Book Review of the week: Best Travel Writing 2008

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

I just love to read travel writing. I bought the 2008 Best Travel Writing book because our very own Chief Editor, Joel Carillet, won first place in it! As I was reading this wonderful book, I was continually amazed by the high-quality writing, as well as the depth and breadth of the essays, spanning both the globe and many cultures. I just had to find out more, because I think that our wandering educators just *may* have something to contribute!


I had a chance to talk with Larry Habegger, Executive Editor of Travelers' Tales, an Imprint of Solas House, Inc. Larry is quite a resource - look for other articles on him and his activities on wandering educators in the future!


Larry Habegger

WE: Tell us a little bit about the Travelers Tales/Best Travel Writing Books and contest...How did it get started?

LH: You can get some background on Travelers' Tales and how we began
publishing our books in this essay I wrote a few years ago, "The
Importance of Stories in Travel Preparation," at http:// We'd been publishing the
world's best travel writing for a decade when we found we were
getting so much good material that didn't fit the topics of the books
we were publishing that we wanted to volume to hold it. That is, we
might have been collecting stories for various books based on
geography or themes such as women's travel, food and travel,
adventure travel, funny travel, and we were getting a lot of great
writing that didn't fit these titles. So we thought, why not publish
an annual collection of the best writing we come across each year,
most of it unpublished, and simply call it The Best Travel Writing
[DATE]? Because of the hundreds (probably thousands) of stories we'd
read over the years and the dozens of books we'd published, we felt
qualified to make such judgments. So we did that with our first
volume in 2004, which we called The Best Travelers' Tales 2004. But
we found that that title caused some confusion in the marketplace.
Readers thought the book was a "best of" collection of stories that
we'd published in our other books. That wasn't the case or intention,
so in 2005 we gave the series the title that reflected what we were
doing: The Best Travel Writing 2005.

The competition we call The Solas Awards for Best Travel Story of the
Year at came out of our years of
publishing our annual Best Travel Writing collections. For quite some
time we'd wanted to create a travel writing award to raise the
profile of the travel storytelling genre and to acknowledge the great
work writers were doing, and when we had published three volumes of
Best Travel Writing we felt the time had come to launch these awards.
We chose the name "Solas" because it is the Irish word for "light"
and it's the name of our parent company, Solas House, Inc., a general
nonfiction publisher. The intention was to recognize great travel
writing from new and established writers and, perhaps not
incidentally, obtain even more great writing to publish in our books.

WE: What are the deadlines for this year's travel writing contest?

LH: September 21, 2008, the autumnal equinox.

WE: I bet you get a LOT of great travel writing - what makes some stories stand out?

LH: Many things, of course, and every story is different. But principally
it's a great story well told. How do you define that? Well, you know
a great story when you see one, and you know a well-told one when you
see it, too. A great story usually needs some tension and conflict
between or among well-drawn characters or within the narrator, and a
great travel story ideally evokes a sense of place so the place or
culture comes alive for the reader. The conflict needs to be
resolved in such a way that the narrator shows growth and the reader
takes away a lesson or a deeper meaning than the story at the surface
of the piece. That's probably the most important component of fine
writing, the reader has to come away moved, with a new understanding
of some aspect of life, something the story has shone a light on and
brought into relief. And of course it doesn't hurt to entertain.
Often the best way to impart meaning is to "leave 'em laughing."

WE: Which are your favorite travel stories?

LH: Pretty much what I've outlined above. Stories that move me, and
entertain me, and are told with evocative, strong writing.

WE: Your site is just chock-full of great travel writing - how can travelers participate?

LH: Travelers can enter their writing in the Solas Awards and have a
chance to win prize money in the grand prize categories or bragging
rights for secondary categories, and of course the winners are
considered for publication in our books. Travelers can also send
their stories directly to us at if they
don't want to participate in the competition. And of course travelers
can read our books, or read stories on our web sites and make
comments and spread the word. Our books are available where all good
books are sold, and online, of course.

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

LH: Just that writing about the world is a tremendous pleasure and
privilege, so all of your users should do it as much as possible,
both for their own fulfillment and for making a contribution to the
dialogue among people all over the world. We can all learn a lot from
each other, and the best way to understand other points of view is to
explore your own interactions with people who see the world
differently than you do. In time perhaps the differences will fade a

WE: Thanks so much, Larry! I appreciate your time and finding out the history of these travel books - and also, appreciate all the incredible stories you've published over the years! I am having such an enjoyable time reading them.

For more information, please see:



All photographs provided by Larry Habegger.