Twenty years ago last Friday I arrived at Travel + Leisure. I had been the editor in chief of House & Garden; a book editor at Clarkson Potter; and, fresh out of college, an assistant and then a reader in the fiction department of The New Yorker. I thought of myself as reasonably well traveled, though outside of what I’d read and edited, the closest I had come to South America was Mexico and the Caribbean, and to Asia, Hawaii. The world I entered in the summer of 1993 extended far beyond these boundaries to places that remain tagged in my memory for qualities that were then entirely new to me. My mental notes from a trip to Hong Kong in the fall of that year still remain: East-meets-West glamour; bamboo scaffolding; crossing Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry. From Auckland, New Zealand: green-lipped mussels for lunch on Queen Street; Waiheke Island sheep; grass; New Age shops. And so on, from Botswana (sandstorm; hippos) to Japan (textiles; ceramics; lacquerware), and from Buenos Aires to Tromsø in Norway’s Arctic Circle.
I joined T+L the same year the European Union was founded, and my time at the magazine has proceeded from there, encompassing previously unimaginable events, from September 11th to natural disasters, ongoing wars and upheaval, and economic collapse. The map of the traveler’s world has been altered by new destinations like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with their endless array of international luxury hotels and resorts, along with the major museums—the Guggenheim and the Louvre Abu Dhabi—that will be arriving in the future; by China, where hotel brands have served as the forward guard, pushing beyond Shanghai and Beijing to Guangzhou, Hangzhou, and Xi’an; by the beaches of Trancoso, Brazil; José Ignacio, Uruguay; and Tulum, Mexico, which have become outposts for an emblematic genre of stylish and spiritually centered hideaways; and by Africa and India, with their concentrations of Travel + Leisure World’s Best Award– winning properties that are at once exotic and pampering.
The magazine has had to evolve, sometimes rather convulsively, as we rush to include timely stories on the newest places and make unavoidable last-minute changes, rescheduling a piece on the magic of Sri Lanka, for instance, in the wake of the tsunami, or on five-star hotels in France as the dollar was plummeting against the euro. There is increasingly a degree of urgency about travel—a race to “get there now” fueled in part by digital technology, which makes the distant recesses of the world less remote and fosters an awareness of the need to preserve what is most singular and transcendent.
Even the sometimes exasperating challenges of air travel have not reduced Americans’ desire to experience the world. Despite increasing fares and add-on charges, airline closings and consolidation, security lines and flight delays, we are taking more international flights and embarking on complicated itineraries to get to where we want to go. Happily, the number of Americans with passports continues to grow—from 1992 to 2012 it rose from nearly 18 million to just under 113.5 million.
As I look back on it now, becoming editor in chief of T+L afforded me the perfect opportunity to merge my personal interests into those of the magazine. Where some people might simply say they love to explore, I would put a finer point on it: I love to get lost and find my way. The unintentionally long run I took through the winding calli of Venice many years ago still serves as a touch point. It led me to a lovely little church on a piazza— and a view of life outside the crowded tourist zones.
Such modest encounters of place, whether on a country road lined with shingled and gabled New England houses or in an urban area being reinvented into the next gleaming art and culture hub, are always rewarding. So often it’s these small epiphanies that reveal essential elements of a destination, distinguishing characteristics that become ever more precious as brands and products—from cars, fashion, and jewelry to celebrity chefs and restaurants—cross borders from one end of the earth to the other.
In my 20 years at T+L I have developed an abiding faith in the power of travel to open hearts and minds, to inform and delight, and to counteract hatred and fear of the unknown. Inspiring our readers and users to travel—and arming them with the best advice they can possibly have— is the essential goal of this magazine. I am convinced that the world would be a better place if more people traveled. It is my mission to ensure that they do.
Nancy Novogrod is Editor-in-Chief at Travel + Leisure.