In conversation with

Ally Betker

Editor-in-Chief Here Magazine by Away

Ally Betker Away

Introduction

Introduction

In just two years, Away has become the brand known for getting most things right – from original content to a global community and a culture centred around travel. The company was a major disruptor in the business of luggage. They took a product that was formerly boring and made it cool, affordable and direct to consumer, similar to Glossier to what did in beauty and Warby Parker in optics. Last year, Away took their story-led brand one step further when they launched their own publication, Here. The brains behind the magazine is the journalist Ally Betker (formerly of The Cut, Vogue and W Magazine) who saw a gap in the market for inspirational (rather than aspirational) travel content. The way she sees it, travel is a mindset you can apply to all of life, and the role of the travel writer is to connect cultures around the world.

Question and Answer

Did you grow up reading travel writing?

I didn’t grow up reading travel writing but I was definitely a reader. I was always the weird kid in the corner reading when everyone was playing at recess.

What were the books you remember reading as a child?

My earliest reading memory is of Laura Ingalls-Wilder (known for Little House on the Prairie). She was my intrepid female voice as a kid and my icon. I was obsessed with historical fiction and the Westward Ho! movement and she tapped into that. She was such a badass – out there in the wilderness, doing her thing and writing about it. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

Bookshelf
Ally's bookshelf at home

Did reading naturally transition into writing?

In Kindergarten and first grade, I wrote poetry. In Middle School I lost it for a little bit, trying to be cool and figuring out what to do. When I first went to college at Boston University I was studying Public Relations. I did one internship in the city and realised immediately it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It took that for me to realise I was supposed to be a journalist and writer. On day three of that internship I emailed my advisor and switched my major to magazine journalism.

Who were some writers that shaped your voice in college?

Susan Orlean was my favourite writer in college. She does narrative non-fiction and storytelling as journalism. Her book The Bullfighter Checks her Makeup remains my go-to if I ever feel stuck writing.

Susan Orlean Book
"This remains my go-to if I ever feel stuck writing"

What was your first job out of college?

My first job was working on The Cut at New York Magazine and it’s still the only magazine I subscribe to. It has such a broad range of stories which always draw you in, even if you’re not interested in the topic. I’ve literally missed my subway stop reading about some murder I’d never heard of in Arkansas. They have a knack for finding the stories that everyone else has deemed not interesting enough to write about.

You then worked for Vogue, Women's Wear Daily and W Magazine. What made you switch from editorial to brand side?

It had a lot to do with 2016 and the election. I suddenly felt that I was part of “the media” at W Magazine, even though it wasn’t the New York Times or CNN. I knew brands were starting to do editorial and I thought it was an interesting space I could explore. I reached out to Steph [Co-Founder and CEO at Away] and pitched them an editorial plan. Away was doing such great things disrupting the luggage space and I thought there was a similar void in travel content.

How did you find the transition from working for a publisher to a brand?

I’m super lucky that I’m working for a brand that’s interested in a storytelling approach to content. With the type of content I’m producing, I feel like there’s more freedom than ever. Luckily a lot of what Away does naturally lends itself to content – of course I want to fly to Stockholm, cover the Rashida Jones collaboration and have her on the cover of the first issue!

Ally Betker Here Magazine
Here Magazine by Away

What was it about travel content that you were disillusioned with?

In terms of the big players, they are very aspirational but that’s different to inspirational. There’s a way to think about travel which isn’t “I’m going on a trip.” Travel can be a mindset you have when you’re not travelling – being open, getting out of your own world and exploring; making connections. Travel writers have a bit more responsibility these days. It’s not just about going on a trip and have a good time. There’s a need to understand other cultures.

“Travel writers have a bit more responsibility these days. It’s not just about going on a trip and have a good time. There’s a need to understand other cultures.”

Do you read other travel publications?

When I’m reading away from work, I’m usually reading novels. And when I’m travelling I always try to match my book with the destination I’m going to. I just went to Lisbon and bought The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel and A Small Death in Lisbon. For my trip to Nigeria I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. And when I went to India I read Jhumpa Lahiri.

How do you approach writing a story?

I take frantic notes the whole time to remember how I was feeling. I love writing, but it’s hard. I included a book called Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro because there’s something really nice about knowing other writers struggle.

Still Writing
"There’s something really nice about knowing other writers struggle"

What do you think makes a good travel story?

A human element. So much of it says “this is the place,” “this is the property” and these are the ten things you should do. There’s nothing human about that.

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