For many of us Fall means being cooped up in offices during the limited daylight hours, swaddling ourselves in layers of fabric and hunching over warm cups of tea. If you are like me, and long for an escape, then you find this time of year the perfect time to fantasize over future vacations in remote locales.
What Best American Travel Writing 2013 offers readers is not just a collection of articles, but the feeling of having been there, experiencing the adventure with the author. Elizabeth Gilbert is the guest editor for this edition and her introduction makes the distinction between the travel articles that map out your three-day trip and those that make you feel as if you already took that trip. By that logic this collection is a success because each author brings a unique voice to the locations they describe, making you feel the adrenaline of running with the bulls, the fear of a gravity defying airplanes and feel the creak of boardwalks beneath you as you taste freshly caught fish from Maine.
If this isn’t indulgent then maybe the true meaning of the word can be found in Lynn Yeager’s Confessions of a Packing Maximalist. Here she highlights the joys of packing heavily, an opinion often railed against and not seen in such a playful, thoughtful way. You can take a walk through Dickens World with Sam Anderson, marveling at the ingenuity around literary tourism. Better yet, sit down with David Sedaris and laugh at another one of his perfectly tailored stories about Paris.
A compelling element of travel writing is its ability to touch on underlying economic, political, environmental and human rights issues. I found that this anthology offered a good balance between the almost leisure trips and the ones with powerful issue driven themes. From Marie Arana’s Dreaming of El Dorado, which take you to the harsh mining cities still existing in Peru, to Dimiter Kenarov’s look at the winter sports push in Serajevo, still tinged with the wars that ravaged the area. Then there is Colleen Kinder’s first-person account of walking through Egypt that will haunt you as you walk down the street in whatever city you live in.
In the end I was amused that, though this is a book of travel writing, so many of the authors take a moment to reflect on their homes. Somehow these experiences are not lone events, but another thread interwoven in the fabric of their pasts, presents and futures. Even in the most exotic locales we never stray far from home.