The start of a new year is a great time to tap into your own personal wanderlust and start thinking about which faraway places you might visit in the coming months. (Depending on your political stance, this week also is a good time to break out good reads to distract from news of the day.) Here, then, in no particular order, are rundowns on three stories that inspired us to travel better and be better travelers.

The Lacandon Maya lived in the jungles of southern Mexico with limited outside contact until the turn of the 20th century, when loggers and missionaries started to arrive. Since then, many of the Lacandons’ traditional ways of life have given way to modernity. Author Susannah Rigg detailed some of these changes in a recent feature for BBC Travel. The story weaves a compelling description of current-day Lancaja, an ancient Mayan city in the Chiapas State. The main character: Daniel Chankin, who is at the heart of a recent Lacandon push to turn to tourism to sustain the region. The piece is simultaneously depressing and hopeful—a perfect metaphor for the fate of the Lacandon people.

People take sledding very seriously in Camden, Maine, and a recent New York Times travel story about the U.S. National Toboggan Championships offers a colorful glimpse of how rabid locals can get. The piece, by Keith O’Brien, describes how the races are more of a big party than a super-serious tournament. Still, the games are riveting—more than 400 teams from all over the country come to ride toboggans down a 440-foot ice-covered chute, reaching as fast as 40 mph on the way down. Literally and figuratively, the author takes readers along for a wild ride. Don’t be surprised if the end inspires you to add this annual event to your list.

Rue Mapp’s recent essay for Bay Nature magazine isn’t a traditional travel narrative, yet the piece enthralls and inspires by informing readers about the importance of an Oakland, California–based nonprofit: Outdoor Afro. As Mapp explains it, the group seeks to connect African Americans with nature to help them make sense of the world. At last count, the group was serving 17,000 people a year. Mapp hangs the article on a personal anecdote about a transformative trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—a journey on which she came face-to-face with a grizzly bear. She noted that the experience redefined her understanding of “wild” and described how it has fueled her commitment to get other African Americans to experience the outdoors. For that, we are eternally grateful.

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.