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Interview: Serena Guen of Suitcase Magazine

Experience the world through the eyes of a young editor and her new travel publication

by Kat Herriman in Travel on 10 June 2013

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Suitcase Magazine is a new print publication that is re-imagining the role of the travel magazine by saying goodbye to the impossibly luxurious and the underwhelming tourist clichés and embracing the eclectic and adventurous appetite of a generation of creatives and entrepreneurs. The magazine launched in 2012 as the brainchild of its young and vivacious editor-in-chief Serena Guen, who started the magazine after becoming frustrated with what she found on the shelves. “I wanted to create some kind of middle-ground where people could learn about and experience a culture from a local’s perspective in a fun and entertaining way without necessarily breaking the bank,” explains Guen. “[Suitcase Magazine] is a mix between fashion, travel and young culture in each of the destinations.”

A quarterly publication, Suitcase Magazine tackles just two or three cities in each issue, giving readers an in-depth look at a couple of destinations rather than a brief overview of many. Directed and produced by Guen and her edit team, Suitcase offers a perspective on travel that is based on thorough research, and is focused on distinctive design elements and unique experiences. After a successful debut and Guen’s recent graduation from NYU, we seized the opportunity to catch up with the young editor to hear her reflections on having a year under her belt and what advice she has for other up and coming publications.

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Looking back on the first year of Suitcase, what lessons did you learn and is there anything that you would've done differently?

I really like Kierkegaard’s quote: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Of course, there are many things that I would have done differently but I think it’s important to not waste time dwelling on them and to focus on finding solutions. One of my most important lessons that I’ve learned is to question everything—although there are rules about how a magazine should be run and what it should produce. I constantly ask myself why and consider if there’s a more efficient or productive alternative. Someone created these invisible rules after all, so who says I can’t make some new ones?

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Today, most publications are moving towards a digital format, what drew you to you making a physical magazine?

I think the key word missing here is "certain." Fast media (any publication that features the most cutting-edge or news-based features) is moving toward a more digital format because this kind of information is much more easily accessible online. However, "slow media" or anything curated still has a big print value. That being said, this kind of print cannot exist on its own and needs to have an equally strong digital counterpart. After all, the first reaction that anyone has when researching something is to Google it. Digital platforms add an extra dimension to slow media and vice versa.

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How do you determine the next destinations featured in Suitcase?

We have recently re-structured so this is a relatively new format, but basically at the end of last year we sat down and looked at all the big world events for the following two years—for example, The World Cup and Christmas, and then considered other current events, economic developments, popular tourist destinations each season and so on. Taking this all into account, we created themes that would correlate with our issue launch.

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What are the difficulties of starting a publication and what advice would you give to those who have their own ambitions to launch one?

I have to admit a rather silly difficulty that we face is getting press for press. I think it’s silly because we are completely different from any international publication out there so we do not offer any competition. Therefore to overcome our problems we ensured the quality of product then changed the magazine from a three-dimensional to four-dimensional model—with events and pop-up shops. This gives journalists from other publications an opportunity to overcome this barrier.

We spend about three months scouting and researching each location we cover.

My advice to editors and writers who want to launch a new publication is actually to start out online—feel out your audience using analytics and then do a targeted launch. That way you’ll know who your reader is, what he or she is responding to and can ensure that money is spent efficiently. Also, make sure to do your research. It matters. We spend about three months scouting and researching each location we cover.

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What's next for Suitcase?

We want to become the first and last stop for travel for young women—to inspire, inform and allow them to actually book everything in one place. We are aware of time pressures today—who has the opportunity to spend hours scouring guidebooks and going on all these separate websites to book everything? Want to go on a group holiday with your friends? Want an escape from the office on a Monday morning? Want to know what to pack to go to Paris? Read about something and want to book it there and then? We will be there to help with all of it.

Images courtesy of Suitcase Magazine

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