Travel Afar

Two years ago I took advantage of an expiring miles offer to subscribe to a number of magazines and newspapers. The subscription lists seem to vary depending upon whose carrier’s miles are being used.

I rolled the mileage dice for a magazine I’d never heard of: AFAR.

A couple of months later, the first issue arrived. It took a minute or two for me to remember that, oh yeah, it was one of the free mileage picks. I sat down with the magazine. The tag line under AFAR made me smile: Where Travel Can Take You

The layouts were bold and clean. The photography was real. The editorial perspective was sharp. It was less about the destinations…and more about the experience of exploring those places and engaging the people there.

I began to look forward to the regular feature sections. “Curious Planet” takes a global look at fascinating factoids. For example, the current issue explores cellular phone ownership versus population dynamics in 20 countries. I learned that six of the 20 countries have more cell phones than people.

I’ve also come to appreciate “Wander” which focuses on a handful of cities and presents a whimsical one-page thumbnail of sometimes silly, but always entertaining, attributes of the places. Who knew that white verdelho grapes thrive in the unique microclimate under Mount Pico in the Portuguese Azores?

But my favorite is the “Mix” which offers two pages of small photos with a different theme every issue. The March/April 2011 Mix features 29 bridges from around the world. Some are famous, most are obscure. I’ve only seen seven of the collection and crossed but four.

A couple of issues ago, Mix featured places of worship. It was wonderful to see Santa Croce in Florence where I met a young woman in 1974, and married her there in 1978.
AFAR reminds me of what we were trying to do in 1977 when we launched a company that marketed private tours to Tuscany. The premise was to get people out from behind the windows of motor coaches and into small towns to see, touch, hear, smell and taste how local people live their lives. It was great fun and eventually evolved into our award-winning food and travel blog:

I can’t imagine many challenges tougher than building a new brand in the magazine industry. How is AFAR doing? Pretty darn well, I’d say. They were honored by the Society of American Travel Writers with the 2010 Lowell Thomas Award for America’s Best Travel Magazine. Their editorial sparkles, surprises and delights this reader. On the publishing side, things look pretty fat with a wide range of repeat advertisers.

It appears that management is very savvy with digital opportunities as well. They recently launched Afar Connect, a new online community that, according to Cofounder and CEO Greg Sullivan, “brings together travelers and locals.” That community can be accessed at It will be an adventure to track how AFAR responds to digital world of readers using smart phones, slates and whatever comes next.

What intrigues me most are the backgrounds of cofounders Greg Sullivan and Joe Diaz. They don’t come from the travel or publishing industries and perhaps that might be the reason they have created a platform which successfully straddles both. Check out the video on how AFAR was conceived
After two-years of no-cost mileage subscriptions, I’ve just plunked down hard cash for my third year. If you’re a traveler – not a tourist – this magazine will take you places.

Is there really a difference between a tourist and a traveler?

If so, which are you and why?

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