And outdoor escapes as basic as going for a long walk seem to be accompanied by another basic: the travel guidebook.
Sales of hiking and camping guides are up, consumer analysts say.
“It was a very, very good summer for road trips, camping, driving and closer-to-home travel,” says Kristen McLean, primary industry analyst for NPD Books, which monitors retail trends.
Overall, travel-guide sales are down because European and global travel is essentially nonexistent for Americans, McLean says, speaking by phone from her office in Miami. However, she says, “maps and atlases sold well,” as did guides on parks, campgrounds, hiking, ecotourism and family travel this year. Other retail trends offer a clue as to where those brand-new maps may be leading covid-era travelers. Sales of hiking boots, for example, are up 10 percent, NPD data shows.
At Field Notes, the Chicago-based producer of notebooks and related stationery products, President Jim Coudal says the National Parks notebook three-packs “have been flying out of here since March.
“I think lots of people have been planning, taking or dreaming about road trips while stuck in their house. I know I have.”
Veteran long-distance hiker Barney Scout Mann, whose “Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail” was just released by Mountaineers Books, says we were already in an emerging golden age of hiking when everything changed. “Covid-19 just punched the afterburner on an already speeding jet” of popularity, he says.
Mann points to American Hiking Society numbers showing 34 million Americans hiked in 2013 and 9 million backpacked.
“Walking is the most natural thing we do,” Mann says.
And right now, it may also be the safest. As Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases, suggested on CNN just before Labor Day weekend: “Go out on a trail; breathe the fresh air.”
Many seem to be following Dr. Fauci’s Rx.
Max Phelps, director of outdoor sales for the National Book Network, which distributes Falcon Guides, says U.S. guidebooks have been selling well in recent months.
Elaborating via email, Phelps writes, “Information on regional destinations that can be reached by car and where social distancing is less of a concern (or not a concern at all) are of considerable interest right now.”
Falcon Guides buyers, he says, showed particular interest in mountain towns in the Rockies, especially the northern Rockies, and in Maine.
At the Book Beat, an independent bookseller in suburban Detroit, co-owner Colleen Kammer says the staff has experienced a similar surge.
“At the end of August, before Labor Day, people wanted books on the Upper Peninsula,” Kammer says, referring to Michigan’s sparsely populated northern reaches, a place rich in natural beauty.
While not exactly Somerset Maugham, such guidebooks do stir longing for wide horizons and following in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau, whose essay, “Walking,” was published in 1862; Cheryl Strayed, whose memoir on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was made into a hit movie; and Robert Taylor, the first African American to thru-hike both the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails.
The urge to explore is age old. And rare and antique guidebooks have been enjoying a resurgence in popularity, says Lucinda Boyle, travel specialist and shop manager for Shapero Rare Books in London, speaking via email.
“I always take a couple of printed guidebooks with me when I travel, an old one for the history and new one for current cultural information,” she says. “My personal favorite is the Baedeker series of handbooks.”
Founded by Karl Baedeker in 1827 and published by four generations of his family, the famed Baedeker travel guides covered dozens of countries in three languages. Baedeker was acquired in 1951 by MairDumont, the German travel-publishing group, and is included among its several brands.
In many regards, old guidebooks stand the test of time — even this strange time.
A Baedeker guidebook on Canada, published in 1907, offers some inspiration for contemporary travelers seeking fresh air.
The travel guide’s section on sports highlights Canadian towns’ snowshoe clubs, each with its distinctive uniform of a bright-colored blanket-coat. Snowshoers, it says, “tramping across the snow on a clear, moonlit night … is a most attractive sight.”