Armchair travel has never been so easy. From glossy magazines and Sunday newspaper travel sections to specialty newsletters and Web sites, travel publishing has diversified as never before.
Whether you want to take your family to a dude ranch, search for a romantic island, buy good camping equipment, read about an adventure in Bora Bora, or just find out about the best airfares, publishers are vying for your eyes.
Peruse the magazine stands and you'll see Travel Holiday, Cond Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, Outside, Getaways, Honeymoons, Islands, regional publications, and more. The Internet offers an abundance of travel "zines" and Web sites as well.
But before you drop $10 at the newsstand or spend days on the Internet, consider just what you want from a travel publication.
A good travel article will give you practical information and a good read. Generally speaking, trends in travel publishing are in a response to the needs of consumers and the climate of the travel industry.
"Travel is on fire right now," says Scott Parmalee, associate publisher of Outside magazine, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Families are a huge market, as evidenced in Outside's Family Vacations Summer Planner.
The weekend traveler
One relatively new magazine responding to harried lifestyles and family needs is Getaways. It focuses on the trend toward shorter vacations.
With downsizing and people working longer hours, families have time and money constraints, so more people are taking three- to six-day vacations, says editor David Bruel. And they're "escaping" closer to home.
Mr. Bruel say that Getaways, which has four regional editions, reflects the relevance people want in a travel publication. Noting that less than 15 percent of Americans have passports, he says, "A realistic trip for most of us is not going to be Istanbul; it's going to be Vermont, Chicago, San Francisco."
In the future, Bruel says, editorial content at Getaways will probably be geared more for families, such as articles on trips that are affordable, fun, and kid-friendly. That's territory Bruel understands. He has three children who, for example, would ask to stop at the Basketball Hall of Fame (in Springfield, Mass.) on the way to the Berkshires.
Besides weekend trips, one of the biggest travel trends recognized by the industry is activity-based travel. Whereas "adventure" travel connotes a sense of roughing it, "active" travel is more representative of the mainstream, says Mr. Parmalee.
Professionals want to go on safari, for example, but "we're not talking about sleeping in the desert. They want the comforts they're used to."
So, for example, you will see travel stories on bike trips in France, but after the 20-mile ride, travelers pull into a gorgeous villa. Even more-mainstream and high-end travel publications will feature sea kayaking as a main feature, says Parmalee, whereas five or six years ago it would have been strictly, say, museums in Spain.
Cond Nast, considered one of, if not the big boy of travel mags with a circulation of 750,000 - is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Editor in chief Thomas Wallace says consumers are more sophisticated and more demanding than ever.
"People are traveling an enormous amount. But they're more careful and cautious than in the '80s," says Mr. Wallace. In response, the travel industry is making available more and different kinds of vacations or leisure trips.
"Travelers are learning languages, learning how to cook, taking a course in art appreciation." he says.
In the grand scheme of things, publications are responding to several factors that affect the travel industry as a whole, according to Wallace: The world is at peace (with the exception of a few flare ups) and the economy is strong almost worldwide.
More accessible areas
Places that were off-limits five or 10 years ago are opening up and becoming more accessible and traveler-friendly, such as East Asia and the former Soviet Union. At Cond Nast, editorial content will concentrate more on places that Americans don't normally visit - places that are opening up and yet are secure politically, says Wallace, who recently returned from China.
"Cautious" could also be used to describe certain travel writers. Some warn that travel magazines aren't always reliable, consistent, and up-to-date.
"Too often, travel magazines focus on accommodations instead of well-researched destinations, and that's doing readers a disservice," says Jane Dorfer, author of "Going Solo" and founder of the newsletter "English Spoken Here," which debuts in August.
"The travel editors and writers have lost sight of who their readers are," she says. "If one were to read most of the travel magazines you would believe you could not stay in a hotel that was less than $200 a night." Frugal travel yields the best kind of off-the-beaten-track experiences, she says.
Dorfer suggests that readers-cum-travelers take a preliminary trip to the library and check out newspapers and magazines. Very often regional magazines are current and useful, says Dorfer. She personally praises Consumer Reports Travel newsletter.
"To me the best travel writing is evocative enough to want to make me go, is current, and practical enough so that when I get there I don't get frustrated and say, 'Why didn't they tell me that!' "
Also to note, many publications are under great pressure from advertisers, and even though they may claim their writers don't take free trips (which could bias their writing), many still take press rates.
Some Upcoming Issues:
Cond Nast Traveler (circulation: 750,000): Targeted to the sophisticated traveler; considered upscale. Sept.: Readers' Choice Awards; the magazine's biggest-selling issue, where readers rate the Top 100 best cities, islands, hotels, resorts, cruises, airlines, and car rentals.
National Geographic Traveler (circulation: 700,000): Targeted to international traveler. Sept./Oct: Autumn in Yosemite; Santorini, Greece; Chile; scenic drives in West Virginia; and Tulsa, OK.
Outside (circulation: 500,000): Targeted to outdoorsy types. Sept: Best of multi-sports adventure trips; Scotland's Isle of Eigg. Oct.: Outside's 20th anniversary issue and Annual Vacation Guide.
Getaways (circulation 250,000) Targeted to weekend travelers in US. Sept issue.: Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; Maine's Wyeth country.
The Internet has dozens of travel "zines," like Epicurious (travel.epicurious.com/) and Websurfer Travel Journal with its excellent links (edge.net/~dphillip/). While some piggy back hard-copy publications, others are for cyber surfers looking for real-world adventure - or just a little rest and relaxation.
And of course, as with anything on the Internet, travel sites vary in quality and range from the inspirational and helpful to the offbeat and truly zany.
One advantage of using the Internet rather than magazines is that you can use search engines to do some of your legwork - especially if you've narrowed down your interests.
Plug in "walking vacations" or "scuba+bahamas," for example and you're on your way.
Some sites specialize in consumer information, such as Inside Flyer, geared for frequent fliers (www.webflyer.com), and Best Fares, for keeping up with the airfares (www.bestfares.com).
For the more literary types, travelogues and adventure stories can be found too, such as Salon's new Wanderlust. (www.salon.1999.com/wanderlust/).
Here are some sites you may want to check into:
* TravelWeekly: www.traveler.net/two/
* Epicurious, including Cond Nast: travel.epicurious.com
* eTraveler, online collection of travel articles from different publications: www.empg.com/etraveler/index.html
* Wanderlust, literary travelogues, from creators of Salon: www.salonwanderlust.com/
* National Geographic Traveler: www.nationalgeographic.com/media/ traveler/
* Magellan Internet Guide: www.mckinley.com/magellan/Reviews/ Regional/Travel/index.magellan.html
* Getaways: getawaysmag.com
* Honeymoon magazine: www.honeymoonmagazine.com/
* Wide Wired World: www.worldworks.net/widewiredworld/
* Rec.Travel Library: www.solutions.net/rec-travel/
* Go West - the inside on the outside in Western North America: www.gowest.com/
* Web Surfer Traveler (good links too): edge.edgenet/~dphillip/