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Kick off the new year with these great travel stories.

Another year, another year of great travel writing. As we start 2017, it’s a fine time to reflect on some of the best original pieces from the past few weeks. We look forward to bringing you more recommendations this year.

Economy-class airplane cabins can present curious sociology experiments, especially when you consider how they bring together strangers for a finite time. Writer Amanda Castleman deftly chronicled one of her seatmate adventures in a recent essay for Apex. We won’t spoil the narrative for you, but this yarn about an overzealous grandma is one of the most heart-warming and hopeful stories we read all year. The experience made Castleman a better traveler. The story will do the same to you. 

Anxiety is a real challenge for millions of people—especially when those people take to the skies. Thankfully, an article in the New York Times addresses this issue, suggesting to readers a number of apps that can help to soothe the most anxious minds. The author, Ondine Cohane, mixes service-oriented app recommendations with personal anecdotes about grappling with her own anxiety. The result is a story that makes the anxious among us feel less alone.

Reports about the demise of travel agents have been greatly exaggerated. That’s the gist of Zoe Mendelson’s recent article for Wired magazine about Gennady Podolsky, a sort of travel agent superhero. The story details how Podolsky manages to get clients the cheapest fares possible and how he has sent clients to and from some of the most obscure destinations on the planet. It’s breezy and fun. And it proves travel agents are still important—at least in some circles.

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Turbulence is on the rise, and a recent news analysis feature from the Guardian explains the science behind why and the economics behind what we can do about it. The story, by Robin McKie, certainly packs a punch—perhaps the most jarring statistic is that U.S. airlines spend $500 million annually dealing with the damage, delays, and disruption turbulence causes. The prognosis: To minimize these disturbances, we must get better at predicting them, solve climate change, or both. 

Reality doesn’t get more remote than it is in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and a recent feature in the New York Times brings to life one aspect of existence there: shepherding. The story, by Thomas Monita and Russell Goldman, focuses on a handful of gauchos—South America’s cowboys—providing details about raising, shearing, and selling sheep. The photos (by Monita) are almost as compelling as the text itself; overall, the package will stick with you long after you’ve finished reading it.

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.