Travel writers: You need what Book Passage offers

The Book Passage Travel and Food Writers Conference had its 20th anniversary in August of this year. It was small, there were approximately 75 students. The conference is made of the usual stuff — formal talks by travel writers and classes taught by food bloggers and panel discussions about social media and breakfasts made blurry by staying up too late the night before. Book Passage is expensive, inconveniently located, and doesn’t include the cost of staying overnight at the limited hotel options nearby. And Book Passage can, I believe, make a very big difference in your trajectory as a travel writer, making it worth every dime. It was probably the most exciting, meaningful conference I’ve had the good fortune to attend.

A disclaimer and some context, first. This year was my first year at Book Passage. A travel writer friend, Jen Leo, had been badgering me for years to attend. (Jen is one of the regular voices on This Week in Travel, she launched the LA Times travel blog, and she edited Sand in my Bra, a travel compilation.) “YOU need to go,” Jen told me, “Promise me you will save all your ad money from this year to attend.” Then, shortly after TBEX (the Travelblog Exchange, a bloggers conference) in Vancouver, Don George offered me a faculty spot teaching a course on travel blogging. (Don contributes here at Gadling, but he’s also the author of Lonely Planet Travel Writing (How To), a contributor to National Geographic Traveler, and one of the founders of Book Passage.)I accepted and attended my first Book Passage as faculty. This means I didn’t pay the conference fee and that some of my expenses were covered. That said, let me assure you, I wasn’t there for the money. I was there to teach, to participate in panel conversations about social media, and to find out what all the fuss was about. By the end of the weekend I was equal parts delighted and really angry with myself for putting it off for so long. I was wildly honored to be there as a teacher, but I wanted to be a student every minute I wasn’t teaching. Jen was right, I needed to be at Book Passage. And if you are serious about your work as a travel writer, but having a hard time finding your way, or just looking for the next sign post, you do too. Why? Here is what you can find there.

A Sense of Possibility. Travel writing can, at so many junctions, seem like an impossible career path. For those of us who are truly in love with words and writing, it can be deeply frustrating and demoralizing. But the environment at Book Passage is all about encouragement and possibility. There are places where your stories can see the light of day and at this conference, you will meet people who genuinely want to help you make that happen.

An Emphasis on Creating Good Work. On the first night of Book Passage, I listened to Tim Cahill (the founder of Outside magazine, author of Road Fever, and so much more) talk about new media. He struck me as something of a curmudgeon, a guy with tendencies to dismiss the digital world as not worthy of attention simply because it was digital. But I changed my mind about that when he said something along the lines of “all the Twitter and Facebook and blogging tools in the world are not going to help you if you can’t tell a story.” This emphasis on creating good work was repeated throughout the weekend. There are no easy shortcuts, you must sit and write and do so until it is good. It is hard and it is worth it.

Valuable Critiques from Respected Pros. For a little extra money, you can book an hour with a writer or editor who can help you whip your story into shape. They’ll give you actionable notes that can get you unstuck or out of your own head. This isn’t coddling positive feedback, it’s a private session that will make your work better. If you’re further along, you can do three days of this in a small group with Tim Cahill. His students seemed positively shinier by the end of the weekend.

Access to Experts. Book Passage is small with a low student/faculty ration. The travel-blogging class I co-taught with Jim Benning (the editor and co-founder of World Hum) had 12 students — that’s a lot of one on one time with plenty of opportunity for Q&A. Plus, faculty were always accessible between sessions — in the book store, over breakfast, during afternoon breaks on the patio. They don’t disappear when the sessions are over. They’re next to you in line for lattes and they are genuinely interested in what you’re doing.

Really Great Company. Book Passage is the travel writer’s tribal gathering. It doesn’t matter where you’re going next: Phnom Pehn or Honolulu or Dar es Salaam. Somebody has been there and can’t wait for you to go, but mostly, they can’t wait to read what you have to say about it. Really. These are people who are just as compelled to write as they are to travel and they understand. Not only do they want you to have an amazing adventure, they want you to write well when it’s over. And you kind of love all of them for that.

Fairy Dust. I’m a firm believer in conference fairy dust. At big conferences, you find it in the hallways between sessions or in the hotel when it turns out your New York friend has the room across the hall and you have a bottle of Scotch. At big events if you want fairy dust, you have to look and get offsite and make plans. But at Book Passage, the fairy dust seemed concentrated, like something great could happen at any moment. Like an editor could say, “That’s a great idea, write me that! I want to publish it.” Or an idea could go from abstract to concrete in front of your eyes. Or you could go home inspired, knowing that yes, it’s a fool’s path, of course it is, but you would not have it any other way. I saw all these things happen.

I sincerely hope I’ll be invited to return to Book Passage next year as faculty. But even if I’m not, I’m going to do what Jen Leo told me to do all those years ago. I’m going to save my money and go as a student. You should too. See you there.

Image: The Travels of Babar Record Cover by Dominus Vobiscum via Flickr (Creative Commons)

National Geographic offers Dreams of Burma

Dreams of Burma presented by National Geographic Traveler and FotopediaNational Geographic Traveler and Fotopedia have teamed up to deliver yet another fantastic travel app for the iPhone and iPad. Entitled “Dreams of Burma,” the new app manages to captures the spirit and culture of the Southeast Asian country in a host of images, maps, and other features that make it the next best thing to actually being there yourself.

As you would expect when Nat Geo and Fotopedia get together, photography will play a central role in what ever they produce. That is definitely the case with this app, which comes packed with more than a thousand stunning images from Burma. Those images offer everything from intriguing glimpses inside ornate local temples to breathtaking views of some of the stunning landscapes found throughout the country, however it was the photos of the people, going about their daily lives, that left the biggest impression on me.

Your favorite images can be used to create slideshows or set as your desktop background on your device. Built-in connections to email, Facebook, and Twitter also allow you to easily share the best photos with friends and family as well. The app also features a “Trip Builder,” which lets you create your own Burma getaways, both real and virtual. There is also a forward written by Traveler Editor-in-Chief Keith Bellows, as well as interactive maps and a comprehensive search feature as well.

This new app is available now and is completely free. It does require an Internet connection to pull in much of the content however, so be aware of that before you use it on the go. Other than that, I can’t think of a single reason why anyone who considers themselves a traveler, and owns one of Apple’s i-devices, wouldn’t have this app installed. Get it now by clicking here.

National Geographic iPad app offers 50 Places of a Lifetime

National Geographic has released an iPad app for the 50 places of a lifetimeThere is no doubt about it, the iPad has changed the way we consume media and altered how we define what a magazine is. Those of us who use Apple’s insanely popular gadget have gotten use to the idea that our “magazine’s” now include audio, video, and interactive elements that just aren’t possible in the print versions. This is demonstrated perfectly in a new app from National Geographic, which highlights their list of the 50 Places of a Lifetime compiled by Nat Geo Traveler.

As the name implies, this new app spotlights some of the greatest destinations on the planet, which are broken down into five categories. Those categories include “Urban Spaces”, “Wild Places”, “Paradise Found”, “Country Unbound”, and “World Wonders”. Selecting any one of those items will present you with a list of 10 places, which stylishly appear on the screen complete with animation and music. From there, you simply navigate through the individual destinations by swiping left and right. Scrolling up and down presents the full article on the location, offering insights to that place, and why it deserves a spot on the list. It is all very intuitive, and easy to use, with gestures that are second nature to any iPad owner.

The individual articles that accompany the various locations are typical Nat Geo fare. That is to say, they are well written, insightful, and will likely inspire you to want to visit the places being described. The stories are penned by the likes of Bill Bryson, Jean-Michel Cousteau, and George Plimpton, amongst others, who share their personal thoughts on what makes these places so magical. Places like the Serengeti, the Seychelles, and Venice, Italy.
The trademark National Geographic photography makes an appearance as well, of course. Stunning images accompany the travel essays, bringing each destination to life and offering tantalizing glimpses of what travelers can expect at these places of a lifetime. As you would expect, the photos are one of the highlights of this app, and many of them will have you drooling all over your screen.

Other features of the app include videos, interactive “fast facts,” expanded photo galleries, and the always popular Nat Geo maps. I was particularly fond of the 360-degree panoramic images which take full advantage of the iPad touch screen, and built-in checklists that allow you to highlight the destinations that you’ve already visited, while adding others to your own personal bucket list.

The app weighs in at a whopping 464 MB in size, which means it takes awhile to download. If you intend to read it while on your next vacation, be sure to download it well ahead of time. Once installed, everything is self contained however, which means you won’t need an Internet connection to take advantage of everything it has to offer.

The best part of this great app? It costs just $1.99! Where else can you get this kind of interactive content for so little money? Even a print magazine cost more than that! You can find it on iTunes by clicking here.

[Image courtesy of Victor R. Boswell, National Geographic]

National Geographic Traveler announces 2011 Tours of a Lifetime

National Geograpic Travelers Tours of a LifetimeNational Geographic Traveler magazine has announced its annual list of their picks for Tours of a Lifetime, selecting 50 fantastic journeys to the far flung corners of the globe. For each of the past six years, Traveler has examined thousands of tours in a variety of categories, including volunteer vacations, family friendly trips, small-ship voyages, and adventure travel. From all of those itineraries, they’ve narrow down their choices to this select group, which represent the absolute best in travel, offering amazing cultural experiences, unique activities, and a commitment to sustainability.

On their website, Traveler has broken down the selected tours into six regions of the world, including Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Europe, North America, and Oceania. By clicking on one of those options, readers are presented with the magazine’s recommendations for the very best tours operating in that area, complete with a brief description, links to the tour operator’s website, and price, which can vary wildly depending on the destination and options.

Amongst the selections for this year’s Tours of a Lifetime are Serengeti bush treks, whitewater paddling in Siberia, and a journey deep into the interior of Guyana. There is a journey along the Inca Trail on horseback and cycling tours of Italy and France, as well an expedition to the South Pole on skis. In short, there is a little something for everyone, depending on their interests and budget.

Since all of these trips are researched and vetted by National Geographic, you can rest assured that all of the tour operators are not only legitimate, but also top tier. These trips were specifically selected because they offer something that is a little out of the norm. Something unique that you can’t generally get anywhere else. I’m pretty sure, even if you think you’ve been everywhere and done everything, you’ll still find something to appeal to you on this list.

[Photo credit: Christian Heeb, laif/Redux]

Where are all the travel guide apps for Android?

travel guide apps for AndroidNearly two years ago, I bought my first smartphone: the T-Mobile Android MyTouch*. I’m only occasionally jealous of my iPhone-carrying friends, as I find few travel guide apps for Android. Even after a move to Istanbul, I still use and rely upon it daily; Android‘s interface is fast and easy-to-use, and seamless use of Google applications like Gmail and Google Maps is part of the reason I bought it in the first place. Living in a foreign country means English-language books and magazines are expensive and hard-to-find, and like many travelers, I don’t want to carry bulky books around when I’m on the road. This leaves a perfect opportunity for mobile developers to provide real travel guide content and not just travel-booking apps, especially apps produced by reliable media sources with professional editorial. These days, every guidebook and travel magazine publisher is coming out with apps for the iPhone and now iPad, supplying users with content and directions on the go, but there are hardly any for Android.

So what’s available for mobile travelers from the top travel book and print sources? Better hope you’re running Apple OS…Guidebooks:

  • Fodor’s: Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Fodor, but we wish you had more than just five city guides for purchase (in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco) and only for Apple.
  • Frommer’s: iPhone guides are available for ten major cities in the US, Europe and Asia, but nada for Android.
  • Lonely Planet: iPhone users are spoiled for choice: dozens of city guides, language phrasebooks, audio walking tours, and eBooks optimized for the iPad. Android users in 32 countries including the US are in luck: there’s a free Trippy app to organize itinerary items, as well as 25 “augmented reality” Compass city guides and 14 phrasebooks. NOTE: This article originally mentioned that the Compass guides were unavailable in the Android Market store, but they should work for most US users. I happen to be in a country where paid apps are not available and not shown in the Market.
  • LUXE City Guides: 20 cheeky city guides work for a variety of mobile phones, including iPhone and Blackberry, but none are compatible with my Android. Bonus: the apps come with free regular updates and maps that the paper guides don’t have.
  • Rick Steves: If you are headed to Europe, you can get audio guides for many big attractions and historic walks for iPhone, plus maps for the iPad. You can also download the audio files free for your computer, and props to Rick for mentioning that Android apps are at least in development.
  • Rough Guides: Here’s a new one: the Rough Guides app works for many phones but NOT the iPhone OR Android! It’s not as slick as some of the other guides (it’s a Java app) and you will use data to use it on the road, but it provides lots of info for many cities in Europe. You can also find a Rough Guides photo app on iTunes to view pictures from around the world with Google Maps and captions from Rough Guides.
  • Time Out: City travelers and residents might want to look at the apps from Time Out for 5 European cities and Buenos Aires, with Manchester and New York on the way. More cities are available for free on iTunes, search for Time Out on iTunes to see what’s available. iPhone only.
  • Wallpaper* City Guides: 10 of the design mag’s 80 city guides are for sale for iPhone for Europe, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.

Print media:

  • Conde Nast Traveler: It makes sense for magazines to embrace the iPad, and CNT has free Apple apps specifically for Italy, cruises, and their annual Gold List of hotels and resorts. Blackberry users can download an etiquette guide, but Android users are snubbed.
  • National Geographic: As befitting any explorer, Nat Geo has a world atlas, national parks maps, and games featuring their amazing photography, all for iPhone. A special interactive edition of National Geographic Traveler is for sale on the iPad; you can also read it on your computer. Androids can download a quiz game and various wallpapers; and all mobile users can access a mobile-friendly version of their website at natgeomobile.com.
  • Outside: Adventure travelers can purchase and read full issues on the iPad, but no subscription option yet.
  • Travel + Leisure: The other big travel glossy also has an iPad app for special issues. Four issues have been released so far with one available now on iTunes (romantic getaways) but future editions will follow to be read on the app. Just in time for spring break and summer, they’ve also released a Travel + Leisure Family app with advice and articles specifically geared towards travel and families. The apps are both free but you’ll need an iPad – these are designed for tablets, not phones. You can also read full issues of T+L and their foodie cousin Food & Wine on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Color ereader; you can save per issue if you subscribe to the e-reader version.
  • USA Today Travel: Most major newspapers have mobile readers for all types of phones, but USA Today is the only one with their own travel-specific app. AutoPilot combines an array of cool travel booking capabilities and information with articles and blog post from the newspaper. Only iPhone users can enjoy free.

Two of our favorite magazines, Budget Travel and Afar, have no mobile apps yet but great online communities to tap into their extensive knowledge.

All in all, other than Lonely Planet’s Compass guides, a pretty weak showing for Android travelers. While iPhone has been around longer as a mobile platform that Android, they’ve lost the market share of users to the little green robot. As Android is available on a variety of phone manufacturers and providers, expect that number to continue to grow, along with the variety and depth of content for mobile and tablet users. Will the developers ever catch up or will travelers have to choose?

*Android has not endorsed this or paid me anything to write about them. But to show I’m not biased – Apple, feel free to send me a sample phone and I’ll test out the apps!

Photo courtesy Flickr user closari. Special thanks to Sean O’Neill, who blogs on Budget Travel and the new BBC Travel blog.