In words of an anonymous voice “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”. Maybe this is the perfect mantra for an editorial movement plagued of intentions but rarely full of determinations. Of course, this is not the case of Boat Magazine who got a dynamic human team ready to manage stories from every corner around the planet motivated by a captain with the view always on a near border. We met ERIN SPENS through a mutual friend, who told us her determination to explore our land for the new edition of her magazine and since then the communication and how easy flowed deep into a conversation with her was pleasurable. Without having mentioned it at first, we immediately knew that we should explore her mind with the same passion with which she chooses the destinies that lead her magazine. Finally, we had the opportunity and the time to do it and the result could not be better.
We leave you with the voice of Erin Spens who skillfully has taken a magazine to the epitome of those publications that should definitely have a special place on your desk. Enjoy the trip.
Cover Photo by Marianna Jamadi
How did the idea for Boat Magazine develop?
I think if you go back to the absolute beginning of Boat Magazine, it started when I was a kid growing up in small-town America with a mom who subscribed to National Geographic and took my siblings and me to the local library at least once a week. I have been a voracious reader as far back as I can remember, and those copies of National Geographic and all the time I spent in a library as a kid taught me how exciting the rest of the world is. That knowledge and curiosity gave me the desire (and guts) to leave the small hometown that I love, and move to New York City when I was just 18. It was also the start of my love for telling stories from different cultures, backgrounds, religions, and human experiences.
The actual mission of Boat Magazine, however, started as a way to travel to lesser-known cities and explore, show what we find there, and give the local people a platform to tell the stories they want the world to know about their home. All the travel magazines at the time Boat started in 2010 were very tourist-focused on hotels and trendy restaurants. We wanted to go beyond those stories and get as close as possible to the heart of the city.
We wanted to go beyond those stories and get as close as possible to the heart of the city.
In the midst of other travel and tourism magazines, Boat Magazine stands out as smart and peaceful with inviting photographs. In your own words, what do you think is the main difference of Boat Magazine brings to the field?
I actually don’t really consider Boat Magazine a travel magazine, because our stories are just so different from what usually goes into the typical travel magazine. It’s easier, though, for people to place us when we talk about travel, so often we include it, but I’d say we’re much heavier on culture and current issues than tourism. That being said, I think the biggest difference between Boat Magazine and other publications in this space is the fact that we focus on one city at a time and approach it holistically. We look at the economy and jobs, sports and fandom, art, music and fashion, faith and values, and we always profile some of the exceptional people we meet when we’re there. This gives a fuller picture of what life is actually like there, rather than just an idea of what it would be like to visit.
What city impacted you the deepest? Why?
My close friends always laugh at me because after every Boat trip to make a new issue of the magazine, I’ve fallen in love with that city and am determined to live there. Since the mission of the magazine is to get as deep as possible to the heart of the city, we end up experiencing honest humanity and that is so appealing every single time, no matter where in the world it is. People have stories and ideas and beliefs that might be entirely different from mine and yet are so fascinating and educating. I am always impacted really deeply by the exchange of this sort of experience and knowledge.
I would have to say the two places in the world that have impacted me the most are totally different from each other: Japan (Issue 5) and the Faroe Islands (Issue 12). The Faroe Islands is a remote community in the North Atlantic of less than 50,000 people who are poetic and earthy and incredibly intelligent. I have never experienced those aspects of life simultaneously – remoteness along with a drive to keep learning and progressing. The Faroese people showed me a way of living in the modern world while still exemplifying traditional values and history. The landscape is harsh but so beautiful and the people are incredibly proud of their ability to live in this isolated archipelago in their own unique way. I cried the whole way home (which, for reference, is a 24-hour trip)! My time there deeply affected me.
Japan, in a totally different way, also really affected me: it just completely confused me. Confusion is such a humbling feeling in this world of instant and constant information where everyone is an expert on everything (myself included)! You simply cannot figure Japan out, and that is precisely what is so wonderful about it. Knowing you won’t get to the bottom of it no matter how hard you try makes it easier to switch off your brain and just enjoy what’s around you. There were many little lessons I learned while I was there – the beauty and true joy of simplicity, the virtues of meditation, respect, and responsibility, the benefits of eating good fish – I loved every single thing about it.
Tell us about a personal highlight over these years making the magazine.
The highlight of working on Boat Magazine for the past six years is, without a doubt, being able to work and travel with my contributors to the incredible places we’ve featured in each issue, and the locals we’ve worked with once we got there. The writers, photographers, and designers you see throughout each issue of Boat are passionate, driven, talented storytellers and they inspire me to be a better writer and editor.
Let’s put everything on the table according to the technical part of the machine. How is a day in the life of the Boat staff? How long is the process of preparing an issue from start to finish?
We make two issues per year, so we have about 6 months on each. All together we spend about 3-4 weeks in the focus city getting to know the place, finding stories, and working with local contributors.
The Boat staff is a rotating roster of freelance contributors. The Boat office is actually just my living room in Los Angeles! My team lives and works around the world: across the USA, England, Iceland, Germany, Thailand… I build up a team of contributors for each issue based on who’s available and whose work fits that city’s stories.
She Was Only is your website designer and even the hand behind the magazine/logo revamp. Is this house part of your creative army? What are your creative plans for the brand in the near future?
She Was Only is a totally brilliant design studio and the reason we look so good. They have this gorgeous classical approach to designing each issue which allows the stories to breathe and come to life. I love their typographic style and the logo they designed for us still gets so many compliments. I think they’re totally brilliant.
In terms of what’s next – we’re exploring our digital side and what the possibilities are to expand that. As diehard print-lovers, we’ve been slow to develop this, so I’m excited to see where that goes and where She Was Only takes us!
It is inevitable to ask this, but as we are Peruvians and you dedicated your amazing 7th Issue to our city, how was your stay in Perú? What is your opinion of the creativity and art in our city?
We LOVED Lima. Our time in that city was so fun and adventurous. The city has a real feeling of being unexplored and there were times when it felt like we were seeing and experiencing truly rare parts of the culture there. There seems to be a fresh creative energy in the food and art worlds. I hope the surfing, skateboarding, and martial arts scenes that we got to experience continue to expand for the youth as they are such wonderful creative escapes for them. Lima is really exciting right now, ripe to become a hub of culture and I can’t wait to visit again sometime soon!
Was Peru your first time in South America? (And, by the way, no one died of a Ceviche overdose, right?)
Ha! It was my first time in South America, although most of my team for that issue had traveled extensively across the region. We did eat (at least) our bodyweight in ceviche. Actually, the lunch I had at Rafael Osterling’s El Mercado restaurant is probably one of the best meals of my life.
We can’t say goodbye without asking this. As an avid traveler, what is your advice to those people who still see the world as hostile and dangerous?
I would say that it’s not their fault if they see the world outside of their own home as scary. The media loves to grab onto stories and headlines that make a splash and get people to pick up the paper. Human nature being what it loves a good doom and gloom story. I would let them know, though, that what they read in the news is only ever a fraction, usually a fraction of a fraction, of what life is actually like there. I’d tell them the story of when I was in Athens, Greece and there were demonstrations against the government’s austerity measures. The protest was planned, the city shut the relevant streets down so the protestors had space, and the police were there to keep everyone safe. At the largest, there were probably a couple thousand people. It was hot and local shops were handing out bottles of water. Then one rogue student threw a Molotov cocktail at the entrance to the Bank of Greece headquarters, where no one was standing. Obviously, that’s scary, but the police stepped in peacefully, no one was hurt, and within 30 minutes the entire demonstration was over. The next day I saw a headline in a British newspaper that screamed “100,000 PROTEST IN ATHENS, TURNS VIOLENT” and I couldn’t believe it. I was there! I saw it! This headline was completely fabricated. I have so many stories like this – about Detroit, about Sarajevo, etc. It is totally understandable if people think the “outside” world is hostile, they’re groomed by the media to think so. But it simply isn’t true for the majority of the world. I’ve found incredible warmth and generosity almost every place I’ve ever been.