The last few years haven’t been the best for the travel writing industry. The pandemic shut down travel and turned off the tap of income for many travel writers and bloggers.
At the same time, books about travel continued to sell (albeit in smaller numbers) as people daydreamed about taking trips and lived vicariously through the works of great travel writers.
Travel blogs, on the other hand, the type that focuses on the “best 10 x in y” articles, saw website visitor numbers nosedive. These are purely utilitarian websites and have limited appeal when people can’t travel.
Now, off course, travel is back with a vengeance. The type of blog that focuses on basic question and answer content is also back on the top of Google. I never read these websites unless it’s to find out where not to go in order to avoid crowds.
ChatGPT and Google’s imminent AI chatbot have their sights on this kind of commoditized, same-same, derivative content, and the future looks grim for content without personality.
My hope is that travel writers who share their unique voice on the internet will rise above the click-bait SEO content that plagues every Google search. Once artificial intelligence algorithms eat ‘listicle’ travel blogs for lunch, there should be more room for authentic travel journalism and writing.
But let’s get back to my own listicle – yes, sometimes to beat ’em, you’ve gotta join ’em.
I look for travel blogs that have strong writing, design, and content. These are the ones I visit even when I’m not able to travel myself. These sites offer an authentic connection to their country or subject matter. The following is a list of the best travel blogs based on these qualities.
A note on “the best travel blogs”
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: the best travel blogs are recommended because they appear on the first page of Google. And by linking to these blogs and sharing the content, this idea of “best” is reinforced. Google rewards them by placing them higher in the results. Best for Google usually just means the one that conforms to the norm. Typing “the best travel blogs with interesting topics that nobody else knows about” won’t really deliver the desired result.
With that rant over, here’s the list. I used the following criteria.
- Original and refreshing – Yes, being different is good.
- Offers more than just listicle posts (top 10 of this, best 5 of that)
- A unique voice – does the blogger shun SEO in favor of a unique angle?
- Provides engaging content that makes you want to sign up to their email list.
Roads & Kingdoms
Travel, Food, and Politics are the topics discussed on Roads & Kingdoms. It’s all about storytelling about the good things in life. Local journalists and subject matter experts discuss food and drink, as well as music and whatever else they find interesting (and you will, too).
This is longform travel writing at its finest. In a world where people are sick of the unstoppable flood of content, Roads & Kingdoms is one of the best slow travel blogs to use as a tonic.
Articles with titles like “Lebanon’s rave revolution” will not surface on any listicle about the best things to do in Lebanon, but if you’re interested in culture, there’s plenty of insights here. Enjoy guides to cities that offer practical advice without being spammy. And check out “In Transit: getting around Lisbon” or “Walking Tour: Hunting Art and Food in Chapinero, Bogotá”.
While the site also touches on politics and food, everything seems connected to travel and world culture. And that’s fine with me. After all, what’s travel without food and a bit of politics?
Listen to The Trip podcast that accompanies the blog. Ex-foreign correspondent for TIME magazine Nathan Thornburgh steers the boat while a crew of talented writers creates thoughtful content for readers that want more than checklists of things to do in faraway places.
They say (or at least I say) that you can’t understand a culture until you know the language and have tasted the food. Learning a language might not be the most practical way to know a culture if you’re only visiting briefly. But there’s no excuse for not tasting the local cuisine.
Culinary Backstreets is one of my favorite blogs on any topic. The focus is food, but you will also learn about regions, cities, the people that live and work in the places profiled. A truly remarkable travel writing blog that foodies and non-foodie travelers will find delicious.
The Calvert Journal
The Calvert Journal is a digital magazine with a wonderful travel section featuring the countries and cultures of the New East (Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia).
The magazine also examines art, film, architecture, design, fashion, and avant-garde culture in 29 countries in the New East region. The Calvert Journal stands apart for its wealth of original content, deep research, incredible photography, and sharp focus on the most interesting places in the post-communist world.
It is an area that is ignored by the mainstream media and travel blogging communities, but it is rich in stories and ancient cultures. Read stories about traveling the Silk Roads, walking in the Caucasus, taking 7500km train rides in Kazakhstan, and how the residents of a Georgian Ski Field are fighting to keep their traditional village life intact.
Enjoy stunning photography from Tirana, the historical location of the Russian Gulags, and of Soviet Monumentalism in Chechnya.
The author of the seminal Vagabonding book, writer for National Geographic, adventurer, and creative writing teacher, is one of the best travel writers in the internet age.
Couchfish / Travelfish
The Couchfish travel blog focuses on high-quality travel writing that captures a sense of place beyond the usual travel blogger or influencer stereotypes that exist in the travel blogging world. It’s a sharp and witty look at travel in Southeast Asia.
Issues of Couchfish come out on an almost daily schedule and, according to Stuart, should be around 400 words in length. In reality, posts are longer than that; Stuart’s writing is engaging and captivating, so I’ve no complaints about reading longform. This blog is generally formatted like a diary of a specific place, town, or region in Southeast Asia. Stuart also includes comments on other blogs and links to interesting material from around the web.
The newsletter/blog has no ads or sponsored content, something that I think we can all appreciate.
Couchfish is penned by Stuart McDonald, who also writes Travelfish, a weekly newsletter that is closely associated with a travel advice website of the same name. A typical issue of Travelfish might include a featured story on why bucket lists are ruining vacations, recommendations for books to read, and news from all of Southeast Asia.
Where does he find time?
Just one of the blogs by prolific travel writer Tim Leffel. This is his narrative-focused writing, which naturally gets a lot less traffic than his other sites. But the content is about unique experiences and culture-related topics.
Continuing the theme of sustainable travel, Uncornered Market is more of a marketing channel for the husband and wife team that runs the site for helping travel brands and tourism organizations develop sustainable tourism products and services. The blog, however, is full of good content like “How Social Media Influencers Can Use Their Power to Combat Overtourism” and ”Kyrgyzstan: An Experiential Travel Guide”.
Dan Flying Solo
With stunning photography and a focus on experiences and off-beat destinations, Dan’s blog is a breath of fresh air. The professional videos that accompany many of the blog posts help complement the writing. Check out the production level on some videos on Dan Flying Solo’s YouTube channel.
Dan describes his travel style as “a bit of everything”. It’s not backpacker style, and it’s not luxury. But something in between.
Brent And Michael Are Going Places
Winning the award for the longest domain name, Brent And Michael Are Going Places is a blog about the travels of a gay couple from the United States, who sold everything and began a new life as digital nomads
Their blog post “How Two Gay Guys Sold Everything, Left Home to Travel the World … and Lived Happily Ever After” is a great read for anyone that thinks it’s too late or too difficult to start a nomadic life.
Both Brent and Michael are authors, so the writing quality hits the top side of the scale. With great insights into the world of LGBT travel, this is a blog for anyone that feels like they don’t fit the profile of a digital nomad or travel blogger.
Notes from the Road
If you’re looking for a travel blog with a focus on photography and design, this might be just what you’re looking for. Notes From The Road not only has a great name, it has beautiful photography, incredible illustrations, and killer writing on quirky topics that interest owner Eric Gauger.
Blog posts with names like, “Notes on traveling to the Coyote Buttes during surreal winter weather”, and “Puffin Rally to the Látrabjarg Cliffs” give you an idea of the content on this blog. You won’t find many “10 best pubs in Prague” but you will find super long-form content with stunning supporting photographs.
It’s been mentioned on hundreds of other blogs, but there are a few reasons why Matthew Karsten’s blog is popular. Expert Vagabond is one of the longest-running and most consistently helpful travel blogs on the internet. Matt’s also a great guy with a cool story. He hasn’t been to that many countries, relatively speaking, but he makes the most of his time in each of the places he visits. Preferring slow travel over faster-paced tourism, Matt started his travels at the tender age of 29 and is in no rush to see everywhere. As he says, “I often hang out in a country for as long as it feels right and I move on to the next when I’m ready”. He also doesn’t consider himself an expert, but we think he is. Check out the awesome photography on the website too. Matt has one of the better travel photography portfolios on the list.
Hike & Dine
A newish blog from a Swiss couple who focus on hiking and eating (two of my favorite things) in their home country of Switzerland, probably the greatest place in the world to combine these passions.
This blog is all about details. Great photography combined with detailed guides on hiking trails and the places to dine nearby. It’s a bilingual blog (bravo) in English and Swiss German that doesn’t skimp on quality imagery or research. All I can say is that it must have been hard work eating their way around Switzerland.
A blog about emerging destinations should satisfy the demand for sustainable tourism in 2020. People are no longer happy to visit overcrowded cities and add to the massive pollution of some of the world’s most beautiful spaces. Travel Lemming aims to promote the less-visited locations of the world and creator Nate Hake’s love of emerging and off-track travel destinations means he has plenty to write about. So many of the world’s great cities and places are ignored because the tourism industry has not matured or the location is not on the Instagram trail. This blog helps educate people about places that are relatively free from the ills of over-tourism and places that would benefit greatly from your tourism dollar.
I just had to add my blog to the list. Why not? With an eclectic mix of posts about solo travel, digital nomadism, wine, food, and culture, Nomad Flag is a personal journey through the world. The aim of the blog is to help people learn more about places and cultures, especially with long-term or slow travel in mind. Check out this guide to living in Argentina, for example.
Other topics include a Guide to Georgian wine, a listicle of Inspiring Non-fiction Travel Writing, a rant about Begpackers, or this sharp take on Travel Writing, SEO & Boring Blogs.
This post is a work-in-progress. I intend to update it regularly. If you have any suggestions, please send them to me.