Pros: Beautifully photographed; non-touristy perspective; travel with a conscience.
Cons: Only comes out 6 times a year, boo.
I get a lot of magazines – more than I have time to read, honestly – and so for me to add another subscription to the roster is no small thing. But I really enjoy my subscription to AFAR, a travel magazine that’s refreshingly free of yawn-inducing filler like “101 Suitcase-Packing Tips” or “Best Wrinkle-free Travel Clothes.” A great travel magazine should educate, entertain, and inspire you to explore new cultures, whether that’s by going to visit in person or simply armchair-traveling.
AFAR is fairly new, having launched in August 2009, just when many are proclaiming the death of the print magazine. Still, it fills a niche that no other travel magazine I can think of does, and hopefully that will be enough to keep it going. Here’s what they have to say about their publication: “AFAR understands that simply seeing the sights is no longer enough. Experiential travelers want to venture beyond the beaten tourist paths and dive deeper into authentic, local culture, connecting with people from other cultures in ways that enrich their lives and create lasting memories…AFAR Magazine’s feature articles tell stories of culture, geopolitics, active and eco-travel, and personal transformation. They explore small slices of life and illuminate complex issues through individuals' stories.”
These are the regular departments in each bi-monthly issue:
• Mix: A photocollage showing the many ways the world's people address universal needs and desires (one recent example was school lunches from around the world – yikes!).
• Good Trips: Subtitled “Travel with Purpose,” this section highlights trips for eco-tourists, volunteers, and other do-gooders.
• The A(FAR) List: Upcoming music, art, film, sports, and cultural festivals around the globe, along with short blurbs on destinations (this month’s issue has, among others, a half-page essay with photo about buying frankincense at the souks of Oman).
• Curious Planet: Infographics that illustrate a global issue (this month’s is a so-called Narcissism Index, measuring a country’s self-image vs. international reputation).
• Spin the Globe: AFAR literally spins the globe, picks a destination at random, and sends a writer there to report (this month’s writer visits a witch doctor in La Paz, Bolivia).
• Feast: A local dish (this month’s is pesto!) and its connection to its culture, plus selected recipes and short blurbs on spices, beverages, street markets, and kitchen tools.
• Stay: A look at out-of-the-ordinary accommodations (this month follows the “Mick Jagger Trail,” where he famously slept).
• Sounds: Music and musicians explored through a cultural lens (this month’s is about French pop, then and now).
• Resident: A photo-essay where a local shows us around their neighborhood.
• Nomad: A short interview with a frequent world traveler.
• Guide: Lodging and restaurant listings, suggested reading and listening, and tips related to the feature articles.
• Where Travel Takes Me: The back-page essay, in which travelers share their formative globe-trotting experiences.
The magazine is beautifully photographed, and the overall design is clean and unobtrusive, allowing the text and pictures to be the focus, rather than a splashy design or funky fonts. I particularly like that it aims to show you a typical person’s everyday life and neighborhood, something that’s hard to get a sense of when you’re sightseeing as a tourist (I love to visit foreign supermarkets for this reason, to see what the locals eat and how they buy it). Even if I don’t necessarily want to visit the place they’re talking about, the writing captures my interest, and I always enjoy learning about local culture, cuisine, and family life.
AFAR is nothing if not ambitious: not only did they launch their magazine at the same time that many venerable publications were shutting down, but they also plan to expand into a series of travel books and TV programs. “AFAR Media’s Experiential Traveler book series will offer a deeper approach than traditional travel guides,” they promise. “Books will be organized around various themes of experiential travel, including cultural travel, educational travel, volunteerism, eco-tourism, and geo-tourism.” There are a ton of travel guides out there, but if the quality of the magazine is any indication, these would be uniquely tailored to special interests in a way that your one-size-fits-all guide isn’t.
If you need another reason to like these people, they also donate at least 1% of revenues to their philanthropic affiliate - the Afar Foundation, which promotes cross-cultural exchange by sponsoring international travel and study for students who cannot otherwise afford to experience another part of the world. “A pilot program called Learning AFAR with Global Explorers is sending 24 high school students from Oakland, California, and Yonkers, New York, to Costa Rica in July 2010. Each student has demonstrated significant financial need, a high level of merit, and a compelling argument for why they would benefit from this experience. The program starts with a yearlong classroom program designed to prepare students for the trip. Teachers take students through a structured curriculum that focuses on leadership, service, cultural tolerance, and environmental conservation. Students will be encouraged to document their travels through writing, photography, and videography, and to enter those materials in a contest sponsored by Afar Media.” So your subscription helps to educate the next generation of global citizens and planet-saving do-gooders, too. Just make sure to recycle that magazine (or pass it on to a friend)!
My only complaint is that the magazine comes out every other month, rather than monthly – this is one that I’d like to receive more frequently. $20 for 6 issues is a bit steep, although I think it's worth the price. I really hope they find success, not only because it’s a quality publication but because I like the cut of their jib. The publishers of AFAR have a passion for travel as a means to cultural enrichment, diversity, and self-improvement; if you do too, then you owe it to yourself to check out this unique magazine.