The Future of Travel Media?

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I am a travel buff, and have been fortunate in being able to travel to many parts of India and beyond. And my love for travel also extends to consuming all forms of media on this topic.

My first love of travel related media is the humble map. As a child, I used to spend hours devouring maps, either in geography books, or stand-alone maps. It gave me such a thrill to ‘see’ different places and where they all fit in this beautiful world.

I think the next step for me was travel literature. I recollect going through a phase of voraciously consuming books by reputed travel authors and trying to imagine what they must have experienced during their travels.

I then discovered Travel Guides, specifically Lonely Planet. I used to enjoy browsing through their various titles, and drawing inspiration from them. It helped that my first job involved visiting many media stores (books and music) where I had the time to browse the book (and music) shelves.

Travel Guides, for me, are not just about specific information about a destination, but a way to learn more about a place in general – it’s history, culture, key highlights. I do have a small collection of Lonely Planet Guides in my library, with my favourite being the one on the Indian Himalayas.

Along with Travel Guides, I also started consuming travel magazines. This was the time when dedicated travel magazines were just being introduced in India, with Outlook Traveller being the pioneer in this space. I used to enjoy reading their issues, as well as the travel related books that they started publishing.

This was also the time when satellite TV took off in India, and we were suddenly bombarded by TV shows from around the world. One of my favourite genres was, and still is, the travel show. I particularly loved watching ‘Globe Trekker’. And it was a great joy to rediscover this during the lock-down.

And then the internet took off. Suddenly, it was much easier to access travel information from all over the world. I started reading online travel blogs, which provided a great resource to experience travel from the eyes (and words) of common travellers.

One of the first casualties (in my experience) of the rise of online travel media was the travel magazine. I didn’t need a physical magazine any longer to read about the latest hotspots.

The second casualty was books on travel. As I started traveling more and more (and writing occasionally about them), I found my interest in reading books about someone else’s travel experiences waning.

On the other hand, during the lock-down, I discovered travel podcasts. It was interesting to hear about the travel experiences of famous people, but I am not sure if this is likely to sustain for very long.

I still read travel guides and use them as reference material while planning a trip. The mode of reading has shifted from physical to online (e-readers) though.

Another genre that I discovered during the lock-down was the travel vlog. It is a bit surprising that I did not know about the existence of such a thing till this year, but then I was never much of a video watcher (till the pandemic enforced lock-down). Again, it is nice to be able to see places and journeys from the eyes of common travellers.

Looking forward, my sense is that the future of travel media is going to be greater and greater authenticity. By this, I mean that content generated by common people is likely to be more popular than the typical travel show where you have the same hosts talking about their visits.

Does that mean that there is no future for travel shows (or books)? I don’t think so. I believe there will always be an audience for quality long-form content. But the content has to move away from basic information about a place or journey to deeper insights and ruminations about the experience. One example of this would be Anthony Bourdain’s travel shows.

I am sure there would exist travel books on these lines as well, but I admit that I can’t recollect reading one. I have read a lot of travellers to Mumbai saying that ‘Shantaram’ was a great source of inspiration for them, so maybe that’s one example, but I can’t confirm because I haven’t yet read it.

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