The New Age of Travel Guidebooks
From a cult-favorite publisher launching a national-parks series to a Kevin Costner–narrated app, these five new releases are reinventing the traditional field guide
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Ready for the travel resurgence are a new class of guidebooks geared toward travelers hungry for more meaningful trips in the future. While such publications celebrate destinations, they also shine the light on subjects like politics, history, culture, and race, making readers the informed people we should be when we visit.
From a city guidebook publisher branching out to national parks to a new Kevin Costner–narrated app featuring forgotten stories of the West, these five releases are taking the act of travel into a whole new age.
The Deep Thinker: Wildsam National-Parks Series
The idea: Why base an entire guide on one viewpoint when you can have up to 20 different perspectives covering everything from overlooked history to land rights? From the publisher of these cult-favorite city and road-trip guides comes this new series on national parks ($20 each). “I wanted a book that felt like the magic of a place,” says founder and editor-in-chief Taylor Bruce. To do that, he sought to replace the “dry, exhaustive, and disposable” guidebooks with something that feels more in tune with the holistic nature of how people experience these popular American destinations.
The difference: The series reimagines the genre with compact and beautifully bound titles that will delight slow-travel fans. Essential details and logistics are shared up front, but interviews and stories turn each book from an information delivery system to an intriguing read. Expect insights from locals who know the parks well and highlight their complexities.
The Grand Canyon edition, which came out in July, includes interviews with people impacted by the landscape: environmentalist Jack Pongyesva speaks to how tourism has often meant exclusion for the area’s Hopi, landscape painter Bruce Aiken shares how living 16 miles from the South Rim for more than 30 years shaped his work, and cultural astronomer Bryan Bates chronicles his experiences studying the impact of constellations on Native culture. Essays and poems help establish an intimate sense of place.
Must have: Pair the national-parks guides with Wildsam’s road-trip kit.
The Modern Remake: ‘The ABC Travel Green Book’
The idea: Between the 1930s and 1960s, Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Traveler’s Green Book offered African Americans safe routes through places where racist ideas and Jim Crow laws held sway. This new iteration, released in August, takes it a step further with the goal of connecting African diaspora travelers to Black communities, businesses, and more around the world ($25 for the paperback; $10 for the e-book).
The difference: This comprehensive guidebook by Martinique Lewis, president of the Black Travel Alliance, provides extensive listings for everything from Black-owned hotels to Black ski clubs. Expect to find annotations of personal or reported insights, like how Lewis felt as one of few Black visitors she encountered on a trip to Iceland, and tips, such as where to get your hair braided in South Korea. From sharing information about Afro-Ecuadorians communities in South America to Black expat groups in Amsterdam, the book also offers a path to connection and fills a gap for an often overlooked segment of travelers.
“It’s connecting us back to our roots,” explains Lewis. Unlike guidebooks centered around a white explorer experience, The ABC Travel Green Book takes a different approach. “The Spanish and French weren’t the only people exploring the earth. Africans were, too, and this book helps us celebrate that, in places people wouldn’t normally think Black people are.”
Next up: Lewis is working on an app, set to launch next year, that will make it even easier to take the information with you as you get back out there.
The Intuitive Storyteller: HearHere
The idea: Inspired by the joy that cofounder and former North Face president Bill Werlin had as a child traveling through Colorado while his grandfather narrated along the way, this GPS-generated audio guide shares stories related to where you are at any given moment. Your phone’s navigational system and a tailored list of interests combine to bring the forgotten accounts of the places you’re driving through to you as you go (from $7 for a weeklong subscription).
The difference: Unlike audio guides that solely focus on location, these narratives about people and popular culture will likely attract travelers who weren’t guidebook purchasers in the past. “Where a guidebook will help you learn about the place that you are visiting, HearHere is all about exploring the history and land you’re traveling through,” explains Woody Sears, its cofounder and CEO. “Think of HearHere as bringing to life the historical markers you pass every day on the highway.” The audio guides launched in August with entries for three states (California, Oregon, and Washington) but more than 10,000 tales, covering all 50 states, are planned for release by summer 2021.
Simply prioritize your favorite topics from a list of predefined interests (including history, sports, colorful characters, and natural wonders) in the app before heading out on your road trip. Every time you arrive in a destination with a story that matches your preferences, you’ll get a notification on your phone. From former basketball legend Phil Jackson narrating the history of the Beartooth Highway as you make your way into Yellowstone National Park to a profile on groundbreaking Danish photographer Benedicte Wrensted and the Shoshone people she photographed in Idaho, the stories are both entertaining and informative.
Fun fact: Actor Kevin Costner is an investor and narrates some of the entries.
The Community Connector: CrushGlobal’s Road-Trip Guides
The idea: Unlike a typical guidebook that offers recommendations by category, this new series of road-trip guides (from $30) presents travelers with a fully outlined, researched, and scheduled route, complete with directions and COVID-19 protocols. It also highlights Black- and people-of-color-owned businesses along the way.
The difference: “Guidebooks I’ve read in the past often felt outdated and didn’t speak the language that appeals to me or my travel interests,” says founder Kristin Braswell. “Travel is not one-size-fits-all, and guidebooks should reflect that.” For Braswell, the confluence of an uptick in road-trip interest this summer and her desire to make domestic travel experiences more inclusive were the driving forces behind these itineraries. “When the demands for more allyship and visibility in both the travel industry and beyond really started to become louder this year, I decided to create a business model that would allow people to support an initiative that helps put revenue into the hands of Black-owned businesses around the country, and to diversify one of the oldest American traditions, the road trip, into a travel experience that is inclusive for all people,” she says.
The by-region series provides intel on everything from where to sleep (usually a choice of two researched options in each location along the route) to what to eat (like the best soul food in Atlanta). Along with taking the guesswork out of trips, the goal is to drive revenue back into the hands of people in the tourism industry, from guides to chefs, who have been impacted by the instability of 2020.
Book it: A customized tour is also available.
The Underrepresented Amplifier: Hello Ranger Community
The idea: Last year, Bradley and Matt Kirouac were the cohosts of the Parklandia podcast, which documented their journey of becoming full-time RVers who traveled across the country to visit national parks. When that came to an end, due to the pandemic, the couple decided to take their love for national parks in a new direction—well, more like three directions. In May, they launched the Hello Ranger website as a resource created by and for the national-park-loving community, with a focus on underrepresented voices and issues. By mid-June, they’d also launched a reimagined version of their original podcast. Then, in September, they added a social app that allows users to share stories, photos, and memories and connect with like-minded members.
The difference: What sets the Kirouacs apart is the diverse nature of their community: oft-ignored voices get megaphones on important people and issues, with stories that range from what it’s like being non-binary on trails to how Black outdoor leaders are attracting more diversity through social media. “NPS is to help you #FindYourPark, ours is to help you #FindYourAmbassador,” the site reads. Contributors are those ambassadors, and they represent different areas of expertise, from service topics like budget travel and RVing to important subjects like visiting parks with a disability.
Extra reading: As a gay couple, setting off across the country after spending more than a decade in Chicago presented some challenges, but it didn’t take long for the Kirouacs to find a sense of belonging.