Can’t Travel With a Local? These City Guides Are the Next Best Thing
This past March, I visited Copenhagen with a friend who had lived in the city. She introduced me to Danish friends and showed me her favorite bars, jazz clubs, restaurants, and museums. By the time the week was over, I felt I had a mental Rolodex of places in Copenhagen to pass along if anyone asked where the city’s hidden gems were.
At STORM Denmark on Strøget, Copenhagen’s pedestrian shopping district, I picked up a copy of “LOST iN Copenhagen,” an indie travel guide curated by local artists and writers, featuring interviews, reviews, and personal essays. Surprisingly, the recommendations in the book were consistent with my friend’s recommendations and many of the places we visited appeared in the book. “That’s a good sign,” LOST iN co-founder Joseph Djenandji tells me over the phone. Since the brand’s launch in 2013, it has published guides to 20 cities, many of which are in the process of being updated as cities change.
“The basic concept was trying to mimic the kind of experience you get when you’re visiting a friend in a foreign city,” Djenandji explains. He and co-founder Uwe Hasenfuss — who were at the time working for Groupon based in Berlin and Paris, respectively — had been visiting Chicago when they couldn't find a travel guide to the city from a local’s perspective. Given Djenandji’s product background and Hasenfuss’s editorial experience, they decided to fill the market’s void.
To produce a LOST iN guide, Djenandji and Hasenfuss reach out to locals they feel could contribute a unique perspective and contract a local journalist who acts as the eyes and ears of the brand by conducting interviews and evaluating the quality of the recommendations by visiting the locations firsthand.
“We started off just interviewing our friends,” Djenandji says, but they now build out the guides based on locals’ fields of expertise. For example, an artist in, say, San Francisco would talk about the city’s gallery scene, while a sommelier would discuss restaurants. “The challenge here really is getting different people,” Djenandji said. “Because if you interview the same [types of] people, you’ll get the same recommendations, so it’s important to interview people from different backgrounds and different parts of the city.” Nowadays, the process is more streamlined. “We just reach out and ask people online, so our research is more the research of people than the research of locations.”
One might think these off-the-beaten-path venues would be averse to being featured in any sort of travel guide, but Djenandji says most have been pleased to attract tourists who are genuinely curious about their offerings. “It’s not a big bus that arrives in front of the location with a guide, it’s usually one person or a couple, so it’s not very invasive tourism.”
That said, there are a few places that shun travel guides altogether. “You do have these small bars in Berlin who are really against gentrification, and they don’t like being presented in city guides, but usually it’s quite positive feedback.”
Right now, the brand is working on publishing a Tel Aviv guide and travelers can expect to see a stronger online presence and platform for digital-only content in the future. Djenandji hopes the digital expansion will allow the brand to cover smaller cities and promote vibrant, under-the-radar travel blogs like Berlin’s Cee Cee.
“What we’re trying to do now is create a platform for these local blogs to export themselves internationally and to become relevant on an international level,” Djenandji says, because as we travelers know, there's always more to discover.
You can shop some of LOST iN's most popular guides below or at lostin.com.