Fodor’s, the world’s largest publisher of travel information and go-to resource for a global audience of discerning travelers, is taking a surprisingly grassroots approach to sharing the art of travel.
On Tuesday evening, editor Rachel Kowalczyk and I found ourselves convening with the travel experts at Fodor’s in a lovely little bookstore to the north of Chicago. Within moments of our arrival, Fodor’s Editorial Content Director Arabella Bowen was graciously shaking our hands with an enthusiasm that made the Pinot Grigio shimmer in our glasses.
A petite woman of sophisticated style and personal dynamism, Bowen’s New York chic belied a warm, friendly demeanor appropriate to the quaint Midwestern setting. Directing humble Bowen to gush about her experiences was Amanda D’Acierno, top publishing executive for Random House, Fodor’s parent publisher.
The pair is wrapping up their end-of-spring Summer Travel tour, chatting with the locals in several US cities about where to go in the hot months ahead. After stops in Houston, TX and Coral Gables, FL, the Fodor’s travel experts made their way up to Chicago – then kept going to arrive in this enclave of Chicagoland charm in the northerly village of Winnetka.
Nearly every chair occupied in the tiny bookstore, the faces turned to Bowen and D’Acierno, seated in front.
“My early travels were always to places that were deeply familiar,” began Bowen, describing a childhood spent jet-setting to Europe from her Toronto home. Her mother was determined that young Arabella should learn French in Paris, and her father “fancied himself a Brit” – together, they instilled in Bowen a lifelong wanderlust, a travel philosophy that is very much alive at Fodor’s today.
With a network of over 500 writers worldwide to keep Fodor’s guidebooks updated annually with the trusted local perspective, Arabella manages to stay one step ahead of the curve. She greeted 2012 from Rome, and this year discovered that Istria is the perfect off-the-beaten-path destination for those seeking a European vacation. Unsurprisingly, she’s already eager to greet the next destination on her radar: Myanmar.
We broke into unrestrained beaming when Panama earned a special mention from Arabella as one of the best destinations to visit this year, regardless of season – a recommendation that echoes inclusion of Panama as the “Emerging Hotspot” on Fodor’s Where to Go in 2012 list announced last January.
“City, jungles, beaches, islands… Panama is a destination that has everything!” Bowen raved.
D’Acierno continued to expertly prompt her companion, leading her to divulge the inside scoop we were all dying to hear. Istria (not Italy) has the best truffles in the world, not to mention decadent olive oil and wines. Visit Rome in January for temperate weather, a rare absence of crowds, and the sight of Italian women riding Vespas in their fur coats. Stop in Switzerland, not to ski, but to immerse in Alpine culture via the lively summer festivals. And value-seekers were advised to rent a villa in Portugal or head to Prague (try the head cheese in a local beer hall) or Berlin (Hungarian wines are the next “big thing”) for the best of Europe at a bargain.
Meanwhile, I snuck a glimpse at the roomful of faces and met the smiles of other attendees whose gazes had drifted from the front of the room.
Some were glowing with the sunkissed evidence of recent trips to Greece, to Costa Rica – avid travelers who are either planning, just returned, or on their way. I can only guess at how many dog-eared Fodor’s guides grace the bookshelves of their homes, mementos of countless memorable trips.
Others in the audience wore the ashy, weary looks of Chicagoans still emerging from winter – folks desperately in need of a vacation. Realizing I fell into the second category, I turned back to the discussion of summer travel tips happening at front, knowing I’d have a reason to put them to use soon in my impending return to Isla Palenque.
Although she does her share of globetrotting in a given year, D’Acierno made no claims of being a travel expert — she left the guidance to Bowen. However, this veteran of publishing voiced her genuine pride in the unique offerings of Fodor’s Travel, particularly its travel forums which generally put the competition to shame.
“The trouble with most travel review sites is that you don’t know who the information is coming from,” D’Acierno said. “By using Fodor’s forums, I was able to plan a trip to France and Italy suitable for children, complete with a playground across the street from our hotel and a Louvre scavenger hunt.”
A woman from the audience piped up, “How much does that cost?” The beautiful reply of “Nothing at all!” ensured that all of us, even those without a trip on the horizon, would be exploring the Fodor’s forums at our first convenience to drink in up-to-the-moment insider tips provided by “Fodorites” hailing from around the globe.
Fodor’s travel content offers something no other supplier of travel information does quite so well – advice on how to travel like a local. And Fodor’s top team shares travel advice in the same grassroots way as do their on-location writers – a refreshing parallelism of expressed values and behavior in action. We left bubbling over with inspiration aplenty to share insider information on our own destinations right here on The Ambler.
A big thanks to Fodor’s, Arabella Bowen, Amanda D’Acierno, and Roberta Rubin, proprietor of the Book Stall and our gracious host for the evening. We’ll see you on the forums, Fodorites!