The Best Travel Writing of 2016 – Stories From Around the World

Bolivia desert in the best travel writing publication

It was 10 years ago when we published the very first issue of Perceptive Travel online magazine, which you can still see at that link. It’s got Rolf Potts, Jen Leo, Bruce Northam, Peter Moore, and Harold Stephens, plus me reviewing some books like the very first edition of Signspotting. We started off with a bang if I may say so myself, especially considering that Rolf’s story went on to win some best travel writing awards and get into some book anthologies. It was also popular in searches for many years: look at the title and you’ll probably see why…

I launched this online magazine out of frustration. Magazines aimed at independent travelers were going under faster than you could say “world wide web” and it was clear that the ones still surviving were dumbing down their shrinking content more each quarter. Since it looked like we could run out of places to publish real narratives outside of books, I took matters into my own hands and mined my network of fellow authors to get things rolling. No market research, no e-mail list, and no startup funds to get the word out. And who is crazy enough to launch an online magazine where only book authors can submit a story?

Thankfully it wasn’t a stupid idea and ten years later I haven’t run out of great travel story submissions. Sometimes I kick in one myself, like this issue’s story on disconnecting in the unpopulated high desert of Bolivia, but more often I’m just the man behind the curtain putting all the pieces together. I just try to make sure all those pieces are interesting.

In January, another piece was a typically offbeat tale from James Michael Dorsey on what happens when an innocent attempt to purchase a trinket goes awry and gets him chased through the medina in Marrakesh. New contributor Anna Elkins conquered a lingering travel fear by heading to China solo and hiking along the Great Wall. See Beyond the Fear of Other in China.

You can also check out some worthwhile new music albums reviewed by Graham Reid and see the new and notable travel books reviewed by William Caverlee.

In February, we headed to rural Tajikstan, Buenos Aires, and the artsy side of Germany.

Not many people are on Couchsurfing in rural Tajikstan, but the guy this couple went to stay with was, with his very conservative Muslim family, and…well, see No Country for Honest Men. The Recoleta Cemetery in the ritzy part of historic Buenos Aires is like a little city unto itself and a great study of mini architecture and the decline of fortunes. See Unlocking Argentina’s History. There’s a lot of history wrapped up in what is left of the Berlin Wall in Germany, much of it freakishly captured in one poignant bit of street art. See On the Old Berlin Wall, a Kiss is not Just a Kiss.

Then Susan Griffith checks out some interesting travel books for the month and Laurence Mitchell runs down some notable new world music releases.

Omo Valley Ethiopia

In March we celebrated  a  few awards we racked up, with our virtual trophy case getting more crowded. My piece Handmade in Oaxaca won a Gold from the North American Travel Journalists Association and Kristin Winet’s blog post on the Salt Flats Man of Gozo scored a Silver award. James Dorsey cleaned up at the Solas Awards sponsored by Travelers’ Tales. His long list on wins included stories we’ve published here on Morocco, Ethiopia, and Burma. Some of our other frequent contributors got awards for things they did in other publications, including Michael Shapiro and Darrin DuFord.

For the new issue I was back in the mix with a not-so-intrepid story from a place that’s not exactly unknown: a big theme park. A dad’s gotta do what a dad’s gotta do, but at least I got to channel my inner Homer Simpson.

James Dorsey was back too and his story was intrepid and off the beaten path. He joined the Hamer tribes of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia for a bizarre wedding ceremony that involved bloody flogging, a naked groom, and bull jumping. Oh, and lots of automatic weapons. See Jumping Into Matrimony in Ethiopia.

Noted Italy guide author Susan Van Allen made her Perceptive Travel debut. She connected with a man and his dogs for a special hunt near a medieval Italian village. See The Truffle Hunt in Umbria.

Graham Reid checkched out some notable new world music, going from Mali to Armenia to Rajasthan. William Caverlee reviewed three new travel books: one from former PT contributor Joshua Berman, the latest from Paul Thereoux, and a comprehensive wine journeys book from Lonely Planet.

travel stories around the world

For the April issue, we lined up more of the best travel stories you’ll find on the web, plus reviews of mew world music releases and new travel books worth checking out.

First we headed to a small, usually forgotten town in rural Malaysia. Once a year, however, they use an obscure piece of history as an excuse to set off lots and lots of fireworks. See Deep Red Threat in Malaysia.

Gillian Kendall was in fine spirits on her flight from Seattle to Vancouver, but after going back to retrieve something left on the plane, found herself Locked out of Canada.

A village on the Pacific coast of Mexico is home to an eclectic mix of surfers and ex-stockbrokers, artists and anglers. Anna Elkins stayed for a while in a villa overlooking the ocean and found her voice and bliss. See A Rumi of Her Own in Sayulita.

Susan Griffith took the reins on the travel book reviews this month, checking out the latest from Bill Bryson and two other Americans abroad. Laurence Mitchell spun the world music for April, with Fela Kuti’s first band (when he played trumpet), some retro Ethiopian music, and two other albums with African roots.

For May, we welcomed Tom Swick. He was a fellow instructor at the San Miguel de Allende writers conference I was invited to a few months ago and I roped him into publishing a story with us to coincide with the release of his new book, The Joys of Travel: And the Stories That Illuminate Them. His article is on a Portuguese food festival geared to locals, then a continued sampling of local cuisine in Lisbon. See Celebrating the Food of Portugal.

Tom Coote did an earlier story for us on visiting Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster 30 years ago. But this time he visited Colombia, a country that has gone through some rough patches in the past and is still in rebuilding mode in some ways—especially in terms of peace and safety. See Complicated Crime and Punishment in Colombia.

Madelaine Triebe has spent a lot of time traveling around Argentina researching guidebooks. You won’t find a lot of space in them dedicated to a ghost town on the coast that was once the home of 30,000 people working for a military regime though, doing missile testing. See Reliving an Abandoned Town on the Patagonian Coast.

As usual we also round up some new travel books worth reading and some new world music worth blasting.

In the June issue, David Lee Drotar visited the land of other ancient cultures, in Jordan hitting the evocative landscapes of Petra and Wadi Rum. The Beduoins he encountered in those areas gave way to more refugees as they moved north to Jerash. See Nomadic Voices in the Kingdom of Jordan. (This went on to win a best travel writing prize from the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writing Association.)

traveling in Wadi Rum Jordan

James Dorsey returned to China, hitting the area close to Mongolia known as Kanas. It’s a town that still reveres Genghis Khan, along with various deities, spirits, and shrines. He passes ahaman women and throat singers and is soon summoned to a home for a meal without a common language. See Breaking Bread in Kanas.

My story is on finding the incongruities in a destination that seems one-dimensional, looking under the surface to find that the face of a place is only the start of the story. Head to Daytona Beach with me here: Diving into Art in the Land of NASCAR.

As always, we published reviews of notable new travel books, with Susan Griffith checking out ones on trains, planes, and happiness through adventure. Laurence Mitchell dug into new world music from multiple continents.

For July, we welcomed Garrett Fisher. He has a series of books out with stunning photos taken from the cockpit of his vintage prop plane built half a century ago. This time he was flying over Yellowstone National Park in winter, when there are almost no tourists venturing beyond the roads. There’s a blanket of white over the plains and the jagged mountains, with the lakes and hot springs providing contrast. The plane has no heat though and if the engine fails here, there’s nobody anywhere close to call. See Yellowstone by Air in the Freezing Winter.

Zora O’Neill has a new book out called All Strangers Are Kin: Adventures in Arabic and the Arab World. She contributed a story about ditching the photogenic scenes of exotic Marrakesh, Morocco to commune with local women in the great leveler: a simple local bath house. See The Naked Truth in Marrakech.

While the anti-science conservatives keep their ostrich heads in the sand, we keep setting temperature records around the world from man-made climate change and it’s not just on land where things are getting ugly. Michael Buckley visits several different points on the the world’s largest coral reef system off Australia and finds this great underwater eco-system is in big trouble from multiple threats. Check out Seeing the Great Barrier Reef Before It Dies.

Each month we also review a batch of notable new travel books. William Caverlee dove into three of them, including a Lonely Planet pictorial book on the U.S. National Parks on their 100th birthday. Graham Reid brought us four new world music releases from three continents.

Oaxaca cooking food

The August issue of Perceptive Travel had stories from Lithuania to Mexico by way of Switzerland and shone a light on some good new books and music releases.

Uzupis sculpture by Tom CooteChances are you’ve never heard of the Uzupis Republic. It’s a tiny breakaway state located within a curve of the Neris River near the old town of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Known as “the Jerusalem of the North,” it’s a neighborhood of crumbling buildings and public sculptures playing nation state. See the story from Tom Coote, Uzupis: in Search of a State.

Oaxaca has its own breakaway issues at the moment, thanks to its militant teachers’ union causing an economic meltdown. It was all about the food when Darrin DuFord visited though, when he learned the inside story on mole from one of the city’s best-known chefs. See Crossing the Mole Barrier in Oaxaca.

Gillian Kendall returned to a village in the Swiss Alps that changed her life and her outlook back in her 20s. Will it still have the same impact? See A Flow With No Beginning in Switzerland.

Each month we also run down some new travel books worth reading and new world music worth adding to your playlists. Susan Griffith and Laurence Mitchell did the honors.

We headed into September with more intriguing stories from the best online travel magazine (according to two travel writing associations). 

The mysterious mountain men appear out of nowhere in Kyrgyzstan, a country that is hard enough to spell, much less find on a map. Kirsten Koza got more than she signed up for when encountering them during a biking and camping trip through the countryside. See The Mountain Men Who Don’t Exist in Kyrgystan.

If there’s one bird you don’t want to get in a fight with, it’s the cassowary of Australia. Especially the female: she’s larger, has a bigger throat-slitting middle claw, and abandons her eggs to let the males care for them. See Don’t Attempt to Cuddle a Cassowary.

Luke Maguire Armstrong gets invited to fill many unexpected roles as a foreigner living in Guatemala, but when he gets tapped to appear on a “reality TV” nature show, he doesn’t find much that’s natural. See Unreached Realities in Guatemalan Mangroves.

You need something to read and something to listen to when you travel, right? William Caverlee reviewed some notable new travel books, including Mother Tongue by Christine Gilbert, as well as a great compilation from regular Perceptive Travel contributor Darrin DuFord.  See the September travel book reviews.

Graham Reid checked out some new tunes that have just hit the stores and your favorite streaming service, with most of them illustrating the reach of world music beyond borders, coming from musicians in London, New York, Florida, then “The Most Beautiful Songs in the World.” See the September world music reviews.

Sweden kitesurfers

James Dorsey seems to purposely get himself in trouble on a regular basis by going with the flow to find real adventure. Sometimes he pushes it a bit though, like when he says “Surprise me” to a newfound friend who must then extract him from a dicey situation. We kicked the October issue off with the story: Following My Fixer into the Underground in Laos.

Susan Van Allen has written several books about Italy and one movie that stuck with her about the country was a post-WWII Ingrid Bergman film that took place on the Island of Stromboli. She visited the much-improved island where the volcano is still erupting and climbed to the top. See Ingrid, Me, and Stromboli.

I returned to the line-up with a story from my first trip to Sweden. Would you have thought that photo above was from there? With my references being the Swedish Chef, Abba, Ikea, and photos of cold winters, I was pleasantly surprised with what we found while biking along the sea on the country longest cycling route. See Sweden by the Seashore in the Summer on the Kattegattledan.

Snce all our stories are from published book authors, naturally we love books. Good ones at least. Susan Griffith ran down a couple notable new travel books worth checking out, plus one best left unread. Laurence Mitchell checked out what was new in the World Music section, including a female desert blues singer from North Africa and one of the strangest fusion combinations yet.

Our readership doesn’t take a lot of cruises, but November’s first story was not about a typical time at sea either. Greece guidebook author Rebecca A. Hall boarded a container ship in Athens and spent weeks plying the waters with a merchant crew on a long journey to Singapore. See Karaoke at Sea on a Cargo Ship Cruise.

Marco Ferrarese returned with a story about getting lost in Nepal on a route rarely trekked by foreigners, ending up at an elaborate funeral ceremony in the mountains. See For Whom the Gongs Toll in Nepal.

Nuuhchimi Wiinuu adventure Quebec

Chris Epting was back after flying on a prop plane to northern Quebec with his daughter, for some outdoor adventure activities in Cree country. In a land just starting to get a somewhat regular connection to the web and social media, there’s a budding relationship with technology and marketing to tourists. See Friend Requests in the Canadian Outback.

You need something to read and something to listen to when you travel, right? William Caverlee reviews some notable new travel books, including a book from former contributor (and Lonely Planet author) Leif Pettersen.  See the November travel book reviews. Graham Reid checked out some new tunes that have just hit the stores and your favorite streaming service, with most of them illustrating the reach of world music beyond borders. See the November world music reviews.

Archova Corinthia Greece travel

It’s time for the new issue of Perceptive Travel, the best online travel magazine for 10 years running. We’ve got some more great stories from book authors on the move.

Award-winning regular contributor James Dorsey goes in search of a famed voodoo practitioner in Benin, where the spirit worlds and physical worlds are closely intertwined. See The Medicine Man in Benin.

While researching two books in the Dordogne region of France, Beebe Bahrami rents an apartment in a medieval town best known for its foie gras stores and gets a first-person schooling in French womanhood. See On Beauty and Foie Gras in Southwestern France.

David Lee Drotar writes about Greece again while touring a region of carted off antiquities and the Oracle of Delphi’s mushroom fields. See Looting Memory in Corinthian Greece.

We run down some books worth reading each month, and sometimes ones better left on the shelf. Susan Griffith has two from the first camp and one from the second in the December travel book reviews. Laurence Mitchell circles the globe through his earbuds and highlights some interesting new albums. Check out the December world music reviews.

That’s it! A year of the best travel writing from published book authors.

Don’t forget that every month of 2016 we gave away some kind of travel gear to readers, from a down jacket to sunglasses to hiking shoes. You can get in on the action every month if you just become a part of our regular e-mail issue update community. Then watch for the entry instructions near the beginning of each month. You can also follow Perceptive Travel on Facebook and pay close attention to the feed for instructions. Unlike with your local lottery, the odds are so good that some readers have scored twice.


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