The year’s best travel writing, as chosen by series editor Jason Wilson and guest editor Robert Macfarlane.
Writing, reading, and dreaming about travel have surged, writes Robert MacFarlane in his introduction to the Best American Travel Writing 2020. From an existential reckoning in avalanche school, to an act of kindness at the Mexican-American border, to a moral dilemma at a Kenyan orphanage, the journeys showcased in this collection are as spiritual as they are physical. These stories provide not just remarkable entertainment, but also, as MacFarlane says, deep comfort, “carrying hope, creating connections, transporting readers to other-worlds, and imagining alternative presents and alternative futures.”
The Best American Travel 2020 includes
HEIDI JULAVITS • YIYUN LI • PAUL SALOPEK • LACY JOHNSON •
EMMANUEL IDUMA • JON MOOALLEM • EMILY RABOTEAU and others
Macfarlane opens this provocative but unfortunately timed entry in the long-running series with a sobering message: "I write from a world in which travel has stopped." Indeed, readers may feel a jarring sense of dissonance delving into suddenly anachronistic essays on unfettered travel, though they often are framed with still-relevant political conscience. Kyle Chayka probes what it means to have an "authentic" experience in Iceland, where tourists outnumbered inhabitants. Alejandra Oliva accompanies Central American migrants traveling north in hopes of entering the United States, and Jackie Bryant deposits water jugs in the Sonoran Desert for those who surreptitiously cross the border and risk dehydration. Lacy M. Johnson attends a memorial service for an Icelandic glacier that melted due to global warming. In a standout piece, Ashley Powers illuminates an essential Sicilian sense of multiculturism through the lives of migrants who are revivifying Palermo's once abandoned alleyways. "We don't say, when we were invaded by Arabs," a Sicilian tells her. "We say, when we were Arabs." Shanna B. Tiayon similarly distills the U.S. into its essential parts when she describes a family vacation to the Grand Canyon marred by racism. These layered explorations of who travels how (and why) offer a discomfiting but rewarding armchair experience of the world at large. Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated Ashley Powers's last name.