Travel Girl

Travel Girl treats the word "girl" liberally. Cher, Diane von Furstenberg and Paula Zahn have all graced its cover. And whatever their individual achievements, no one could confuse them with adolescents. Which brings us to Travel Girl's larger point: Girl is relative. To its publisher, Renee Werbin, it taps "the young at heart." And, while it may sound a bit corny, it works.

And I don't say that lightly.

"Girl" is either reserved for those who wear size 4 and consider text messaging the equivalent of conversation, or the ladies who lunch. Travel Girl, however, sweeps the prime 25-54 pool, targeting savvy, sexy and sophisticated women. It says so in its tagline--and happily, this 5-year-old bimonthly, geared to affluent readers, delivers. That's thanks to its editor, Stephanie Oswald, who spent 13 years producing and reporting travel news for CNN. Colleagues dubbed her the "travel girl," and she parlayed a nickname into a 300,000-strong circ.

Unlike traditional travel mags, Travel Girl doesn't showcase travel pix on its cover--it relies on cutlines like "Scotland's Castles" or "St. Lucia's Serenity." Instead, its cover girl radiates lifestyle. Travel Girl is travel-plus. A theme exemplified by Danica Patrick, better known as the Princess of Speed. She is what you'd call fast. Her idea of fun is flooring a 1,800-pound, 650 horsepower racecar at 220 mph.

At 24, Patrick is the first woman to lead the Indy 500, finishing in fourth place in 2005, eighth place in 2006. In a field where machismo rules, Patrick rocks. People put her on its World's Most Beautiful list, while her professional credentials would make Nascar winners swoon. No creampuff, Patrick competes in open wheel racing--one of the toughest racing disciplines. Yes, she likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, but after she's left the boys in the dust.

Travel Girl not only profiles Patrick but gives readers a crash course in Indy racing. Admittedly, it's not the standard where-do-celebs-like-to-party fare, but it is an education. Travel Girl, as you've surmised by now, is not your ordinary travel pub.

Patrick's interview is followed by a first-person account of a Tuscan spa, highlighting the joys of steamy baths in the thermal waters of the Dolomites. Usually, reading about someone else's relaxation aggravates me, but I'm sold on the allure. Plus, the author takes frequent side trips--be it to a Benedictine monastery or the cobblestone streets of Pienza, a gem of Renaissance architecture. I don't mind if the body melts, but I like to keep the brain active.

Thankfully, Travel Girl never uses the word "hot." Its focus is timeless rather than trendy, though it appreciates beauty--whether Sonoma, Calif., or the Isle of Ornsay. Each story ends with a "411," which earmarks a place or event, then lists key info. Also, the layout is clean, it doesn't have 55 points of entry, nor does it overdose on exclamation marks. Some travel mags make me dizzy. No one should have to take medication just to get through a feature on Europe's top hotels.

When Travel Girl selects a destination, it personalizes it. One contributor heard the call of Ireland and waxed poetic about the "golden gorse-covered hills." (I had to look up the word, too.) But she also discovers a "sojourn in seaweed seduction" on the Emerald Isle. That's right, the writer found the Seaweed Baths in County Sligo as well as the Broc House, a haven for Yeats fans. This is Travel Girl's forte--intimate travel, often with a holistic twist, but celebrating the total experience. Each piece tries to hit the trifecta: health, culture and exquisite landscapes, though the paean to Crested Butte, Montana, gave me pause. It's billed as a "mecca for the fit and the fearless"--of which I am neither. After all, the Unibomber considered Montana his great escape. But in fairness, you can't judge a place by its populace. Where would Washington, D.C. be?

Most impressive, at a time when magazines are either folding or competing in crowded categories, Travel Girl is expanding its newsstand distribution and its presence in Kimpton's boutique hotel chain. At heart, Travel Girl remains a lovely, personal expression of its staff, who clearly want women to enjoy the open road--though retire to a four-star at night. Nature is wonderful and culture inspiring, but who says you can't contemplate it from a king-sized bed with pleated cuff Ralph Lauren sheets?

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