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Great Travel Stories From 2017

Iran travel story and photo by Richard Bangs

The year is coming to an end, so it’s time to round up all the great travel stories published throughout the year from Perceptive Travel, the online magazine with tales from wandering book authors.

We started the year off with a celebration of our anniversary by publishing a rundown of the most popular stories we put out in the past three years, then the most popular of all time.

Then we had two new features. One was on my return to the Philippines. I wanted to give the Philippines a second chance after coming away with a pretty lousy impression the first time I visited as a backpacker. This time I experienced it like a tourist on vacation would and have to say “tourist” won the battle bigtime for this destination. See On a Blowout Budget in Boracay.

Mexico City resident Lydia Carey made her debut this issue with a story on traversing the entire long Baja Peninsula in a rental car. See Following the Faded Signs in Baja California. Then we ran through some world music and new books.

Baja road trip story

In February, Teresa Bergen finds out late in life she’s got ancestors from Germany and looks into the hardship early immigrants from there faced after landing in Texas. See Finding My German Roots in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Kerry Hudson becomes and immigrant herself, escaping expensive London to move to a neighborhood of sunny Lisbon that’s far from trendy. See From Making the Best to Making a Home in Costa da Caparica.

James Dorsey was back with a story on an elephant sanctuary in Laos, a place transitioning the great beasts from hard labor to a more bucolic life. See Schooled as a Mahout on the Mekong.

Then Susan Griffith reviewed three new travel books and I did the honors on our very last world music reviews column.

Yes, after 10 years of covering interesting new albums from around the world, we had to face the reality that few people are actually buying music anymore. It’s been a public service column for many years, making $0, so go explore on Spotify then go support these traveling bands live. That’s how they’re making their living.

In March, just because of pure coincidence, three of the stories ponder what happens on the road when we think deep thoughts. Or just wonder what the heck we’re still doing in that place. In the fourth I decide no epiphany is necessary. Some places are just fun and can make you feel like a giddy kid again.

We welcomed a new writer to our pages, Jonathan Arlan. After some aimless wandering in Serbia that’s not very satisfactory, living like a monk in the countryside seems to be a good way to shake things up and let the mind rest. See A Place Not to Think in Central Serbia.

Kirsten Koza was back with a tale from Vietnam that probably won’t make it onto their tourism board website. It’s about squaring the horrors of the past with freak show profiteering in the present. See The Guilt Cafe in Vietnam.

Marco Ferrarese gets a tip from a stranger at a bar about place hidden in the Himalayas that he has to see. The main attraction is a mummified monk on display for the faithful. See The Eyeless Blessing of Sangha Tenzin.

travel story from Saguenay Quebec

Then I’ve wrote a watery story about the area around Lac Saint Jean and the Saguenay Fjord in rural Quebec. It’s a happy run of human-powered watersports and biking through miles of wild blueberries. See Sanguine on the Water in Saguenay.

Plus we featured reviews of three new travel books: one serious, one silly, and one useful.

April brought us the debut story from J. Jaye Gold. Adapted from his book, it’s about hiring some local Algerians on the fly to get dropped off in the undulating dunes of the Sahara, far from any other people. See Into the Depths of the Sahara in Algeria.

Then James Dorsey, who just racked up another shelf of writing kudos in the Solas Awards, brings us the story of Salvation Mountain in California. The labor of love from one man’s quest and calling lives on long after he’s gone. See A Hermit’s Prayer on Salvation Mountain. Bhutan trek

Michael Buckley’s first story for Perceptive Travel many years ago was about Bhutan. He returns for a trek through the mountains there, one eye out for a Yeti. See A Short Trek in Bhutan’s Wild East.

Becky Garrison visits Germany during the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s rise and tries to separate the tacky souvenirs from the history. See Recapturing My Religious Satirical Soul in Lutherland, Germany.

The April book reviews from Susan Griffith cover a book on trails, a book on a cycling tour through the former Iron Curtain countries, and a funny compilation by Geoff Dyer.

In May, guidebook writer Nick Rider was always in too much of a hurry to investigate places that are still blank holes on a map. Until he made time for a wild biosphere in Chiapas, Mexico. See Into a Lost World in El Triundo.

Melissa Adams visited the famous annual camel fair in Pushkar, India to take a photography class when subjects were abundant. The real insight, however, came from talking to an educated female doctor about arranged marriage. See She Called Me Bindass.

Kirsten Koza was used to her boyfriend–now new husband—inviting strangers along when they traveled. But asking one to share a room…on their Italian honeymoon?! See Hiding the Cannoli in Sicily.

Kenai Peninsula Alaska travel story

I chime in with my own feature story this month, on a few days in nature in Alaska, just a short hop by train from the biggest city. See Gawking at Glaciers in Wild Alaska.

And as always we check out a few books worth putting on your nightstand or taking with you around the world. Bill Caverlee checks out three on tides, national parks, and a historian’s take on travel. See the May travel book reviews.

If you read a lot of travel articles, especially in magazines, you start to wonder if anything bad ever happens on vacation and whether there are any unsavory aspects of tourism going on. While books are full of stories that are tales of trouble and you see some great long-form journalism in Outside, most travel pubs are, by nature, only showing you what’s #beautiful. As more than one editor has said in justification, “We’re a travel magazine, not a do not travel magazine.”

Bloggers and online publishers can stretch the boundaries a bit because they are not generally risking ad deals worth tens of thousands of dollars when they say a chain hotel is boring, that cruises are lame, or a destination is a trash pit.

Which brings us to the June issue of Perceptive Travel. It just worked out that every story we ran that month was about twisted fascination, letdowns, or problems nobody wants to discuss usually. Part of the reason I started Perceptive Travel more than 10 years ago was the desire to publish good stories that may not be all cheerful and positive, the kind of tales you tell your friends after a few beers, but that no sensible magazine editor would touch.

We are often let down by places that we have built up in our head, but in Mara Gorman’s case it was a matter of returning to Venice for a third time. As a child and then a traveling single woman she saw the city in different ways, then returned with her own kids to see it through their eyes. Check out It’s Not Venice, It’s Me.

steampunk masks in Venice

Theresa Bergen decides that visiting a museum dealing with shock therapy and lobotomies would be make for a fun afternoon. So she checks out the a state museum of mental health, housed in part of the historic building where One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed. See Compassionate Education Versus Dark Tourism at an Oregon Mental Hospital.

The huge island of Borneo, split between two countries, is populated up north by traditional tribes trying to hang onto their way of life—while dealing with garbage floating down from lands to the north. See Marco Ferrarese’s article Tropical Paradise Under Construction in Borneo.

Judith Fein has a lovely time touring around Bulgaria, but is tired of hearing her guide criticizing the immigrants who have come to the country. So she makes him take her to visit some. See Inside a Refugee Camp in Bulgaria.

Susan Griffith checked out books featuring variations on long and slow travel trips alone.

trekking in Nepal

July started out with a story to make you laugh or gag (or both at the same time): Kirsten Koza’s memoir on trips to Romania over the course of 12 years, with the same guide. And if you get PC huffy over the word “gypsies,” you may want to skip it. See The Mudsucker Curse of Transylvania.

Our multi-award-winning writer Darrin DuFord returned with a story about Cyprus, but it’s on the part of Cyprus claimed by Turkey. So it’s only recognized as a valid country by…Turkey. In this situation, you get to see what happens when nice beach hotels get abandoned for decades after an invasion. See The Concrete Corpses of Cyprus.

You’ve probably read a few articles about Mexico City. You may have even read about or experienced Xochimilco. But you probably haven’t heard much about the ancient canals that serve as the lungs, the liver, and the farmland for the city of 20 million. See Mexico City’s Island Life: Enchanted and Endangered.

I’ve posted a few informational things about my recent Nepal trip on this blog, but I dive in deeper with the narrative story up this month on Perceptive Travel, with a few new pics. See Hugging the Knees of the Himalayas on a Nepal Tea House Trek.

William Caverlee checks out three eclectic books with ties to travel: one on street art, one on a Shakespeare troup attempting to perform in every country in the world, and one on the birth of photojournalism as we know it when compact cameras came on the market.

orangutan borneo travel story

In the August issue we ended up with three stories from Asia. Two of the three involved primates.

One article involves an actual hunt for them, orangutans in this case, in one of the creatures’ depressingly few remaining wild habitats. It can be trouble though when you use the voice of an alpha male to get close to them. See Orangutan Warfare in Borneo.

Things get weird enough when a writer seeks out Laotian moonshine distiller in the jungle and sees how the snake whiskey is made and bottled. But then “Mr. Tojo” shows up, ready to issue a challenge. See Moonshine With a Monkey on the Mekong.

The third Asia story was devoid of hairy beasts. Instead it looks at the human complexities of traveling the world to find solitude but finding deep companionship instead. See Walkabout Love in China by newcomer Dustin Grinnell.

We headed over to Europe and land in Rome, where men “touch iron” upon seeing a nun on the street to keep from getting cursed. Susan Van Allen instead dives into her 60s-inspired nun obsession and books a stay at a convent. See Get Me to a Nunnery in Rome.

Susan Griffith reviewed three new travel books. Two dive into the dark side of tourism and travel, with stories that often hit what doesn’t make it into the glossy “everything is wonderful” magazines. The third is from female survivalist Megan Hine. See the August travel book reviews.

In September we welcomed David Nikel, author of the Moon Norway guidebook. In the far north of the country he weaves in and out of the tourist spots reached by the summer ships. See Their Northernmost Life in Arctic Norway.

Arctic Norway

I spent part of my time in the Balkans dodging cruise ship visitors as well in Dubrovnik and Kotor, but mostly avoid them by seeing three countries on two wheels in this former war-torn region. See Biking Across Borders in the Balkans.

Lydia Carey returned to her father’s roots in North Carolina where he and his brother grew up in mill towns where people were poor, but employed. The two take her out for a tour down memory lane, some parts moving on, some stuck in a broken down state. See Taking the Carolina Hometown Tour.

Michael Buckley was back with a story on a part of Australia that’s not what you pictured: far north Queensland, in what could be the world’s oldest rainforest. See Surfing the Rainforest in North Queensland.

William Caverlee brought us reviews of three new travel-related books, including one timely tome on eclipses around the world. See the September travel book reviews.

Golden Triangle MyanmarFor the October issue, James Dorsey headed to the Burma section of the notorious Golden Triangle area once ruled by Asia’s drug lord Khun-Sa. There the author finds a kind of hero worship in his former operating base. See The Kingpin of the Golden Triangle.

Guidebook author Michele Bigley confronted the one style of dance she hasn’t been able to get a handle on—Hula—and heads to Hawaii to search for the secrets at its source. See Hula is Life: the Legacy of Hawaii.

Kirsten Koza was back with another strange story, this time attending a bullfight in the Colca Canyon of Peru and finding a group of proud neo-Nazis in the stands. See Bullfighting Buddhists or Backwards Bumpkins in Peru.

The last story was mine, about my recent off-the-grid hiking trip in Central Asia where few other travelers have tread. See Crossing the Creases in Wild Kyrgyzstan.

The travel book reviews featured two memoirs by women who travel in very different ways to escape trauma, plus an enticing set of photographs of European pilgrimage routes.

A porous border travel story

The November issue of Perceptive Travel title could have gone a lot of ways. Like “3 Pariah States, 1 Civil War Zone, and a Good Place to Get Robbed.” Or “2 Destinations That Used to Suck and 3 That Still Do.”

You see, we try to publish the best travel stories on the internet, or anywhere, actually. We’re not trying to please advertisers like cruise companies or 5-star resorts with fancy spas, so that means any good traveler tale is fair game. Sometimes that means a good yarn about a place none of our readers have any intention of going. Or it means diving into the dark side of tourism, looking under the rocks where all the bugs are crawling.

So when one of the most respected travel writers out there, Rory MacLean, said he wanted to submit an article about North Korea, I said “Hell yeah!” In an excerpt from his book of interviews with the people actually living there, he talks with a dolphin trainer, one of the 80,000 public performers in the May Day Stadium, and an army general who served in the Korean War. See In North Korea – a Journey Behind the Fiction.

You don’t read many travel articles about Afghanistan or Pakistan, so how about both? Tim Brookes looks into the challenges of vaccinating children for polio in such a troubled part of the world. See The Most Porous Border.

Northern Ireland is a relatively calm place now, but it certainly wasn’t a few decades ago. Much of the tension lives on, as Tom Coote finds on a “Troubles Tour” in the largest city. See A Divided History on the Walls of Belfast.

We lighten things up at the end, but at author David Lee Drotar’s expense. His plans for driving around Sicily in a rental car, carefree and independent, crash in a hurry as soon as he starts. See My Very Bad Italian Day.

As usual, we check out a few new travel book releases, this time including one on a year in Paris, one on biking across the USA, and one that collects famous filming locations for movies and TV shows.

We rounded out the year in December with two places in North America, one in South America, and one that’s not exactly teeming with U.S. visitors: Iran.

That last one was from well-known explorer and TV host Richard Bangs, who toured the country with a small group of Americans. It’s not easy reconciling the “Death to America” signs that still exist with the warm welcome constantly on display from the people actually living there. See Isn’t it Iranic?

Debi Goodwin had reasons to be nervous on her trip, but not because of humans. She heads into the Amazon Basin region of Ecuador and sees why early explorers had to face a serious fight for survival. See The Mysteries of Life in the Amazon Jungle.

Ecuador Amazon jungle story Debi Goodwin

Lydia Carey returned with another tale from her adopted home of Mexico City, this time swept up in a wave of devoted worshipers of one of the 12 disciples of Jesus. Turns out there were two Judas disciples and the other one always has your back–even if you’re a low-life criminal. See San Judas de Tadeo: Mexico’s Defender of Lost Causes.

Amy Rosen was back with another story from her home country of Canada, but this time heading far east to Newfoundland, where the people population declined when the cod population did off the coast. One place found a way to buck the trend. See Rock, Paper, Cod in Newfoundland.

And as always, we run detailed reviews of three new and noteworthy travel books to consider for you or for a gift. This time Susan Griffith brings us guidebook company founder Alastair Sawday, a round-up of hikes that won’t kill you from Wanderlust editor Phoebe Snow, and a tale of traveling the world with a packet of money to give away.

That’s it for our collection of great travel stories from 2017! Keep up on what’s new in the monthly newsletter where you’ll get a shot at winning some free travel gear every single month.