A Look Inside “The Best Women’s Travel Writing” of 2020

The 12th edition features stories from Susan Orlean and Faith Adiele—and reckons with a changed world.

A Look Inside “The Best Women’s Travel Writing” of 2020

Cover photo by Hans Vivek; cover design by Kimberly Nelson

Buy now: $18.39, bookshop.org

As with anything else that brushed up against 2020, this year’s edition of The Best Women’s Travel Writing (Travelers’ Tales, 2020) is different. It’s still a collection of writing—this year, 34 essays—from some of the world’s brightest women. It still inspires and uplifts. It’s still, at its core, a tribute to travel.

Series editor Lavinia Spalding, who has overseen the past 6 editions, read through 1,300 submissions (800 more than usual, she says) to whittle it down to the 34 essays, including 2 from AFAR, that celebrate our world. There’s Susan Orlean’s fascinating exploration of how digital archaeologists are creating a virtual model of Petra to “in effect, freeze Petra in time.” There’s Alison Singh Gee’s touching essay about how, in Yosemite, her Chinese American family could claim “this California dreamland as our own.”

But as Spalding writes in her introduction, “Travel has a shadow side, too.” In this anthology—assembled and edited during the height of the pandemic—essays explore the issues of climate change, genocide, slavery, and ongoing injustice in the world.

Alexandria Scott navigates the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland—and its connections to her ancestors, who were enslaved. In a feature that ran in AFAR’s March/April 2019 issue, Rahawa Haile returns to her home state, Florida, and examines what it means when the places we love start to disappear.

The mix of tones and topics—sorrowful and joyful, the positive side of travel and the negative—reflects the “duality” many travelers face, including Spalding (and us here at AFAR). Still, like Spalding and the women she highlights, we believe in travel. When it’s time to go again, we will—hopefully, more consciously and with a greater eye for injustice.

As Spalding so elegantly puts it, “Travel . . . can be a bulwark against stagnation, and a call to action. It’s a solid start toward upending our biases and assumptions, because it compels us to see beyond the abstractions of a foreign land to its humanity.”

Aislyn Greene is the associate director of podacsts at AFAR, where she produces the Unpacked by AFAR podcast and hosts AFAR’s Travel Tales podcast. She lives on a houseboat in Sausalito.
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