Travel (not so) Savvy

Travel Savvy is dead. The magazine already rose from the dead once a few months ago, reformatted itself with a “book of lists” approach to travel highlights, then folded again. It was owned by Sidney Frank, a guy who got rich convincing college kids that shots of Jagermeister were great fun and then got even richer convincing people that it’s worth paying a huge premium for “premium vodka.” Now he’s dead and his estate finds the magazine “too risky.” Only a week after he kicked it, the holding company put Travel Savvy in the circular file.

I was a bit torn about this magazine. The marketing side of me I admired them for at least trying something different. The basic formula was to find a celebrity’s passion, then get them to make some list about it. So it mixed our celebrity-obsessed and gossip-obsessed culture with a resurgent travel market. In the last issue you got Andy Garcia talking about places to get great Cuban food in Miami, Sarah Jessica Parker talking about hotels that I guess would make you feel sexy, and Michael Palin talking about the world’s best train rides. These pedestal pieces would be joined by a bunch of other lists, such as “most romantic hotels in the world,” “best beaches for a getaway,” and other silly fluff that assumed the writers had actually been to every hotel or beach in the world. (In reality, PR people did a lot of the, um…research.)

Which is why the traveler side of me couldn’t stand the publication. It played into the American desire to make everything a contest or a ranking. It boiled beautiful and complicated places down to a few pithy sentences and a spot on a list. It was the travel magazine equivalent of a doughnut: looks nice, tastes yummy, but all sugar and fat–empty calories. As the folks at the Jaunted blog said, “We liked Travel Savvy. It obviated the need for reading, since it was mostly pictures and lists. We often find paragraphs confusing.”

So while I always hate to see a travel magazine shuttered and there are editors now looking for another job, this one is no great loss. If it means there was not a significant market for travel stories that treated destinations like this season’s fashion line, that’s a good thing. It gives me hope that most people see travel as a more emotional and vibrant experience than buying a new camera or suit.

  1. Mike Thiel


    First, thanks for letting us know what happend to Travel Savvy and giving us a bit of the background. I’d have to say I agree with your analysis/take. Now, what do you suppose will be the fate of Elite Traveler, which seems to be prospering with a rather similar formula.
    We at Hideaways International ( did a survey of our members a couple of months back that asked them what they thought of “Travel Best” lists. The responses ranged from a yawn to a very jaundiced view of them. Yet every publication still hypes them. Go figure. At Hideaways International (published Hideaways Guide for 25 years and now publishing the maga-letter Hideaways Life), we admit that any lists we publish are subjective, because they are based on our own travels, and though we have seen and reported on a lot of the world, you can’t cover it all. We do however use our own audience as an extension of our own eyes and ears and they are a pretty experienced and sophisticated bunch of travelers.

    Happy travels,

    Mike Thiel
    Hideaways International, Inc.

  2. Tim L.


    My cynical view is that these things are easy to put together from an editorial standpoint and they’re easy to pitch to advertisers. (As I sit here looking at the Conde Nast “Hot List” issue–stuffed with an even greater number of those “special advertising section” ads than usual.) Some people apparently do love to categorize as well, so it appeals to list-lovers. But of course nobody on Earth is probably qualified to rate the “Top 10 Beaches” or “Top 10 Hottest Clubs in Europe” or other silliness like it. It all seems about as insightful as rating Angelina Jolie’s top-10 outfits–which is probably showing on some cable channel right now.

    Elite Traveler is an odd magazine indeed and I’m not sure if it can survive. It wouldn’t if it had to rely on subscribers–instead it gives the magazine away. We shall see I guess, but I would think the really showy rich people who have time to read escapist magazines are already reading Robb Report, which is more insightful. Or Town & Country Travel. Time will tell–depends on whether the advertisers see results or not.

  3. Rollin or Jane Moerschel

    I subscribed to Travel Savvy until March 2008. What happens to the money I sent you for the subscription?

  4. tim

    Rollin, please pass me some of whatever you’ve been smoking…

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