Why Most Travel Magazines Don’t Speak to You

hotel bargain

You won’t read about this $14 room in a magazine…

I wrote a post back in 2006 about how magazines don’t really like budget travelers. It was the year I launched PerceptiveTravel.com, partly in response to the folding of nearly every publication geared to those of us looking for value.

At that time the magazine Budget Living had folded, despite having one of the most fanatical fan bases among mag readers. I noted that this probably had something to do with the fact that advertisers want to reach the aspirational, free-spending, debt-to-their-eyeballs folks, not people who are careful with their money.

Sure enough, a trade mag then published this quote from the old Budget Living editor, taken from a conference panel discussion.

“The name ‘budget’ worked great with readers,” he said, “but it was a hurdle for advertisers. The name was a mixed blessing.”

Not long after, the magazine Budget Travel went online only after watching its advertiser base keep dwindling. A few more that appealed to value-oriented independent travelers fell one at a time like bowling pins. It’s not that readers are scarce for budget traveling info, but we’re too fragmented and independent. We don’t follow the herd and we don’t overspend on travel for one week a year only. Chain company advertisers don’t like our kind.

Some point to Afar as the one later launch that has found some success, but there too you’ll be hard-pressed to find articles that mention low prices or savings strategies. It’s hard to attract those cruise companies and luxe hotel chains if that’s your slant.

If you’re looking for articles about traveling on a frugal budget, pickings are slim in the print world—and among their online offshoots. It’s not because of a lack of readers: after all, most people aren’t jetting off to five-star resorts when they go on vacation. But the advertisers don’t want to reach the commoners among us. They want to reach the ones who look at travel choices as just another way to show off their wealth.

The Massive Growth of Budget Travel Blogs

When this blog first showed up on a list of the top-50 in the world by traffic, I was getting around 60,000 unique readers per month and was halfway down the list. Now I consistently get 80-90,000 a month and I barely make the list. Some of the top travel bloggers are reaching more people than the websites of National Geographic Traveler or Outside.

If anyone is looking for a reason why travel blogs have exploded in popularity over the past decade, one simple fact can explain most of it. Travel bloggers can write about whatever they want. They don’t have to please the advertisers with the most money to spend.

budget travel backpackers

They can do posts every week about the best travel values, the vacation bargains, or where to stay on Lombok for $6 a night. They can write about cheap travel hacks and how to travel for free. They don’t have to pretend everyone is staying at chain hotels and flying in business class.

Even when they’re covering a sponsor, it’s likely a place normal people go or travel gear normal people use.

A lot has changed in the 11 years since I first wrote about the budget travel stigma. On the print side it has actually gotten worse, but for every luxury-obsessed magazine, there are 1,000 travel blogs and websites covering travel for the other 98%. Find the ones you like and follow them. They’re writing for you.

  1. Gary

    Amen, Tim. I’m writing from Mérida on a two-month stay with my wife. Although I’ll take credit for doing the initial research, your blog has served as my guide as to what questions to ask, how to go about getting things done and how to manage expectations. All-in costs for two months (air, 2 bed apt., tours, beach getaways, jaunts to Campeche, Valladolid, etc. and mucho comidas y bebidas ) come out to a little over 5K USD. That’s cheaper than staying in Upstate NY and freezing our asses off.

    As a side note, I had to have an emergency root canal done here. First class treatment and follow-up. Total cost w/ meds and surgery, 180 USD. ¡Ay Chihuahua!

    Thanks for serving as the impetus for traveling frugally and well.

    • Tim Leffel

      Good man! That’s a great area to tour around and Mexico is a good place to need dental work. As you found, care is good but you can save a fortune.

  2. Eric

    Well said Tim! If I want to be a tourist I’ll go for the all inclusive resorts that hide you for the real surroundings. I am a Traveler by nature and want to experience the most I can of the culture I came to explore.

    Condé Nast is not on my subscription list!

  3. Milan Michael

    I completely agree with you. Very good informative blog..!

  4. Marie-France @bigtravelnut

    Having a budget travel blog is harder to monetize than a luxury blog I’m sure! Obviously it’s harder to sell products (either your own or through affiliate links) to people with small budgets. And you can’t ask for free nights in fancy hotels in exchange for a review since that doesn’t match your brand. I’ve removed the word “budget” from my blog description. Now it says “affordable”. My experiences have always been more about value than scrimping anyway.

    • Tim Leffel

      Yes, you’re right. Travelers on a budget don’t stay with the brands that advertise the most and they’re much more independent by nature, less brand-conscious. They do spend a lot of money overall in the long term, but their spending is more fragmented and it’s not on high-margin activities like spa treatments, cruises, and hotel suites. So most magazines are geared to the mid to upper market.

  5. Sandeep

    Wow that’s a wonderfull blog having all details & helpful.I am impressed!

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