Exporing Deeply Cultural Travel with Approach Guides

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

I've got a fantastic resource to share with our Wandering Educators today! You know how I love travel guides. Well, I'm so excited to share a new kind of travel guide with you - Approach Guides. Created by Jennifer and David Raezer, Approach Guides encompass the whole cultural experience of a place, whether it is Ancient Buddhist Caves in India and China, the Stupa Form's Transformation over Time, Islamic Cairo, Ancient Mediterranean Mosaics: Connecting the Dots, or Buon Appetito! Italian Food Guide. Each guide delves into the subject, truly exploring it (and making you want to GO THERE NOW). Perfect for the thinking traveler, Approach Guides are one of the best travel guides I've ever found. Look for our book review of several Approach Guides in the next month!


We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Jennifer about Approach Guides, creating meaningful travel experiences, preparing for your journey, and more. Here's what she had to say...


Jennifer and David Raezer, Approach Guides

Jennifer and David Raezer, Approach Guides


WE: Please tell us about Approach Guides...

JR: Approach Guides are travel guidebooks that focus on cultural sites in Italy, India, China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Our guides are unique in that they don’t just list names and dates, but rather draw connections between sites and explain how political, cultural and religious influences contributed to the development of each site. When you place a site into this type of context, the characteristics that make it unique can be appreciated, and it becomes truly alive. 


Italy - Approach Guides

Sgombri (mackerel) for sale in an Italian market

from Buon Appetito! Italian Food Guide




WE: What was the genesis of Approach Guides?

JR: In 2004, David and I left our jobs and focused exclusively on travel to cultural destinations for five years (the plan was actually for one year, but we got carried away). The guides actually began as the travel notes we made for ourselves while researching and visiting different destinations. During our earlier travels, we found it difficult to get a clear picture of how and why each site we visited was important. I think this was because the information we had at our fingertips was never complete. We had bought traditional guidebooks, but the information they provided on each site was (necessarily) limited to a few paragraphs. We had also bought academic books on specific sites, but, although the information went deep, they rarely connected the dots to other similar sites in same location or that had been influenced by similar political or religious movements. Since we could not find the information we were looking for, we compiled it ourselves! Each guide now gives the “story” behind the history, giving travelers insight into what are the most important take-aways from each site, why are they relevant and how each site relates to other sometimes seemingly disconnected sites.


Smiling Bodhisattva Sculptures, Yungang Caves near Datong, China

Smiling Bodhisattva Sculptures, Yungang Caves near Datong, China

from Ancient Buddhist Caves in India and China



WE:  What has been the best part of creating Approach Guides?

JR: The best part has been connecting with travelers who used our guides and felt that they made a true difference in their trip. We have had several readers come back and tell us how the guides added a unique element to their trip and how they could have never fully appreciated some of the sites without our guides.



WE:   How can travelers create more meaningful travel experiences? How can they give back, while overseas?

JR: There are so many ways that travelers can give back, but, in our opinion, one of the most important is to truly understand the local people, what makes them unique and shapes their worldview; this can best be done by understanding their historical, religious, and political legacy. This understanding will shape your travel experience and offer insight on the ways to give back that work best within a cultural framework. Another way we try to give back is through our online listing of local travel agents, guides and drivers that have delivered excellent service to us and other travelers. By providing a single location that connects travelers to these local providers, we enable travelers to put more of their tourist dollars in the country and give an online presence to individuals who may not have the resources to dedicate to maintaining a website. 



WE: How do you suggest travelers best prepare for their journeys?

JR: I like the term you used, “journey”. Life, including travel, is truly a journey and the best way to get the most from your journey is to be open minded and prepared to challenge your beliefs and learn something new. Philosophy aside, I would also recommend a flashlight, mosquito net, corkscrew and bug spray -- they have come in handy around the world!



WE: What have been your favorite Approach Guides?

JR: Tough question! I would have to say that my favorite guides are the ones that challenged me to think differently - to understand that rarely does anything develop in a vacuum, but rather everything is connected and draws influences from somewhere. Here are some of those guides:

  • Cairo is the only place in the world to see architecture from nearly every major Islamic dynasty - I wasn't prepared for that rich of an Islamic heritage. Our guide allows you to piece together the evolution of Islam's architectural legacy, from its origins to the modern day.
  • While writing our guide on East-West Trade Connections, I was amazed by how the trade wind patterns necessarily kept buyers and sellers in the East and West apart, giving rise to a very powerful empires that just served as middlemen (e.g. the Mamluke in Cairo and the Majapahit in Indonesia).
  • Finally, I love re-reading our guide on the Architecture of Venice, which tells the story of the unlikely rise of a trading power that, depending on the current political situation, strategically aligned itself with either the Greek-speaking Orthodox Christian empire in the East (Byzantium) or Latin-speaking Catholic Christian empire in the West (Rome). These cunning moves are reflected in the synergistic nature of architecture throughout Venice. 




Ibn Tulun Mosque, Cairo (Egypt)

Ibn Tulun Mosque, Cairo (Egypt)

from Islamic Cairo



WE: What's up next for you?

JR: We just came back from Honduras, where we spent time in Copan researching an upcoming guide on Mayan architecture. The connections among the Mayan sites are extremely interesting, and given that so many of the sites are still yet uncovered, touring them offers adventurous travelers an opportunity to be an Indiana Jones of sorts.  We will also soon travel to Mali to complete research on the different styles of Islamic mosque architecture and how each empire influenced another.


WE: Thanks so much, Jennifer - we're so happy to share your extraordinary travel guides with our readers!


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All photos courtesy and copyright Approach Guides