Hit the Road

New travel magazine offers different international perspective

I never thought that there could be room for another travel magazine in this challenging economy, which has been so tough on the travel industry. Having read the premier edition of Afar, however, I’m happy to say that I was wrong.
You won’t find hotel ratings, lists of cruises or the easiest way to navigate airports in this bi-monthly publication, launched in August. What you will find are stories by travelers who delve into worldwide cultures (no domestic travel stories, please), live like locals and look at destinations from the inside out.
“Afar targets travelers who are looking for more meaning and authenticity,” said Greg Sullivan, founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based magazine. “It’s really about understanding people in other cultures — trying to understand what it’s like for a local. It’s a mindset — about stretching yourself outside your comfort zone.”
Bog snorkeling in Wales would certainly fit into that category.
On page 78, we read about writer James Sturz who ventures into murky, peat-filled waters to compete in the annual bog-snorkeling contest in Lanwrtyd Wells (pronounced hlanoortid; population 604). The event requires participants to swim two lengths of a 60-yard-long, four-foot-deep trench from which your dog would not be allowed to drink. Some folks do it in costume; others wear nearly nothing. Still others, whose sanity might be questioned, also compete in the annual Bike Bog Snorkeling Championships, made possible with water-filled tires and leaded bicycle frames.
For a more tame but nonetheless in-depth experience, there is “Time to Rise,” a feature written by journalist and amateur baker Samuel Fromartz, who learns to create a “stellar baguette” while visiting Paris.
“When you go somewhere, it takes some degree of effort to really experience and understand what people are about,” Sullivan said, and it doesn’t require staying for weeks in a country. “You can be on a business trip and just walk out the door and see what happens. Sometimes itineraries can get in the way of letting things happen.”
Sullivan came to magazine publishing circuitously. He was first a corporate securities attorney, an investment banker, an international arcade games manufacturer, and owner of a car retailing and financing company. After selling his last endeavor, he traveled to India with his business partner, Joseph Diaz of Phoenix, a veteran traveler.
They realized there was no media voice for “cultural explorers,” and the idea for Afar emerged.
“We made a spontaneous (five-week) trip and ended up in an Indian academy studying philosophy,” Sullivan said. “We saw what this type of travel meant to us. As the world is getting smaller, more and more Americans are seeing themselves as world citizens. We wanted to create a voice for this type of community.”
In addition to features, the magazine has 15 regular departments, including “Spin the Globe,” (writer is sent on the spur of the moment to a randomly chosen destination); “Mix,” (collection of photos shows how the world’s people “skin the same cat.” Premier issue presents shoes of the world); and “Nomad,” (writer tells what it’s like to constantly travel).
“I started traveling late in life,” explained 51-year-old Sullivan. “It changed my life. I loved seeing how other people live and what they think about the world.”
As for the economy and the magazine’s future, the CEO is optimistic.
“Travel overall has suffered, but I don’t think the number of people who travel this way has gone down. I get e-mails everyday saying, ‘I saw your magazine and at last someone is writing about the way I travel.’ We’re in this for the long haul.”
In 2010, Afar.com plans to launch a social media Web site to connect “like-minded citizens all over the world.” In the meantime, visit www.afar.com/blog, where editors, writers and photographers share stories, photos, videos and more.
A year’s subscription to Afar is $19.95 (cover price $4.99). Visit www.afar.com.