At Wide World of Travel, we’re keen to provide you with inspiration for life-changing experiences the world over. We acknowledge, however, that we don’t have exclusive claim to such inspiration; many travel writers have come before us who wowed audiences with their own eye-opening travelogues, hoping to inspire the next generation of explorers. Inspired by them and eager to share their stories, we compiled this list of our favorite travel writers heading into 2020. Read them carefully and often — alongside Wide World of Travel, of course — and be inspired.
Amy Virshup (The New York Times)
In 2018, Virshup was appointed Editor of The New York Times Travel section. As her inaugural missive to The Gray Lady’s loyal readers, she wrote pointedly about the need to change the nature of travel writing. In her letter, she opined that travel writing was less about providing encompassing experiences (for the many, many armchair travelers unable to afford adventures abroad) and more about spelling out the details of each experience — including the specifics on locals-only traditions and customs. Increasingly, she argued, people want authentic travel experiences that mirror what natives enjoy; accordingly, she appointed the Travel section as standard-bearer with this very clear caveat: The voice of the reader-traveler must be heard and reflected in The Times’ writing. For the first time, we saw an editor acknowledge the importance of interacting directly with readers and accounting for their thoughts, opinions, and questions in the writing they consume. The Times’ travel writing has measured up to this standard; we’re excited to read its weekly articles for this very reason.
Bill Bryson (“Down Under,” “A Walk in the Woods”)
For many years, we thought of Bryson as the “why” guy. That is, the writer who would explain to us why this ridiculous thing happened to be a thing, and why we do that silly thing we do. He was, and still is, the explainer. What we failed to recognize early on, however, was Bryson’s gift for travel writing. With his signature research-inspired inquisition behind him, Bryson ambled through the jungled wild of many a country, taking us with him on epic journeys of self-discovery, showing us how travel can indeed be a tool of personal maturity and understanding. Bryson’s book, “A Walk in the Woods,” is a perfect example of this at play, tracking his journey along the Appalachian Trail post-retirement while serving as a microcosm for life: a waft of misguided decisions, unexpected moments of joy, profound realizations, and epic struggles. This is Bryson to a “T” — a writer who understands travel as a formative experience that teaches its own lessons.
Nathan Thornburgh and Matt Goulding (Roads & Kingdoms)
Thornburgh and Goulding were made for travel writing; the two are award-winning journalists whose writing dips into the listicle craze of modern journalism, but spends plenty of time on the personal notes of travel. It’s clear that this is how they caught the eye of award-granters; vivid descriptions and soul-tugging narratives laced with belly-laugh humor and thinly-veiled self-effacement are their hallmark. Occasionally dark, their stories never shy away from the painful cultural and political issues that mire countries near and far. To wit, this exposé of Karachi:
“A group of women in faded patterned saris sits by the side of a road, some shaded by umbrellas, with bags of dried nuts in front of them—almonds, pistachios, cashews. The image would rack up a lot of Instagram likes, if it weren’t for the devastating landscape—mounds of sand, steamrolled expanses, clouds of dust, debris, and the stark sight of a building smack in the middle. Or that these women aren’t sitting on a pavement, protected and secure in their work. They’re on the side of the road, an easy target for harassment, being pushed out from the only place they’ve ever worked, where their fathers worked, and where their children won’t end up, because Karachi’s rulers turn against the very people that make it a city.”
Interestingly for such a literary pair, they also have travel guides and write — to our delight — extensively about the food that informs their travel. We eat it all up.
Eric Gauger (Notes from the Road)
“Tackling themes of the city and country in the modern world,” Eric Gauger is reclaiming travel writing. No more delicious this and breathtaking that, he avers; instead, he aims to offer the “unvarnished, messy truth of travel, told by a regular guy.” That looks like a lot of different things, if we’re honest; Gauger has a knack for photojournalism that catches the “off moments” of a destination, leans on sketches to give his travel experiences personal notes, and writes equally about the practical necessities of travel (travel gear roundups are no stranger to his blog) and the dazzling visual appeal of esoteric animals. His writing is a rich mix of scientific precision and the florid voice often found in the classics. It’s a bit quirky, deeply honest, and — true to Gauger’s word — honest. Above all else, its Gauger’s voice that captivates us, taking us more through epics than logistics-heavy trips.
Geraldine DeRuiter (The Everywhereist)
Profiled by mammoth media — including The New York Times and TIME Magazine — Geraldine DeRuiter is the kind of travel writer who doesn’t take herself too seriously, while taking travel quite seriously indeed. Her writing, cheeky and fresh, has earned devotees across the globe while her unwavering interest in feminism informs her view of cultures near and far. It is this kind of multi-dimensional writing that makes her so endearing to Millennials; she is a writer who understands the necessary intersection of complicated humanity and superficial joy on every travel adventure. Sure, she’ll talk about that delicious Bavarian food we didn’t know we were missing, but two articles later will be questioning the abuse of men in digital spaces. Also, she’s got a memoir-cum-travelogue that’s hilariously titled, “All Over the Place.” We love the candor, occasional self-deprecation (all in good fun), and groundedness of all of it.
BONUS: Paul Theroux (“On the Plain of Snakes,” “The Tao of Travel”)
Paul Theroux is by no means spilling fresh ink in the travel sphere; his books and articles have won readers and accolades for decades. Just the same, he continues to wow audiences with his prescient view of society’s shifts, while training his eyes on the main characters of each setting he explores. Theroux is a storyteller of unequaled talent in the travel space, focusing most recently on the migrant stories of Mexico, chronicled in his book, “On the Plain of Snakes.” The book’s release teases some of its colorful cast:
“Theroux elicits stories from dozens of detained migrants—teenage Daneris, fleeing gang assaults in Honduras; middle-aged Norma from Oaxaca, torn between family members on both sides of the border; Ernesto, a 70-year-old house painter contemplating a lonely future without his four estranged adult children. He watches Maria, a mother of three, quietly praying before a meal at a Nogales shelter, and observes, ‘Sometimes a whispered word, or a single image or glimpse of humanity can be a powerful motivation for looking deeper into the world.'”
Other titles by Theroux, such as “Deep South” and “Dark Storm Safari,” turn reality into odyssey, blurring the lines between travel journalism and dramatic stage play. His work is truly a joy to read.
What travel writers are you reading these days? Give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know — we may just add their name to our list!