Paper aeroplanes: A new breed of travel magazine will take you to places you'd never otherwise go

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Want to find out about Sarajevo from a Bosnian? Or see a Dubai backstreet far from the glitzy malls? A new breed of travel magazine will take you to places you'd never otherwise go, discovers Clare Dwyer Hogg.

You can find out pretty much anything these days: all you need do is tap your question into keypad. That's particularly true of travel. A quick search online for a city, and there's a glut of facts and figures, news stories, headlines and interviews.

And yet, as if to counteract this, there is a growing body of beautifully designed, weighty magazines that are very much about digging deep into a place. The geographical place first, but also the happenings, the history, the beauty and the deprivation. They are locally focused, yet global, rather than parochial; and it's not a coincidence that some of the most successful versions are labours of love.

Boat Magazine is aptly named. The office, run by husband and wife Davey and Erin Spens, is based in London, but it moves to a new city each issue. They gather up the most talented writers and photographers they can find, take them to the city they're featuring, cover their travel, food and living costs in lieu of paying them for their work, and – in Erin's words – "set them loose". They migrate for at least five weeks, and live together while collecting the content for their issue.

When Boat began, it had a strap that read 'the antidote to lazy journalism', but Davey and Erin quickly scrapped that because they didn't want to pit themselves against anything. They just wanted to do more. "Once we talked to more people and [heard] their stories, the cities were so different to how they were portrayed on the news," says Erin. They've had four issues so far – first Sarajevo, then Detroit, London and Athens. They've just had a special-edition newspaper about Derry-Londonderry, this year's UK City of Culture. Next stop: Kyoto, set to be published in May. "It's really fun," she says. "It's manic adrenaline the whole time."

The design is crucial. Boat's art director and designer, Luke Tonge, often stays put in London while the rest of the team travel. They collect everything tangible they can about the place – business cards, menus, maps and tickets. He studies their finds, and creates an issue that "looks how the place feels", as Erin puts it. A tall order, but, she says, Tonge is so successful that émigrés from the cities they've covered have often commented on how just the look of the magazine makes them miss their home.

Davey and Erin do this in their downtime; they head a creative agency in King's Cross (also called Boat) and wanted to be productive between jobs. "One of my biggest passions as an American," Erin says, with a discernibly wry tone, "is teaching people about other places in the world we don't know much about." As lovers of travel, rather than holidays, they were well placed to start such an enterprise. "That's why we f pitched Sarajevo," Erin says, of their first issue two years ago. "Most people only know about war. We said 'let's see what we can find'."

They found enough to fill a densely packed 100-page magazine, which included an interview with Lamija Hadžiosmanovic, author of Bosnian Cook, a tome of recipes they discovered in a city-centre bookstore. Erin painstakingly tracked her down, and discovered a professor of literature, who taught in universities and translated Turkish poetry into Bosnian. Thanks to a tip-off from a Serbian friend, Hadžiosmanovic had narrowly escaped death when the war began, fleeing her home with a handful of possessions just before Serb forces took over her apartment block. Two years later, in 1995, she returned to find everything gone. Her recipes are very deliberately not just for Muslims. "All the books I've written are about resistance," she told Erin. "This one uses food. Others use poetry."

In the Athens issue, D'Arcy Doran, one of Boat's writers, goes to a bankrupt television station taken over by its (unpaid) workers, who managed to broadcast programmes even after it was shut down. This feature makes the story "Locals", which comes later in the magazine, in which six Athenians recommend their favourite hang-outs, alternative cafés, and an outdoor cinema, feel all the more rooted in context. The fashionable places to go are properly sourced, rather than parachuted in to an airbrushed depiction of a perfect city.

These are the considerations that commercially driven travel publications don't take into account – and one of the reasons why We Are Here, an alternative conceived of and powered by Conor Purcell, exists. Purcell, originally from Ireland but based in Dubai, has a day job editing Open Skies, the high-gloss luxury publication for Emirates airline. "I didn't like travel magazines," he says. Not, he elaborates, the "PR-generated" ones, anyway, with their 'Top 10 Spa' recommendations. "You can find that online, so why buy a magazine?" he says. "I'm a big [independent] magazine fan anyway, and wondered why that design ethos couldn't be applied to travel."

Purcell's creation doesn't try to sell a destination to a reader. "They may decide they never want to go there," he says. But they will finish the issue knowing more about the place, in all its shades of dark and light. One of the selling points of his magazine is the grainy photography: a little street that could be anywhere in the world graces the cover of his first issue. But it is actually in the heart of Dubai, in an area the tourists are unlikely ever to stumble across and bears no resemblance to the imagery we've been sold of the city in recent years.

Those photographs have all been taken, or processed through, a mobile phone: it works well, especially on the non-glossy paper, but it's not a gimmick. "It was a practical thing," says Purcell who has, to date, funded the magazine himself. "I wanted the photography not to be expensive. I wanted to take the photos myself and control the design."

Also, Purcell has plans to go to Kabul, Tehran, and Bangkok's red-light district: places where it would be handy to have more surreptitious ways of taking a photograph than with a camera. In Bangkok, he'll be with an economist and a psychologist, who will help interpret what the socio-economic and emotional implications are of a red-light district. Purcell says he has to be discerning about advertising, despite the obvious financial help it would bring: he'd always choose not to have it, if he felt it compromised his freedom to say what he wanted about a city.

One man who can take advertising in the form of sponsorship for his travel magazine is Stefan Bogner, editor of the German magazine Curves. For his yearly publication, developed and put together entirely by himself, with the help of just one writer, he has had sponsorship from Porsche and Dunlop, and yet still retains complete creative control. It's a magazine with the tag line 'soulful driving' and is dedicated to the experience of travelling on Alpine roads.

Who knew that a magazine with hundreds of photographs of roads could be so beautiful? (It has just been shortlisted in this year's prestigious D&AD magazine design awards). But page after page of sweeping mountainous routes, always empty, and beneath vistas of sky, is exhilarating. And it doesn't even matter if you don't understand the German words that accompany the photography – Curves would sit very well on coffee tables anywhere.

Bogner, who owns an agency in Munich that specialises in industrial design, says that his initial idea was for a road- trip magazine, borne from a passion for mountains, skiing and hiking. And the words? Think Sofia Coppola and Quentin Tarantino, he says, and a conversation between two friends driving on the empty roads. Yes, there will be information about hotels to stay in along the way, and maps to help the reader navigate, but "the rest is the story, and pictures. No cars or bikes"

Bogner says. "Beautiful road building in the mountains is like a piece of art… and this is just about having a cool story – not a typical tourist story, but a friendship." To make this happen, Bogner employs a writer (a continuous story has run over the first two issues, and will be picked up in the third), and spends two weeks a year travelling himself. He calls it a "vacation project", something he does completely himself. "It's produced in the winter, in the evenings instead of watching TV – every day I do half an hour," he says. "That's the fun thing: no pressure. I have my daily business. If I were to make the magazine every half year? That's work."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried