There was something missing in American travel journalism, Abby Rapoport thought, and she had an idea of how to fix it.
The Austin journalist, who cut her teeth reporting for The Texas Observer, The American Prospect, and Texas Tribune, was stepping into a new territory in 2017 — travel magazines. Let me clarify: travel magazines almost entirely written and produced by locals from the featured destination.
City Editor London here. I met Abby when I stumbled across the Stranger’s Guide booth at the Texas Book Festival.
Launched alongside cofounder Kira Brunner Don, Abby’s Stranger’s Guide now has 17 editions and has featured pieces from big-name authors such as Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. I wanted to learn more, so Abby sat down with me and told me her story.
First off — what exactly is Stranger’s Guide?
Stranger’s Guide is an Austin-based travel magazine — or “travel-adjacent,” as Abby describes it — that publishes four times each year, highlighting a different location in each edition.
The magazine is comprised of photo stories, articles, short fiction, and features, almost entirely produced by locals of that place.
I picked up the Stranger’s Guide to Ireland, which I visited for the first time earlier this year, and explored Irish pony boy culture, learned about the sport of camogie, and followed a literary tour of the country. Every guide is a little different, Abby said, and unique to the place it’s about.
“The goal is to have pieces that are intimate, illuminating, and idiosyncratic,” she said. “[Our] mission is to foster global citizenship and combat stereotypes, and to do that through a place-based story.”
Examples of Stranger’s Guide editions include:
- New Orleans
- Mexico City
- South Korea
How did this come about?
Abby and her cofounder Kira, whose background is also in journalism, felt that writers from other countries were struggling to get in front of American audiences. The duo wanted to create a space for journalists from other countries to tell their own stories about the places they lived.
“We genuinely felt like it was really important to hear from more people from these places,” Abby said. “The fact that there weren’t as many opportunities for them to come in front of US audiences was bad for them, but it was also bad for US audiences.”
Abby’s own experience with travel helped dictate the types of stories that would eventually be seen in Stranger’s Guide pieces: rather than highlighting expensive hotels and tourism, she wanted to know what daily life was like in other places.
That’s why, she said, it was so important to utilize writers from these locations. The process for doing this begins with an advisory board made up of people from the country, city or region being featured in a Stranger’s Guide issue. This board is often composed of writers, photographers, politicians, professors, gallery owners, and the like. Together, they talk about the stories that could be written and the people who could tell them.
In the roughly five years Abby has been producing guides, the publication has come up with a formula of sorts:
- Each guide must have a minimum of 80% of work created by people who live in that location. That must be a mix of well-known and up-and-coming content creators.
- Each year, Stranger’s Guide covers one US location and one location that isn’t typically covered by travel magazines. The publication only covers one continent once each year.
It’s gotten easier in the years since they launched, Abby said, but she acknowledges there were some challenges at the outset.
“You don’t have the situation of a normal magazine … Instead, it’s like a new relationship [with writers] every time. And that is really hard,” she said. But at the same time, “I’m really amazed at how many people have really gotten the idea behind what we’re trying to do.”
A few years ago, Strangers Guide was working toward starting an events series to engage with people in new ways. The team — which is based in Austin and in California — was planning a supper club at Austin restaurants run by immigrants from places the magazine had covered. Just as the program was nearing its launch, the pandemic hit, and brought a screeching halt to those plans.
As businesses open up and COVID-19 cases have died down, events are back on the table. Stranger’s Guide events hosted in New Orleans and New York City this year feature cultural activities, including a poetry reading or dance performance, alongside conversations and interactions.
“Events are something we’re going to be looking into more,” Abby said. “I’d really like to start doing them in Austin.”
Connecting people with new places
After producing 17 guides, Abby has some favorites. As a Texan, producing the Texas guide was daunting, she said, but she did get to interview Dan Rather and Earl Campbell. She also finds recent guides on Tehran and Ukraine particularly moving.
“There are sort of ways of seeing places you can’t see,” Abby said. “And that, to me, is when storytelling can be at its most powerful, is when it can transport you to a place that’s not accessible.”