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The Top 10 Travel Writing Anthologies

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by Eva Holland Apr 14, 2008
A good travel story can provide a smile, a moment of reflection, or even a radical shift in the reader’s dreams and goals.

Matador members know that there are plenty of memorable travel stories available on the web , but an old-fashioned anthology of essays can also be a great place to look.

For budding travel writers, anthologies are also a great way to sample a wide variety of styles and voices, rather than learning from just one writer.

Whether you’re looking for travel inspiration, mentors to model your writing on, or simply a good read, look no further:

10. Hyenas Laughed At Me and Now I Know Why: The Best of Travel Humor and Misadventure, edited by Sean O’Reilly, Larry Habegger and James O’Reilly. One in a series of humor titles from travel publishing giant Travelers’ Tales, this little book is packed with awkward situations and hilarious consequences, from writers known and unknown.

9. Tales from Nowhere, edited by Don George. A rare literary offering from guidebook publisher Lonely Planet, this collection features dispatches from “nowhere” – and the tales the writers come up with from that vague starting point are all fresh and often funny.

8. The Best Travelers’ Tales 2004, edited by Sean O’Reilly, Larry Habegger and James O’Reilly. All of the Travelers’ Tales annual collections are worth a look, but 2004 was a particularly fine vintage, including work from Mark Jenkins, Rolf Potts, and the excellent (but relatively hard to find) Jeff Greenwald.

7. The Kindness of Strangers, edited by Don George. Another Don George collection from Lonely Planet, with an introduction by the Dalai Lama. Features all the big names, and just might get you a little emotional about the wonder and goodness of the world.

6. Jaguars Ripped My Flesh, by Tim Cahill. One of several collections from founding Outside editor Tim Cahill, filled with his trademark stories: classic man-vs-nature adventure, with a healthy injection of humanity.

. . .the inaugural edition is one for the record books, with impossible to forget stories featuring everyone from Dave Eggers to the Dalai Lama.

5. The Best American Travel Writing 2000, edited by Bill Bryson and Jason Wilson. Any of the Best American anthologies will be worth your while, but the inaugural edition is one for the record books, with impossible to forget stories featuring everyone from Dave Eggers to the Dalai Lama.

4. Wanderlust: Real-Life Tales of Adventure and Romance, edited by Don George.’s “Wanderlust” travel section was a ground-breaker in quality online travel writing, and its demise was a huge loss. The 40 stories in this collection, including heavyweights like Isabel Allende and Simon Winchester, and the early work of Rolf Potts, will make you sad it’s gone all over again. (The online archive might console you, though.)

3. Video Night in Kathmandu, by Pico Iyer. Anthology? Debatable. But I’d argue that the essays in this book are distinct enough to warrant inclusion here. And even if Iyer’s collection of observations from a rapidly-changing 1980s Asia aren’t technically an anthology, they still make a remarkable read. (My favourite is the painfully poignant essay on the sad music-makers of the Phillippines.) A classic.

2. The Best American Travel Writing 2006, edited by Tim Cahill and Jason Wilson. I’m a little biased here because this is one of the first travel writing anthologies I ever read, and it got me hooked. But the stories in this book, originally selected by series editor Jason Wilson and then winnowed down by guest editor Tim Cahill, are top-notch.

Stand-outs include Ian Frazier’s retrospective “Out of Ohio” and a fantastic collaborative piece on the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, “After the Fall” by Morgan Meis and Tom Bissell.

1. The World: Travels, 1950-2000, by Jan Morris. Widely considered to be the greatest travel writer of our time – and one of the best, ever, period – Jan Morris always offers lush descriptions of the places she visits, and remarkable insight into their deeper character.

This anthology runs from her first major break, covering the Hillary expedition from Everest Base Camp, to the hand-over of Hong Kong by the British. The essays are organized by decade and region, and are occasionally marked by more personal milestones as well – such as the powerful piece on Morris’ sex change in Morocco in the 1970s, completing her transition from James to Jan.

A must-read, and a great introduction before diving into her 30+ full-length books.

More reading

For more recommendations from the Matador Community, check out the outstanding selections in Eva’s South Africa Reading Guide, and the “Books” section in Julie Schwietert’s Before You Go Guide to Cuba.

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