In conversation with

Nate Storey

Travel Editor Surface Magazine

Travel Editor Surface Magazine



Nate Storey, Travel Editor at Surface Magazine (“The American Magazine of Global Contemporary Design”) has seen his fair share of travel clichés. There’s the trend of labelling destinations as “the new Brooklyn” or “the next Berlin”,  as well as the “hyped” pitches he receives on a daily basis (everything is a “game-changer” or “unprecedented”). What he really appreciates is a story, warts and all. He says that “the best travel writers are not only travel writers”; they approach a destination through the lens of something else. The same goes for the content Nate chooses to consume when he’s not at work: that’s hip hop through the lens of science, and New Mexico through the framework of beer.

Question and Answer

What makes a great piece of travel writing? Should it make you want to go to a place?

Yes totally, it should make you want to go to a place. But it could also make you not ever want to go that place, but is still interesting to read. That’s the problem with the era of the slideshow or the listicle (like ‘top ten hotels with pools’). Yes, you want the service – the travel tips – but you also want to read a good story and be transported to places you might never go. Travel writing should be viewed as any form of entertainment. It could make you want to go, it could make you not. That shouldn’t be the barometer which travel writing is measured.

Have you published something that might make people never want to go?

In our recent travel issue, there’s a piece written by an awesome writer, Sheila Marikar, on a new LA restaurant called Vespertine. It’s one of those wild, multi-sensory gastronomic experiences with an avant-garde chef where the little bowl with the sauce is a lava stone. She didn’t write a piece that said “this sucks,” but she highlighted how ridiculous it all was. Someone might read our piece and think that’s stupid and ridiculous; someone might think that’s super weird and I really want to go.

Jeane Gang Surface
Architect Jeanne Gang

What are the main things travel writers get wrong?

The clichés are so annoying. Anything that’s gentrified is “the new Brooklyn” or Berlin if it’s in Europe. I saw the stupidest headline in The New York Times the other day which said: “Lisbon is the new Portland”. You guys have to fucking stop!

What to do people get wrong with travel pitches?

Everything is very hyped. It’s a “game-changer” or “unprecedented” or “the most forward-thinking thing they have ever seen. I saw one story the other day that said “it’s bamboo’s moment” as if bamboo hasn’t been around in architecture and design for a very long time.

Nate storey Surface
Nate at the Surface Magazine office
Surface Magazine Solange
Singer Solange on the cover of Surface

Why do people hype travel destinations?

People worry that if there are warts to a story then people won’t want to actually go, but a lot of the time the warts are what drives people to travel. We started doing these guides in the travel section of Surface and they’re very honest. It doesn’t have to be precious; everything doesn’t have to be a cool and hip.

Who is a travel writer that you really admire?

Definitely Gary Shteyngart and Tony Perrottet. Perrottet is an Australian writer based in New York. He’s a historian and has lived in Moscow during the USSR, Cuba and other places. His writing isn’t heavy or like reading a historical text, but he has a interesting perspective and base from which to explore travel. The best travel writers are not only travel writers.

The sinners grand tour
The Sinner's Grand Tour by Tony Perrottet

What’s your favourite travel story?

My favourite story ever written is Maureen Dowd’s 9PM to 5AM for the New York Times. She’s a longtime legendary columnist there and wrote this great piece in the Eighties about New York at night. She starts uptown with the rich people to the downtown cool kids. She goes to legendary places like Cafe Carlyle on Madison Avenue where Cole Porter is playing piano and sees all these characters – Woody Allen, Maura Moynihan, Andy Warhol – it’s amazing. It wasn’t meant to be a travel story, but if you were living in 1984 and coming to New York you’d know what at least 15 places were like and would know where to go based on your taste.

“Heartbreak is a time machine, set for the 1950's, prom night. Records spin behind a cafeteria counter. Mounted swordfish hang above the bar, flanked by posters of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. There is a stag line of men sporting pompadours and black leather jackets. Everyone chews gum and drinks beer. Smoke gets in your eyes. ”

Maureen Dowd, 9PM to 5AM

What makes you want to write about a hotel?

Surface is design-focused rather than luxury-focused. We have a really cool mix of independent hotels and small hotel groups that all appreciate good design and craftsmanship. A fashion designer who’s opened a hotel, or two founders that are a creative director and a photographer. To not be beholden to luxury brand advertisers is so nice. When we feature luxury brands it’s because they have done something unique or have a great designer attached. We wrote about a JW Marriott that opened in Cabo last year because of the designer Olson Kundig.

What’s your favourite hotel in New York?

I love Thompson Beekman for the atrium. Urban Cowboy for what it is and the idea. I like the new Williamsburg Hotel and The Ludlow House because they’re not too ‘cool’.

Norman Foster Surface
Surface Magazine with Norman Foster

What’s your favourite book?

I’ve never been a huge book person. My favourite type of storytelling is long-form magazine articles. I’ll eat those up all day long. My dream is to sit on a Sunday and devour five or six long form articles. However, one book I really loved was Tom Wolfe’s I am Charlotte Simmons.

What’s the last cool magazine you found?

I recently picked up this magazine called Pallet. It’s a beer-focused magazine from Australia but it’s not really about beer. They had a photo essay of Roswell, New Mexico – where the aliens are – with all the weird motels and bars around there.

Do you listen to podcasts?

I prefer listening to music on my way to work. I listen to deep-house because it wakes me up – the kind of shit you would find at a Brooklyn warehouse. If I’m on a road trip I’ll listen to a podcast. One I really like is Neil Degrasse Tyson’s Startalk. He’s an astrophysicist who is all up in pop culture. He does exactly what Pallet does with beer but through the lens of space and there’s an episode on hip-hop. You’ll have Bill Nye the Science Guy, him and Elon Musk talking about something that has absolutely nothing to do with space. It’s super-cool and interesting.

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