In case you missed it, Punxsutawney Phil, that elusive groundhog, emerged from his hole last week and saw his shadow, which means we’re all in for six more weeks of rain and snow and cold. The good news: We’ll have more time to catch up on good travel writing. We recommend you start with these favorites from the past few weeks.
African American History Month is the perfect context for this recent Medium post from Chris McGinnis, the writer behind the TravelSkills blog. The piece details McGinnis’s recent visit to the new National Museum of African American History & Culture—a visit made much more meaningful by the memories of his childhood friend and housekeeper, Shirley Walker, who was black. Yes, McGinnis provides details of some of the exhibits inside the museum (for more on that, see our story here). He also notes he was one of only about 50 white people inside the museum on the day he went. But the very best parts of the piece—those that make this a narrative to remember—are when the author waxes poetic about experiencing the museum with Walker in mind, or, as he writes, “Chris and Shirley were doing this together.”
There’s something spectacular about swimming in the ocean, and something uniquely amazing about swimming in the South Pacific. This, essentially, is the subject of Bonnie Tsui’s latest feature for the New York Times. The story uses first-person accounts of swims past to explain how ocean-swimming is a great way to experience Hawaii and local Hawaiian culture. It also notes family travel, since Tsui writes that she takes at least one of the swims with her five-year-old son. The piece is a fresh look at an aspect of travel to a familiar spot. We dare you to read it and not want to jump in for a swim yourself.
Papa Westray, one of the least-inhabited islands in Scotland’s Orkney archipelago, is undergoing a sort of population boom. The island, which only had 54 residents as recently as 1990, now has nearly 100—the result of a concerted effort to get people to spend more time there. A recent article on BBC Travel spotlighted the trend and painted a picture of life on Papay, as locals call it. The story, by Karen Gardiner, includes an excellent history of the region and is a colorful read. Perhaps the most engaging part of the piece comes toward the end, where Gardiner incorporates quotes from current residents about their commitment to staying put. A sense of place is always best when it comes from locals who are passionate about their home.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.