The top destinations of 2015: A new approach to listicles

Robert Reid is one of my favorite travel experts in print or in person, even if he rarely manages to ever stay true to the title of his “76-Second Travel Show.”

Last year he wrote a story for our big sister site Skift about the trends driving different publications’ picks for their respective 2014 top destinations lists. It boiled down to three main angles:

The most popular pick for editors is a place linked to a specific event, anniversary or news-related topic, like the World Cup or the 100th anniversary of WWI (almost half of the total). Next are secondary destinations that appear overdue for a shout-out (over a quarter of the total, including destinations like Nicaragua’s Little Corn Islands, …

In Praise Of Travel Lists

travel listsTravel lists get a lot of grief. I’ve overheard many fellow travel writers offer the opinion that lists of various sorts are deeply inferior to any and all narrative travel writing. Others have suggested that lists are slowly crowding out real travel writing entirely.

C’mon now.

Let’s agree for a few provisional minutes that the purpose of travel writing is, very generally, to inspire people to think about travel. (Why not? This is a good goal, all things considered.) Few genres of writing are better suited to achieving this goal than travel lists – lists of destinations, hotels, beaches, restaurants and so on. A list written by an expert can feel like an extended secret, like an invitation to experience the world differently.

Lists at their best are efficient. They cover key territory and reduce unnecessary noise. They reveal their writers’ passions directly. Are they the ticket to cross-cultural understanding? Not usually, but then very few traditional travel stories, no matter how drenched they may be in self-importance, ever accomplish this end.

Let’s take this past Saturday’s print edition of Guardian Travel as an example of the value of travel lists. The section was full of inspiring ideas in list form – summer holiday recommendations, adventures in south-west England, and cool accommodations on the Isle of Wight. There’s a more bullet-point-like list of upcoming holiday festivals in the UK as well.

The summer holiday recommendations kick off with some exciting suggestions about corners of France slightly off the beaten path, written by Jacqueline Mirtelli of Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency. Mirtelli suggests Cap Corse, the little-visited peninsula on the northern coast of Corsica, and finishes off her tip list with the inland villages of the Var, a region in Provence. Elsewhere Michael Cullen of i-escape tips the Greek island of Kastellorizo, Simon Wrench of Inntravel suggests the Danish Riviera, and Lucy Kane of Rough Guides lists Tbilisi, Palma and Montenegro as her summer travel recommendations.

In this short round-up piece the excitement of summer travel is infectious and inspiring. There is information here, and more importantly there are multiple jumping-off points for research. Could this sort of generalized excitement be achieved by one longer piece on, say, the Amalfi Coast? I’m doubtful that it could.

Like many absolutist stands that we travel writers get sidetracked into on occasion, the resistance to lists is misplaced. The wholesale replacement of narrative by lists would be a terrible development for sure; shy of that, there’s no need to attack the humble list. There is, however, as always, a need across genres for high-quality versions of all types of writing.

[Image of Cap Corse: Flickr | cremona daniel]

In Praise Of Service Journalism

service journalism - travel magazinesMy career in the travel world started out by pure luck. I was assigned to work a temp office gig in the PR department of Condé Nast Traveler for two weeks, which turned into two years at the magazine, four more at a PR agency for hotels and travel providers and two more here at Gadling. Before and throughout my career, I’ve always been a major consumer of travel media, whether I’ve used it to inspire and help plan my personal travels, as a resource for how and where to pitch my clients, or for story ideas and to keep up with industry news. Some of my favorite stories to read or write have been service pieces, the much-maligned but reader-popular side of journalism.

Service journalism has been called the “fast food” of journalism, providing the reader with “5 of the World’s Sexiest Beaches!” or a suggested itinerary for exploring the city as in the New York Times‘ regular “36 Hours in..” series. While a narrative feature might probe into a culture’s essence, or try to evoke the feeling of a certain place in time, a service piece gives you quick tips, highlights the “best” of a place and may include lists, bullets and infographics. I like the definition of service journalism as “informational“: it tells you not just about a place, but how to get there, where to stay, what to eat, etc.At Condé Nast Traveler we promoted many different magazine articles from investigative stories on airline security to roundups of romantic getaways for Valentine’s Day, and it was generally the articles on how to save money booking your next cruise, or hotel packages involving chocolate-dipped strawberries that got an editor booked on the Today Show or a mention on the Associated Press. At Traveler, I worked with Consumer News Editor Wendy Perrin, whom I might call the Meryl Streep of service journalism: well-known and beloved in the industry, frequently honored but not as much as she deserves. Wendy publishes annual guides to the best travel agents, vacation rentals, cruise ships and dream trips. She was also a pioneer in social media, as one of the first “old media” editors to start blogging, and an early advocate of social networking platforms like Twitter as an essential tool for travelers. While a guide to the best credit cards for racking up frequent flyer miles may not sound poetic, Wendy’s writing regularly affects readers in a very real way, and she maintains an open dialogue to make sure readers are taking the best trip possible.

While I might read a travel narrative or even a novel to be transported somewhere else, a service piece helps me actually get going somewhere else. It was a L.A. Times article on the Corn Islands that got me to go to Nicaragua in 2007; of the few other Americans I met there, most of them were there because of the piece as well. A recent post from Legal Nomads might look like a standard list of travel tips, but it’s peppered with anecdotes, insights and links to other travel stories, and I was transported around the world with Jodi (and craving oranges) while I read it. A Nile Guide roundup of decaying castles has me plotting a trip to Belgium. Some of my favorite and most heart-felt articles I’ve written for Gadling have included finding the expat community and tips on travel with a baby. The Society for American Travel Writers’ annual awards have a category for service-oriented stories, but a few service pieces have snuck their way into other categories, such as the deceptively simple-sounding “Ten Reasons to Visit New Orleans.”

Looking through several of the major travel magazines, most stories are now accompanied by some kind of service information: a sidebar on farmers markets to accompany an essay on eating locally, or a back-of-book addendum of hotels and practical tips for a feature on a changing city’s political landscape. Perhaps all travel media should strive for this mix of inspirational, educational and doable. Our own Features Editor Don George explains that a successful travel narrative should describe a “quest that illuminates a place and culture.” A top ten list of summer vacation may not provide such a point, but a feature on visiting the Seychelles on a budget just might. Not all service pieces have to be fluffy, or recycled from press releases, or lacking insight. They can contain mini-narratives and discoveries, and at best, give readers the tools to create their own.

Snack Food Fails: Weird food names around the world

The first time I went to a grocery store in Ecuador, all the food was distressingly unfamiliar. Milk was sold in bags, eggs weren’t refrigerated, the cheese looked like butter, there were weird spiky fruits I’d never seen, and everything else was in a language I barely understood. As I walked around picking up imported, English-language brands that were familiar – Oreos, JIF peanut butter, and a $5 box of Kraft mac & cheese – I saw a salsa label that made me laugh out loud.

In huge letters across the box the label read ‘SNOB.’ How on earth did marketers allow that brand name make it onto the shelves? The fact that nobody took the time to look up the word’s meaning in other languages baffled me, especially after so many other famous marketing goofs have come to light. That is, until I took a look around the Internet and saw the same thing happening in all corners of the world.

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Click through the gallery above to see other snack food fails from around the world. And if you’ve seen others during your travels, share them below or send the pictures to zaymedia [at] gmail [dot] com for round two (don’t forget to mention where you spotted the package).

[Image courtesy OBiTran / flickr]

Top 10 reasons that Top 10 lists suck

top 10 listsThe Top 10 list is as prominent in most bloggers’ toolboxes as hammers are in carpenters’, um, toolboxes. Bloggers love to compile lists. Readers love to judge, debate and share those lists. In theory, everybody wins. However, if you’re a fan of travel writing – or any writing, for that matter – the Top 10 list is the embodiment of the death of narrative. Sure, Top 10 lists can entertain readers, share information and convey feelings, but too much of a good thing can be bad. Travel blogger Michael Hodson (aka @mobilelawyer) decided to take on Top 10 lists in a recent post on his blog, Go, See, Write.Hodson points out that “No one even bothers to do them right – A Top 10 lists should be a countdown from 10 to 1.” Well, he has a point there. We should be celebrating number 1. We’ve been guilty of that mistake here at Gadling. Heck, we’re guilty of using top 10 lists often here on the site. Why? Because we think that we have ideas to share. So, while Hodson claims that “Every good Top 10 has been done,” I must respectfully disagree.

I think every bad Top 10 list has been done several times over. I also think that many bloggers use the Top 10 list as a crutch to hide poor writing skills, muddled ideas and laziness. However, I think that Top 10 lists can be helpful. But, as Peter Parker’s uncle once noted, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Top 10 lists written purely for the sake of shock value or to generate some page views are a disservice to readers. Top 10 lists that are well thought out, promote discussion and truly share useful information have a place in the travel blog world. And, yes, so do Top 10 lists that are just plain hilarious.

Hodson’s post is worth a read and should give travel bloggers pause before they write their next Top 10 list.

Photo by Flickr user sam_churchill.