelers save time and money, travel more responsibly, and, publishers hope, maybe even change the way they see the world.

Expect the unexpected

In April, National Geographic is releasing Andrew Nelson’s Here Not There, which offers 100 alternatives to the most widely visited destinations. “We wanted to highlight the surprising and unexpected,” Johnson says, while showing travelers that the experiences they’re after exist outside of the usual hot spots.

For instance, those in search of a rollicking music scene, good food, and quality beer could head to popular Austin, Tex.; Here Not There recommends Raleigh, N.C., as a worthy substitute. Repeat visitors to Italy have likely visited Florence, but perhaps not Nelson’s suggestion: Lecce, an architecturally rich city in the south.

Amy B. Scher and Mark Jason Williams, the authors of NatGeo’s forthcoming Out in the World: An LGBTQIA+ (and Friends!) Travel Guide to More Than 100 Destinations Around the World (May), were tired of seeing the same destinations marketed to LGBTQ travelers, who are often treated as a guidebook afterthought, Johnson says. Their book highlights well-known inclusive destinations such as Palm Springs, Calif., plus the less expected—Eureka Springs, Ark., for instance, has long been home to a vibrant queer community. Johnson says the guide not only serves LGBTQ vacationers but also allies looking to support the community when they travel.

Lonely Planet’s 2022 release Offbeat: 100 Amazing Places Off the Tourist Trail covered destinations on six continents. In May, the publisher zooms in on Offbeat North America, suggesting, for instance, Milwaukee as an alternative to Chicago—it too boasts a major art museum, thriving breweries, and lakefront attractions, and as a bonus, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum.

The book also promotes Central Alberta, where, not far from Calgary and Banff, visitors can wander nearly alone through ghost towns abandoned after coal mines were depleted in the early 20th century. “This book inspires you to go somewhere that’s not on everyone’s Instagram,” says Becca Hunt, publisher, illustrated and gift, at Lonely Planet. “There are still all these amazing, crowd-free experiences that people don’t know about.”

Lonely Planet Best Beaches (Feb.) likewise caters to an appreciation for the unexpected. The publisher’s top 100 picks include tropical stunners from Oceania to the Caribbean, but also a rare stretch of pink and orange sand in northwest Iceland, formed from pulverized scallops rather than lava, and beaches in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides and in Antarctica.

By expanding their notions of what constitutes beach activities, visitors open themselves up to new experiences, Hunt says. “This book has rocky beaches, and cold beaches you have to hike to with no bathrooms in sight. We wanted to change what people immediately think about when they hear beach.”

Continental drift

Publishers who focused last year on updating existing Europe guidebooks in preparation for what turned out to be a blockbuster summer expect similar levels of interest this year. “We’re seeing improved sales for guides to Japan, Mexico City, and Costa Rica, but Europe is still the top,” says Jaimee Callaway, v-p and associate publisher at Avalon Travel, which publishes Moon Travel Guides and Rick Steves.

Moon’s first region-spanning guide to Europe, Grand European Journeys by Lucas Peters (Feb.), aims to inspire readers who are just beginning to make summer plans. Organized into 40 trips to be made by road, rail, or sea, the 700-page-plus book offers bullet-pointed, multiday itineraries for each route.

Though the title alludes to a specific itinerary followed by 17th–19th-century aristocracy, the book pays keen attention to lesser-known attractions. For example, on a seven-day rail journey through Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, Moon foregoes naming the famed Prague Castle among its top three sites and instead lists Vysehrad, a 10th-century fort that Moon editor-in-chief Grace Fujimoto says is quieter but no less beautiful.

“People are going to find Prague Castle anyway,” Fujimoto says. “Of course, we include it in the itinerary, but it didn’t need to be highlighted as a top pick.”

Rick Steves is wrapping up what he describes as a two-year process revising his entire line of country guidebooks, in an effort to capture all of the changes since the onset of the pandemic. Rick Steves Iceland (Feb.) and Rick Steves Scandinavia (July) feature destinations that are increasingly popular with travelers seeking cooler summer climates while the rest of Europe broils. Steves had timed his research in Mediterranean countries to coincide with shoulder seasons and spent the peak season north of the Alps: “I took screenshots showing that my weather app was always in the 70s.”

Scandinavian cities have undergone major revitalizations in the past few years, Steves says, transforming former industrial zones along their waterfronts into lively pedestrian centers that prioritize space for people rather than cars. With its abundance of open, undeveloped landscapes, Scandinavia is also the best destination in Europe for those who want to steer clear of other tourists, he says.

Points west

Even as European travel thrives, domestic outdoor experiences retain their appeal. “Hiking numbers are still popping,” Moon’s Fujimoto says.

In February, Moon is adding two destinations to a hiking series it launched in 2020: Colorado Hiking by Joshua Berman and Northern California Hiking by Ann Marie Brown and Felicia Kemp. The books depart from comprehensive, directory-like trail listings with detailed, richly photographed descriptions of fewer hikes, with color maps and recommendations for nearby eateries, breweries, and other attractions.

Another outdoor pursuit, open-water swimming, has been gaining momentum in recent years. Hardie Grant released Places We Swim by Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon, a pan-Australia guide, in 2018; Places We Swim Sydney followed in 2020. April sees the release of the authors’ Places We Swim California, which showcases swimming holes, hot springs, river bends, and wild stretches of the Pacific coast. Suggested itineraries may encompass all of the above, as in an eight-day road trip from Mendocino to the Smith River.

“Covid really gave us an appreciation of being outside and things we may have overlooked,” says Hardie Grant Explore commissioning editor Megan Cuthbert. By focusing on some of the world’s underappreciated attractions, travel publishers are happy to show readers all they’ve missed.

Jasmina Kelemen is a freelance writer in Houston.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Lucas Peters's name.

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