We caught up with Austin local and Wildsam Field Guide founder Taylor Bruce to learn about what inspires him and how he created one of the best travel guides out there.
How did Wildsam Field Guides come to be?
I launched Wildsam after seven years as a magazine travel writer with the hopes of creating a series of guides founded on storytelling. To me, a trip becomes a lifelong memory when you go past the surface of a place to discover all the tiny threads of history that make up a place. The first field guide was Nashville.
What is a typical day for you like?
Wildsam is based in Austin, Tx. I get up around six, make Chemex coffee and hang with my son, Booker, I’ll head to work at the office around nine. We’re culling together several new field guides at a time – so lots of reading and conversations, researching and correspondence with locals in those places, editing essays or interviews. If I’m lucky, I’ll grab a sandwich in the neighborhood at Quickie Pickie, or, on special days, stop in at Launderette. If I could steal an hour at swimming at Deep Eddy Pool, that would be the dream. I usually call it a day around six, head home to make dinner with my wife Robin, and enjoy a bourbon ginger on the back porch once the sun drops below the trees.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Great writing inspires me more than anything. Especially when it’s about place. Joan Didion’s essays from California. Joseph Mitchell’s New Yorker work. Steinbeck’s novels. William Finnegan’s new surfing memoir. I don’t know why – more than music, or landscapes, or art – the quiet power of words stir me.
How do you select the cities you want to cover?
We’re drawn to so many places. Each choice of city is different. For Nashville and Austin, it was a personal connection. For New Orleans and San Francisco, it was a deep curiosity (and the restaurants!). For Detroit, there was a feeling that the city’s story could be told in a more nuanced, complex way. No matter the place, I believe every city and town has a story worth telling. Makes me wish we had a bigger team!
How would you describe your aesthetic?
We go for a classic look. Something simple enough to stand the test of time. We want the stories to be the real show.
What's next for Wildsam Field Guides?
This summer we’re launching our second series of field guides. They are all about American road trips, starting with New England and the Desert Southwest. More cities to come, too.
What's the most rewarding part of your work?
There’s so much. I feel crazy fortunate to do this work. If I had to say one thing I’m most grateful for, it would be the one person that I meet during every project who shakes up my understanding of the world in the most refreshing and personal way. It was a 93-year-old poet in Detroit, a wrongfully-imprisoned man in New Orleans, a flower seller in SF, a writer in Charleston. Every time, meeting them feels predestined, like we’ve known one another for years.
What was your favorite city to cover from the current collection of guides?
Impossible to pick. I’ll say this: If you told me to go to San Francisco tomorrow, I would not be disappointed.
What makes your guides unique?
If you’re comparing Wildsam to the traditional travel guide, what makes us different is the storytelling. Eighty percent of what we do is share stories – whether in interviews with a local bootmaker, or in an essay about a legendary songwriter, or through hundred-year-old letters. A place is a million miles deep if you measure it in stories. That’s what we do. And we believe that when a traveler catches a whiff of those narratives, their experiences go into Technicolor. For example, I could walk by and admire the Hotel San Jose, even stay there a few nights. But when you tell me about the story, about Liz Lambert sitting across the street 17 years ago, having a beer at the Continental Club and dreaming about what that old motel could be, about all the hustle and soul that went into making it – then the place comes alive in a profound way.
How would you describe your quintessential traveler?
Anyone who lets curiosity lead the way. And someone who’s not afraid to write plans in pencil.
Where's you favorite place to travel to?
I love being on the water, so I’d say my pick today would be the BVI’s, on a catamaran, with a rum punch. That or driving the Italian coastline. Just never let the ocean be out of sight.
Best travel tip?
Walk as much as possible. Early in the mornings. You’ll see much further into a place on foot.