Erik Torkells '92

Spotting travel trends
Writer: 
August 1, 2007
Erik Torkells '92

Joe Gaffney

Erik Torkells, editor of Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine, has visited about twenty-five countries on five continents, but his first taste of travel didn't come until he went to Duke.

"I'll never forget walking through the Raleigh-Durham airport with Dad," recalls Torkells, who grew up in Huntington Beach, California. "We hadn't even visited before I applied. And here I was moving across the country, and I didn't know anybody."

Going to Duke also gave him his first taste of a different culture. "I'd never been anywhere where you walked somewhere, and people smiled at you and said hello," he says. "It was kind of like being abroad."

His junior year he spent a semester in New York City. "It was my first experience in a city," he says. "New York made me independent." Without any journalism experience, Torkells got an internship at the now-defunct Egg magazine. "It was started by Malcolm Forbes and was like Interview crossed with Spy," he says. "I loved it. I thought, 'These are my people.' "

After graduating with a major in English, Torkells returned to New York and never left. He first was a freelance fact checker for Rolling Stone and later became assistant to the editor at Town & Country. "It wasn't my world," he recalls, "but I learned a lot."

From there Torkells went to Fortune, where he wrote and edited lifestyle stories. He has been the editor of the 575,000-circulation Budget Travel since 2003.

"Every job I've had has been about telling people how to spend their time and money, but this is the first magazine where I had to know the topic inside and out," says Torkells, who often is called upon by the media to predict travel trends and does regular commentary on CNN and cnn.com. (One trend he's jumped on is "girlfriend getaways"; he started a yearly Budget Travel spin-off on the topic.)

He says he's aware that many folks view "travel editor" as a dream job. "I try to make it seem like that, but of course I don't get to travel as much as I'd like. I'm in a lot of meetings, like anyone else."

Still, he goes on about a dozen trips a year and finds he loves "being the scout who finds neat things and tells people about them," he says. "We have a lot of real people in our magazine. That's what differentiates it from the more upscale ones."

He got help from real people for another project: compiling readers' suggestions from "20 Tips," a popular feature in the magazine, into a recently published book called The Smart Traveler's Passport. He's also editor of BudgetTravelOnline.com .

The question readers ask most often of Torkells is, Where should I go on vacation? " It depends on what you like to do," he tells them, before reeling off a list of possibilities. He doesn't like to predict which destinations are going to be "hot," he says. "That question just galls me. Most of us want to see the Taj Mahal some day, but it's never going to be fashionable."