John Summerton
©John Summerton/Press

The adventurer and founder of the online and print travel magazine Sidetracked, details to Marie Audemard his editorial strategy and memories.


After a career as a graphic designer, John Summerton, 47, wanted a bigger project, something that made a real echo with his passion: travelling the world, having amazing stories to tell and illustrating them with crazy pictures. While the 20th issue of the magazine has just been released, he details his strategy from the beginning of Sidetracked, to how he managed to release all the planned issues in 2020.

How was sidetracked launched? 

It started as a website in 2011, and then it went to print with the first issue in 2014. Not a lot of people do that, they usually do the magazine first and then the website, but I choose to start with the website. We went for three issues every year in February, June and October. I felt that four magazines a year were too much for the amount of stuff that we have to print and research and produce, and two was not enough, so I decided on three. 

Some magazines chose to work mostly with written stories not much pictures, but sidetracked chose to focus on stunning pictures. Why? 

Photography is probably the most important thing for sidetracked, we prefer to have amazing and interesting photography to balance the articles. It’s a shame sometimes we receive some amazing stories that have no good photographs, then we probably won’t run it. We find that often if it has good photographs, we can find a story, even if it has not a good writer. We can work with them to create an interesting story from it.

Speaking of adventures, what was the worst/best thing that happened to you while working for Sidetracked?

I’d say the best and worst things were on a trip to the Faroe Islands – a place I’d always dreamed of going but it only happened through Sidetracked. The best thing was going out with the local fishermen and catching a huge cod for dinner… And the worst thing was a bad case of food poisoning in a remote location! The less said about that the better!

“Sometimes we receive some amazing stories that have no good photographs, then we probably won’t run it.”

What is your main audience? 

The actual demographics are about 60% males to 40% females. Regarding the countries we cover, it’s about 40% in the United Kingdom, 30% in Europe, 20% in the United States and 10% everywhere else, it is pretty international. The average reader is normally between 25 and 45 and has a real interest in travels, outdoors activities, or sustainability environmental issues.

Which social media do you prioritise for the magazine? Why? 

We have accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I started with Twitter earlier on, that’s getting less and less important to us now. Instagram is far more popular, but we found that Facebook would bring more click-through. I think Instagram is great to share more nice pictures and getting nice reactions and nice comments, but actually, if you want some click-through to the website to read a story, then Facebook is a far more effective social media channel. 

On YouTube we do a few of our own adventures that I film, we started to do more and more of them, but I should have been on it a long time ago. 

You have also created Sidetracked equipped, can you tell me more about it? 

We work with a lot of brands and a lot of them really want to show their products obviously. We have done a few reviews on our website before, and we thought, how about doing a guide, twice a year where we can just work with brands we like and produce kind of a story lead guide with freelancers available. We started in 2019 in Italy and it went really popular.

How did you manage to publish in 2020 with the Coronavirus? 

Amazingly, we did really well because we work a year ahead. It is terrible to say it but, because people could not get out and travel or go on adventures, we became a kind of a vicarious out there for people who read our stuff and be a bit inspired instead. We featured a lot of stories from people that went on travel the year before. What I might find more tricky is as we get into this year, because a lot of people could not go out and travel last year, so we might find less content available.

What do you plan to improve in the future? 

I would say, evolving the content, more than the format. I would like to involve the storytelling a bit more around stories that have a positive message, not just an adventure but someone that has a purpose. For example, looking at environmental issues, at what is going on in the world. I think that adventure is a really good method of sharing that kind of stories.