Savvy Travelers

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 by Rudy Maxa.

What if you’re a traveler who’s really nuts about Germany? Or Italy? Or France?

If that describes you, then you’re a candidate for newsletters that lavish attention on your particular country of interest.

I know a little something about travel newsletters. I used to publish one. For five years, I managed to lose money publishing a general interest, consumer-oriented travel newsletter. And although I’m still proud of the editorial product my staff and I produced, I was too distracted by other deadlines to focus on marketing and subscription growth.

One day, my managing editor said, “Rudy, we can produce another issue, or we can just send each subscriber a $5 bill—because that’s what it’s costing you to publish each copy.”

I found her argument compelling and closed down Rudy Maxa’s Savvy Traveler newsletter a month later in 2004. And since then, I’ve seen other travel newsletters start and fail. So I’m an admirer of newsletters that can survive. The following four have survived, and I recommend them to you:

  • In love with Italy? Kathy McCabe, a former USA Today travel editor, publishes Dream of Italy, a ten-times-a-year newsletter dedicated to all things Italian. Whether it’s a review of a Michelin-starred restaurant on a Sicilian hillside or a guide to the lightly-touristed region of Valle d’Aosta, McCabe is dedicated to making you want to travel to Italy all the time. You can subscribe to an online edition for $64 annually or receive a print version for $10 more a year.

  • Students of Germany, Austria and Switzerland should consider GEMüTLICHKEIT, which is German for “cozy,” sort of. Publisher Bob Bestor gets very detailed describing Alpine drives and is the tops at locating villages and describing wonderful-sounding, well-priced hotels and restaurants.   Published ten times a year, GEMüTLICHKEIT costs $67 or $8 less if you subscribe online.

  • La Belle France has been around 25 years, and Francophiles will love it. Published monthly, the newsletter isn’t necessarily for bargain hunters (a year’s subscription costs $119 for either a print or an online edition), but it does separate the very good from the overly hyped when it comes to luxurious hotels, resorts and restaurants.

  • The granddaddy of high-end travel newsletters is Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report. The name “Andrew Harper” isn’t the author’s real name, which I am not permitted to reveal under threat of being drummed out of the inner circle of travel writers, but this newsletter is devoted to reviewing and keeping readers updated on the best resorts, hotels and restaurants in the world—from the South Pacific to the south of France. As often as not, Mr. Harper is displeased with places glossy travel magazines routinely love. The newsletter has spawned a small empire that offers high-end trips as well as upgrades and other perks at cooperating properties. You can view a sample of the newsletter online and check out the subscription levels that begin at $195 a year.

Most of these newsletters offer subscribers the opportunity to search back issues where there’s often a treasure trove of insider’s advice for trip planners. And don’t forget free, online blogs, such as National Geographic Traveler’s Intelligent Travel. It, too, can be the source of good information for serious travelers.

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About Rudy Maxa

Rudy Maxa

Rudy Maxa is host and executive producer of the public television travel series, Rudy Maxa's World. The 78 episodes he has hosted have won numerous awards, including a 2008 regional Emmy for his episode "Rajasthan." He's a contributing editor with National Geographic Traveler magazine and has written for a host of national travel magazines and newspapers. For nearly 15 years he offered consumer travel commentary on public radio's business show Marketplace as "The Savvy Traveler," which was also the name of a one-hour, coast-to-coast weekend show on public radio that he co-created and hosted for four years. Prior to his career as a travel writer and broadcaster, Maxa was an award-winning Washington Post investigative reporter, magazine writer, and columnist for 13 years, during which time his reporting was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He was a senior writer at The Washingtonian magazine and Washington, D.C., bureau chief of Spy magazine. The author of two non-fiction books, Maxa lives in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.

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