The Top Travel Stories of the Year in 2015

Valencia Spain woman

Another year, another few dozen great travel stories from Perceptive Travel, founded in 2006 and still going strong. Here’s our rundown of the top travel stories of the year in 2015.

We kicked things off by welcoming Mary Jo McConahay for the first time. She has scored a “Travel Journalist of the Year” award from the Society of American Travel Writers and has written for the likes of Time, Newsweek, Vogue, Rolling Stone, Sierra, and International Herald Tribune. When returning to the Guatemalan market town of Chichicastenango, where she once got pick-pocketed, she joined a hunt for a faithful reproduction of the sacred Maya book Popol Vuh, hidden somewhere under lock and key.

Tony Robinson-Smith once spent six years traveling around the world without getting on a plane, so biking from the bottom of England to the top of Scotland probably didn’t sound so bad. Until he started doing it. See End to End, the Roundabout Route.

The end of the year often brings lots of round-up stories, most with the word “best,” “top-10,” or “greatest” in them. What makes the PT blog unique, however, is that the writers have free rein to follow whatever odd angle in whatever odd place seems interesting to them. So we went with a year’s worth of unusual stories instead. See Stories, not Superlatives: Strange Tales from the Perceptive Travel Blog.

Then we rounded up some of the most interesting new travel books to share, and in this case all three authors have appeared in our online magazine before: James Dorsey, Doug Lansky, and Rory McLean. See the book reviews from Bill Caverlee.

Graham Reid checked out some world music worth downloading, with sounds from Varanasi, Egypt, Nigeria, and an ex-metalhead going soft.

Patagonia travel

February’s issue taught us that it’s not easy being a punk in Malaysia. Or a rocker. Or a punk rocker especially. Marco Ferrarese went in search of a well-hidden Penang club to interview the man who keeps the whole scene hanging on. See The Sultanate of Heavy Rock in Malaysia.

James Dorsey hikes for hours in the hills of Myanmar and thinks he has come up empty until he finds a photo op that’s like a gift from the gods. See Enduring Burmese Tea.

We head down to Patagonia with Shelley Seale and go horseback riding through the still countryside with a quiet Chilean baqueano. See The Cowboy at the End of the World.

It doesn’t stop there, of course. As usual we’ve got detailed reviews of three new travel books (two worth savoring, one maybe not) from Susan Griffith, plus Laurence Mitchell’s take on some notable new world music collections.

March brought us one story that was ahead of the press coverage pack, a year before the 20-year anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. The site already gets a fair number of very controlled visitors—who can rent a Geiger counter to bring along—but the scenes presented for photographing may not bear much resemblance to reality. See Chernobyl: Mutate and Survive.

Michael Shapiro’s first book was about the budding world wide web way back when, but he vowed to not become one of those sad travelers tethered to home by technology while halfway around the world. Then many years later he found himself in Asia while his beloved home baseball team competed in the championship. See Watching the World Series in Cambodia and Korea.

biking Oregon

I took a bike tour through Oregon last year with Lifecycle Adventures and expected nice scenery, some good wine, and plenty of great beer to choose from. That’s just the start though in this land of abundance and pure celebration of what we eat and drink. See Biking Through the Bounty of Oregon.

As always, we posted reviews of some new travel books, including the latest anthology from Don George, with “Innocent Abroad” stories from 35 different writers.

The latest round of world music reviews took us from North Africa to Bangladesh to 1970s Kenya.

In April we got the good news that the following contributors all appeared in the 10th edition Best Travel Writing book from Travelers’ Tales: Stephanie Elizondo Griest, James Michael Dorsey, Jeff Greenwald, and Michael Shapiro. Apparently I hire good people all around, because my Practical Travel Gear blogger Jill Robinson also appeared, with the first story in the book.

Speaking of fame, we got a well-known explorer and TV host to join us that month: the legendary Richard Bangs. When a guy’s bio has little asides like he was one of the first to raft a specific river and he founded the Sobek part of Mountain Travel Sobek pre-merger, you tend to think he’s worth listening to. Check out his unique story on touring South Africa, Namibia, and Angola via small planes built for getting accurate wildlife counts: Can Tiny Planes Save the African Beasts?

Africa by small plane

Richard has written a lot of books, but maybe not as many as Chris Epting, who returned to uncover places where famous things happened in NYC. Every day people walk past spots that changed history—or at least gave us Baked Alaska. See Unmarked History in New York City.

Luke Maguire Armstrong was back, with a rewind. If bad trips make for the best stories for travel writers, Luke started off right when his trip to Bolivia with his girlfriend got no farther than the Chilean border. The time in Atacama started wheels in motion though that changed his life’s path. See The Trip to Bolivia that I Never Took and Never Came Back From.

Every issue we run down some new and noteworthy travel books worth checking out or avoiding, and thankfully Susan Griffith found my latest to be in the former camp. Along with Walking the Nile and a book on “Place-hacking” underground urban tunnels and entrances.

Laurence Mitchell scopeed out some global music: Americana, Balkan clarinets, Brazilian vibes, and African pop from the 50s and 60s.

Baja adventure travel story

In the May issue of Perceptive Travel, a Gold award winner as best online travel magazine from the two major travel writing trade organizations, we rounded up another great collection of narratives.

Sometimes that may include something like hiking to the top of a live volcano, only to dodge bullets and ride down a mountain at breakneck speed on a scared camel. See A Quick Trip to Hell in Ethiopia, by James Dorsey.

If bad trips make for the best stories, we had a double scoop of goodness for you. Marco Ferrarese was back with a tale about the road less traveled turning into the road not traveled by anyone. See Stranded on the Back Roads of Tibetan Sichuan.

My story on adventures in Baja Sur is a different kettle of fish. Everything went swimmingly on a tour from the bottom of the peninsula up to San Ignacio Lagoon, cavorting with sea lions and the world’s largest fish, getting eye to eye with the world’s largest mammals. See Eye to Eye With Whales and Whale Sharks in the Baja Peninsula.

In June, noted food writer Amy Rosen returned (on the heels of a new book) to go cycling up the coast of Spain on a self-guided tour, despite having a terrible sense of direction and no map skills. See Catalunya or Bust by the Back Roads.

Graham Reid traveled to some of the most picturesque parts of China, in the rural southwest. The beauty remains, but the surrounding infrastructure in undergoing rapid government-orchestrated change. See China, Beyond the Bright Lights. Masai Mara travel

Luke Armstrong has a glorious safari day in Kenya before meeting up with some billiard-playing Maasai warriors with spears. But the rest of his group isn’t sticking around… See A Lion’s Pride and the Will of the Tribe in Kenya.

Susan Griffith reviewed several new travel books, from the delightful to the (overly) detailed. Laurence Mitchell cued up some new world music reviews from Zimbabwe, Lebanon, and Latin America.

At the end of a recent week in Guatemala, I ended up the special guest at a sacred shaman ceremony, which was a little out of my element to put it lightly. From the start, things did not go well. See our July feature Calling Ancestors Through the Butterflies in Guatemala.

Beebe Bahrami has written for Perceptive Travel about Spain before. This time she returned to the famous long Camino pilgrimage route and discovered plenty of strange characters along the way. See Trail Magic on the Way of Saint James.

A writer best known for her historical novels shared the story of how hated King Richard III ended up reformed in the public eye after his bones were discovered and enshrined in the working class British city of Leicester. See An American Novelist in King Richard III’s Court.

As always, we ran down some interesting things to check out for your bedside table or music player too. William Caverlee reviewed new books on eating in Vietnam, circling the globe on a tandem bike, and the 10th Best Travel Writing compilation that contains many Perceptive Travel alumni. Graham Reid highlighted new musical projects from Mali, Congo, and Palestine.

Mali Sahara travel

After we took a vacation in August, Perceptive Travel came back with a new issue for September. Award-winning contributor James Dorsey was back with another tale from Africa, traversing 100 miles of the Sahara desert in the same clothing as his guide, a Teureg nomad. See Sahara Dialogues.

I took my time to stop and smell the orchids in Queretaro state of Mexico with Sierra Gorda Ecotours. See Tourism as a Force for Change in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere.

Prolific author Chris Epting traveled to Yosemite National Park with his daughter to retrace the steps of a man who made it a park in the first place after seeing the light on a multi-day trip with John Muir. See Hiking in Teddy Roosevelt’s Footsteps in Yosemite.

Graham Reid put the “world” in world music with reviews of a London group playing music from Bangladesh, exiles from Mali produced by Robert Plant’s guitarist, and an “India-born, New York-based Canadian.”

William Caverlee checked out some new and worthwhile travel books, with authoritative titles on Ireland and the English coast, then a Lonely Planet survival guide that swings glibly from how to survive an avalanche or snake bite to how to survive heartbreak or singing karaoke.

For October, all three travel stories were from returning authors, starting with Gillian Kendall’s attempt to go from spectator to participant by learning to play the Irish drum. See Fekkin’ Savage: Learning to Drum in Doolin, County Clare.

David Lee Drotar headed to the eastern townships of Quebec to interact with nature, but enhanced by technology. See Celestial Quebec.

Michael Shapiro hits Singapore during its 50th birthday celebration and finds a prosperous city that still refuses to be pinned down by easy descriptions or black and white pronouncements. See Celebrating 50 Years, Singapore Dreams of an Even Brighter Future.

Susan Griffith reviewed three new travel books worth reading. Slow Road to Brownsville and Channel Shore are unhurried road trip stories set in the middle USA and the south coast of England. The other is a spirited attempt to retrace the steps of forgotten women explorers from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Laurence Mitchell reviewed new world music releases, from Spanglish Fly and the Soul Jazz Orchestra to Ana Alcaide and two veterans from Mali and France teaming up to make some cross-continent magic.

In November we got high and then headed to Asia. After battling for years on the craft beer front, you knew that a place like Portland couldn’t watch Denver steal its thunder with two kinds of intoxicants for long. So recently Oregon matched Colorado in making the evil weed a legal weed. This being America’s most bike-friendly city, of course a bike tour soon sprung up to visit dispensaries and other related hangouts on two wheels. See Becky Garrison’s new feature story: Serving Craft [email protected]@bis in Portland.

There’s another kind of useful weed growing like mad in Cambodia: bamboo. Once the old French-built rail lines were abandoned, the enterprising locals used bamboo with some leftover parts and built something out of nothing, stringing together rolling flat-topped cars to move through the jungle. No sides, no seats, no brakes. See James Michael Dorsey’s story here: Riding the Bamboo Train in Cambodia.

Bruce Northam returned to Myanmar for the fourth time recently. The country is transforming quickly, with tourists flooding in after the loosening of iron-fisted rule and thus sanctions. He went off the beaten track on a hike through rural villages though, where life has only changed a little. See Dueling Smiles in Muzzled Myanmar.

Village elder in Burma

Every month we check out what’s coming down the pike in the media world too. Graham Reid gives the lowdown on four new world music albums. William Caverlee reviews the latest travel books from war photographer Lynsey Addario, writer Don George, and the tireless compilation crew at Lonely Planet.

We finished up the year with a slate of returning writers on tap, starting with Debi Goodwin, author of Citizens of Nowhere. Full of great photos, this takes place during a noisy and fiery Spanish festival meant to mark the end of the cold season. See An Explosive End to Winter in Valencia, Spain.

David Lee Drotar finds a trip to the Greek Islands to be even more complicated than usual when it comes to history. On top of thousands of years of battles and migrations, then a recent debt crisis, now the ferries plying the islands are hosting a stream of refugees. See Uncovering Greece, Underwater and Underground.

Thailand travel

When I picked out a post-trip in Thailand to follow my speaking gig at the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) Asia conference, I chose Satun and Trang and pictured myself lounging on gorgeous beaches with limestone cliffs rising around me. Instead the highlight turned out to be a self-taught artist making sculptures from tree roots. See A Man and His Dragons in Southern Thailand.

As always, we take a look at some noteworthy new travel books and tell you which ones are worth adding to your Kindle list or your bedside table. Susan Griffith checks out Can We Live Here?, Walking Away, and Naked at Lunch: The Adventures of a Reluctant Nudist.

We also spun some music from around the globe worth streaming or downloading. Laurence Mitchell reviews two sets of left-field Latino groups, a folk string quintet with vocals, and Rumi poetry set to music.

There you have it, a round-up of our issues and some of the top travel stories of the year in 2015. Hope you enjoyed it!

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