The Best Travel Stories of 2018

We published another great collection of travel stories in Perceptive Travel in 2018, continuing to put out offbeat articles from wandering book authors. 

We kicked off the year with four new tales from different spots on the globe. Mine was on a part of Argentina that has little to do with Tango, gauchos, or red wine. Instead, I went on a four-wheel-drive tour of the Salta Province of Argentina. See Isolation and Empanadas in the Desert of Northern Argentinaadventure travel in Salta Province Argentina

Tony Robinson-Smith hiked to a remote part of Bhutan where hot springs baths in a national park provide a cure for what ails you—or perhaps a new mate. See Cures for Tuberculosis or Ulcers in the Steaming Waters of Bhutan.

Jim Johnston had well-laid plans for his return to India, with important meetings and local connections, but a serious smog alert changes everything. He picks some random spots on the map in Rajasthan instead and finds different connections with the locals. See One in a Billion in India.

James Dorsey headed to Cambodia to tour a lesser-known Khmer temple. The country’s legacy of planting land mines everywhere has left its toll, but our writer meets a blind musician with enhanced talents. See Khmer Mozart in the Jungle.

In February we traveled to places that are far from the overtourism spots so inundated with visitors. We explored one town in Sicily, one spot on the island of Sulawesi, an adventure playground in Chihuahua, and a rural monastery in Thailand.

Noted Italy expert and author Susan Van Allen indulged her sweet tooth on the island of Sicily, her final quest being a famous cassata baker who holds court in Noto. See Sicily, With Cherries on Top.

Marco Ferrarese traveled to the Rantepao, Tanah Toraja area of Sulawesi. With a few white lies, a guide gets them into a big funeral celebration, but the gory mess leads to an early exit. See Bring Your Daughter to the Torajan Slaughter in Indonesia.

Luke Armstrong spent some time meditating with monks in Thailand, hoping to get rid of chronic neck pain while staying quiet and receiving morning alms from villagers. See Learning to Walk Fully in Thailand.

Copper Canyon Adventure Park

The last story was mine. I capped off my year of adventure with a visit to the Copper Canyons of Chihuahua, in Mexico. I thought I was ready for whatever some mad-made “adventure park” could throw at me—until I was hanging off a cliff and walking through thin air on a single strand of cable. See An Overdose of Adrenaline in the Copper Canyons of Mexico.

Then as always, we reviewed three new and notable travel books. Susan Griffith checked out new books on lesser-known British isles, on traveling the Americas by bus, and a traveling American family that has trouble letting go of the comforts of home.

Perceptive Travel story on a village in Japan

In March, we found out that one of our writers, Melissa Adams, won two awards for the same story last month. The North American Travel Journalists Association awarded her a silver for writing in the competitive Destination Features category, plus she got a general excellence photography award. See her Pushkar, India travel story here.

The photo above is from a strange and wonderful story about a village in Japan. The artist’s homemade life-sized dolls outnumber the real humans, but not because she’s lonely as some media have reported. See Village of The Dolls in Skikoku.

On a trip to Thailand, Bruce Northam got some lessons in Tuk-Tuk driving and then hung out with the old-school bicycle rickshaw pedalers in Chiang Mai. See Thailand on Three Wheels—With and Without an Engine.

James Dorsey was back with a story from South America about a Peruvian showing off his jungle along the great river. See Travels with Tarzan in the Amazon Jungle.

Candace Dempsey explored the glory days of the British Empire in northern India, seeing the opulent side of the colorful country from Amritsar to Shimla and points between. See The Road to Shimla: Adventures in Northern India.

Bill Caverlee checked out two new and noteworthy books on exploring the world—and one on going beyond.

In April we announced another big “best travel writing” award. In the annual Solas Awards from Travelers’ Tales, Dustin Grinnell won a Gold for Walkabout Love in China. I got a Bronze for my story on biking across the Balkans, plus I got honorable mentions for others about Bolivia and Guatemala. Contributors Michelle Bigley and Darrin DuFord also got honorable mentions for things they wrote, so a nice showing.

We kicked off the issue with a debut from Claudia Flisi. Her article was a very different kind of travel story from Italy, one on rescuing orphaned or injured hedgehogs and providing some wild spaces for them to run around. See A Hedgehog Hospital in Italian Wine Country.

stave church in Bergen, Norway

Norway guidebook author David Nikel returned with a story on one of the country’s best-known cities. He is not immune from what inflicts many tourists there though: a heavy chance of rain. See The Darker and Wetter Side of Bergen, Norway.

I got onto the Gulf of Mexico waters of Florida to paddle along a different kind of traveling route: a 190-mile kayaking trail around an archipelago. See Kayaking the Calusa Blueway in Florida.

Debi Goodwin got tugged by the marketing blitz and ended up in Dubai. She tried to get beyond the glitz and pricey attractions to find some local soul. She finally discovers a little of it in the desert. See Trying to Find the Real Dubai.

Then Susan Griffith reviews three new travel books on exploration and discovery, including Atlas of Untamed Places.

Maasai village travel story

For May there was a theme of foreigners meddling in local affairs. Sometimes, when it’s done with ample local input, you end up with a project that takes off and improves lives—or at least improves moods. That’s the case with what happened in a town on the shores of Lake Atitlan. See A Guatemalan Town Rediscovers Its Identity Through Art.

Other times, the original intention is partly good, such as delivering aid to remote lakeside villages so poor they can’t afford boat fuel. But when the stops are short and the communication is about burning in hell, the motivations are not so noble. See And Out Came the Lions (Clubs) in Remote Malaysia.

A travel story about the Debed Canyon of Armenia is usually going to be about a whole millennium of foreign meddling, with the area changing hands over the centuries like a poker chip. Now it’s a toxic industrial town full of depressed locals and…two smiling Mormon missionaries. See Sulfer Clouds and Sacred Sites: a Journey Through the Debed Canyon.

A visitor to a Maasai village in the African Bush made his mark in just one way. He gave his Swiss Army knife to a boy who is about to go through an initiation ceremony to become a man. When returning years later, he finds that the scary and rather cruel ritual has evolved on its own to something more sensible and enlightened. See A Modern Story From Old Africa.

There were three travel book reviews as well. This time we checked out Lonely Planet’s new beer-themed travel book, saw the world through a birder, and looked at an anthology containing 10 years of stories scoring Solas Awards for best travel writing from Travelers’ Tales Publishing–the contest we placed well in again this year.

Story about Auroville India in Perceptive Travel

In the June issue we took you into two different parts of India, revisited a recovering area of former strife in Bosnia, and visited the Galicia region of northern Spain.

Debi Goodwin had an idealized picture of what the stay she arranged ahead will be like living with the locals in Goa, but then finds the village is basically two sides of a busy roadway. See Finding My Way in a Goan Village.

Camille Cusumano spent time in the semi-communal Indian town of Auroville, reuniting with like-minded friends and seeing the Water Ceremony during the town’s 50th anniversary.  See The Dharma Buddies of Auroville.

Beebe Bahrami got lost and wandered around northwest Spain, reflecting on the importance of Octopuses, the help of strangers, and pilgrimage. See The Way of the Octopus in Galicia.

I wrote about hiking near Sarajevo in here and biking in the Balkans for Perceptive Travel, but it took a year of reflection before I could write about what’s simmering just below the surface in the most recent war-torn part of Europe. See Moving Beyond the Bullet Holes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Susan Griffith reviewed three new travel books on Iran, spiritual places, and difficult traveling as a couple with different goals.

Chefchaouen houses Morocco

In July, Zora O’Neill, author of the award-winning book All Strangers are Kin, contributed a story where she serves as de facto tour guide for her parents in Morocco when they travel there together, all of them carrying memories of seeing the country when they were young. A hike into the hills above Chefchaouen together doesn’t turn out as planned, but in a good way. See Three Walnuts, Three Pomegranates in Morocco.

When Luke Armstrong moved down the shore of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, settling in a new village, he found that switching vendors comes with a sack full of emotional baggage. See Coconut Mafia Friendship Club.

Claudia Flisi headed to South America and stayed at an estancia, a farmhouse lodge, drinking wine made from grapes grown there and hopping on a horse to join a cattle drive. See Wining, Dining, and Cattle Driving in Uruguay.

The first time I was scheduled to visit the Florida Keys, a massive hurricane came barreling through the area. Seven months later I made the trip, in the aftermath. See Blowing Through the Lower Florida Keys.

As usual, we shared three recent travel book releases to share what’s worth reading. This time a book on countries that no longer exist, a book on John Muir’s first journey to what’s now Yosemite, and an anthology by one of Perceptive Travel’s regular contributors.

Teotiihuacan travel story woman
Sometimes when we put out a new issue of Perceptive Travel, which I founded in 2006, we end up with some geographic clusters, but in the August issue, we really bopped around the world. We published great long-form travel stories from a small island in the Pacific, Rwanda, Poland, and Mexico.

Have you ever heard of the island of Tanna? On this once-isolated volcanic dot in the South Pacific, the followers of a legendary visitor from the 1930s still wait for his return. See Tanna: The Isle of Curious Cults by Stephen M. Bland.

Music producer Ian Brennan headed into wild places on the map of Rwanda to find villagers making interesting music in lands that have seen a lot of troubles. Check out Searching for Music in Rural Rwanda. 

Wanda Henning was enjoying the excesses of a sublime Polish dinner until she found out the well-known chef knew a murderer connected to an incident in the writer’s home country. See Assignation with An Assassination.

Lydia Carey returned with a story from her adopted home of Mexico, first observing a spring solstice celebration at the famous Teotihuacan ruins, then visiting a Catholic church that’s far more Mayan than Roman. See Worshiping Mixed Mexico: Rebirth, Resurrection, and Sacred Spaces.

The August book reviews featured a plea to travel slower, a heartwarming true story of a low-caste Indian man journeying across Asia and Europe to marry a Swedish backpacker, and one woman’s autobiographical account of facing down her fears as a traveler and a human being. 

I went off the grid in August while I was hiking around Kyrgyzstan, so we took a break from publishing our usual round of the best travel stories on the internet in September. 

 

We got back in the groove in October, starting off by going all the way to Tasmania, off the southern shores of Australia. Bruce Northam checked out a new walkabout tour led by descendants of the original people of these lands. See Tasmania’s “New” Ancient Walkabout.

Rock formation in Bohemian Switzerland National Park in the Czech Republic, two hours north of PragueI hate giving any attention to Myanmar with the violent genocide that has gone on there, but the story from James Dorsey was all about encountering a holy man who could be anywhere in Buddhist lands. See Seeking Enlightenment at the Golden Rock.

I wrote on here a while back about a trippy part of the Czech Republic two hours north of Prague, but now there’s a more in-depth story on the natural area here: Finding Narnia in Czech Bohemia.

Judith Fein was in Colombia, South Carolina when she met a man who grew up in a boarding house for touring black musicians in the segregated Jim Crow era. He gives her a tour and his story in Meeting Reggie.

Susan Griffith reviewed new travel books where “Three women writers explore destinations that reflect their own states of mind…”

In November we welcomed a new author, Glen Retief, who finally found his special place in the open spaces of a northern Atlantic island, a world very different than in the Kruger National Park of Africa where he grew up. See An Unobscured View in Iceland.

Cynthia Trenshaw also appeared for the first time in Perceptive Travel. She made her way through a country she has never visited, a solo traveler trusting the kindness of friends and friends. See Two Degrees of Separation: An Introvert’s Travel Encounters in New Zealand.

Tony Robinson-Smith returned, this time with an article about the strange and fastidious birds of West Papua. See The Shape-shifter and the Architect.

kayaks in Belize

I went off the grid again for kayaking and camping on the Glover’s Reef Atoll. Some 40 miles from the mainland of Central America, I spent days paddling and snorkeling with the rays, groupers, and sea turtles. See Kayaking Around Specks in the Ocean in Belize.

We also highlighted three new and noteworthy book releases to consider for your nightstand or coffee table.

Sometimes the best travel stories have a raw power that transcends the style, the kind told round a campfire or over a few beers. We had a few of those in the December 2018 issue of Perceptive Travel, tales from the road that are captivating in the unwinding of the story.

We ended the year with someone special appearing for the first time in our table of contents, a personal hero of mine who co-founded Wired magazine and is known as the guy behind both Cool Tools and the oft-cited 1,000 True Fans theory for creatives. That would be Kevin Kelly, usually known as a futurist and author of the book The Inevitable.

He talked about what it was like when he went backpacking in the 1970s, when some of the tools that were fading away for me in the mid-90s were in full force. This was a $2-a-day time of aerograms, film cameras, and post restante, long before the internet, advance hostel bookings, and even ATMs. It is accompanied by stunning photos like the one here, in an age before modern global homogenization took over. See The Life of a Backpacker in Asia in the 1970s.

Best travel stories 2018 including by Kevin Kelly

Claudia B. Flisi had a conversation with an employee of a Tanzania safari lodge that led to a bizarre life-changing childhood tale. An innocent question about learning English turns into a story about abduction, education, and a family of 34. See The Kidnapping of Edward the Maasai.

Frequent contributor David Lee Drotar returned to Greece, this time pondering life, death, and the march of centuries on Karpathos Island. See In Greece, Things Happen.

Guidebook writer Madelaine Trieb saw the Pantanal region of Brazil the way most tourists do when she stayed at a pampering conservation lodge. Things were quite a bit different on her second trip, when she visited her boyfriend’s farming family. See Hunting Wild Boar in the Brazilian Cowboy Country of Pantanal.

Susan Griffith reviewed three new travel books by adventurers who refuse to be cowed by what they read in the media. From Somalia to South Dakota, the West Bank to the Western Sahara, preconceptions unravel as these writers encounter (almost) nothing but friendly assistance.

There you have it, some of the best travel stories you’ll find on the web from 2018. You can always find what’s new in the current issue here, as well as info about our latest contest. 

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