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Toot, Toot: Nat Geo Traveler Wins Big

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Traveler took top honors in the 2012 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition. (Photograph by Leslie Trew Magraw)

I know it’s unbecoming to toot your own horn, but we wanted to share the good news.

Last week, the Society of American Travel Writers announced the results of their annual Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition — and, boy, were we pleased. National Geographic Traveler topped the winner’s list with seven awards, receiving highest honors for its website in the “online travel journalism site” category and for a personal narrative written by contributing editor Andrew McCarthy.

The magazine and this blog took home silver medals, as did Mark Jenkins’ riveting account of lions stalking their prey in Tanzania. And, finishing strong, Traveler‘s iPad app, “50 Places of a Lifetime,” received a bronze nod, along with our Trip Lit columnist Don George, who was recognized for his lyrical, yet true-to-life story about Japan’s Shikoku island.

Here’s a full list of our wins, followed by judges’ comments that give insight into why each award was given.

Online Travel Journalism Sites

With beautiful imagery, strong visual writing and wealth of content, the well-designed and easily navigated National Geographic Traveler website is a resource and an escape for readers. The large display of both professional and user-submitted photos is a major draw. In addition to the well-written travel stories, there is abundant information on most countries, along with tested travel recommendations. The collection of destinations is full, encompassing the smallest and least-traveled locations as well as the traditional tourist hot spots. The blogs and the Best of the World features are written and presented in a way that inspires readers to want to experience new places they might never have considered. The website leverages the best the National Geographic organization has to offer in an easy-to-use and inviting interface for travelers.

Travel Magazines
Silver: National Geographic Traveler, Keith Bellows, Editor-in-Chief

This magazine has so much to recommend it that I hardly know where to begin. The range of destinations is impressive and truly offers something for everyone (age, budget, interest, etc.). What sets this publication apart from other travel magazines is the writing, particularly for the main feature articles. The tone is pitch perfect, and the authors avoid generalizations (and thus, stereotypes) and place the destination into a compelling, broad context — they seek to understand a place as it understands itself. Or, in the case of Carl Hoffman’s heart-rending piece, the writer seeks to understand Chiang Mai, Thailand, the way his father does. It is a sentimental article, but not overly so. The Taste of Travel issue satisfies gastronome-readers, but the approach — what we can know about a place by its food — appeals to a wider range of readers/travelers including armchair travelers.

Travel Blog
Silver: Intelligent Travel

This blog stands out in two ways: its beautiful photography and its practical advice. As one might expect from a National Geographic blog, the photos here are a wonder to behold, and the bloggers are clearly enjoying experimenting with Hipstamatic and other tools. The blog also offers the usual travel tips, but with an especially keen eye. The comparison of cruise ships for kids, for example, is exactly the sort of material that travelers on a budget are seeking.

Travel App
Bronze: National Geographic Traveler’s “50 Places of a Lifetime” for iPad

The “50 Places of a Lifetime” app provides interesting stories and intimate photographs of outstanding places in an easily consumable way. The panoramas and videos are ideal for this medium and well presented. The great images are by far the best part of this app, but the innovative MyPlaces is an excellent interactive feature, which I enjoyed using to drag the places I have been to and the places I dream of going to.

Personal Comment
Gold: Andrew McCarthy, “The Cycle of Life,” National Geographic Traveler (October 2011)

Travel’s richest experiences usually involve our interaction with strangers. Andrew McCarthy’s tale involves a young man who offers a moto tour of Saigon for a preset price. At day’s end, pleasantries dissolve into distrust, however, and McCarthy intimates enough in his last paragraphs to remind us of the numerous levels of friction that would exist between two people in their respective situations. The conclusion is expertly written and leaves the reader shaken.

Adventure Travel
Silver: Mark Jenkins, “Big Cat Diary,” National Geographic Traveler (Jan/Febr 2012)

Of all the entries, this contains the best descriptive writing, a detailed account of lions stalking Cape buffalo one morning in Tanzania. This is also a story of a father’s relationship with his daughter and of the things we learn both as adolescents and as parents. Mark Jenkins exhibits great skill in weaving all of this together.

Cultural Tourism
Bronze: Don George, “Japan’s Past Perfect,” National Geographic Traveler (Jan/Feb 2012)

Occasionally a writer describes a place and its people so accurately the setting comes to life along with the voices of the characters far away. “Japan’s Past Perfect” by Don George is such a story. Close your eyes and imagine this: “I’m sitting on the polished wooden steps of a 300-year old farmhouse in Japan’s Iya Valley, looking out on a success of mountain folds densely covered in deep green cedars. Skeins of morning mist rise from the valley floor, hang in wispy balls in the air, and tangle in the surrounding slopes.” We are on the island of Shikoku, far from Tokyo. Given the tragic memories of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor crisis that rocked Fukushima, it is reassuring to be reminded that the Land of the Rising Sun is still a magical place of ancient traditions and rustic pristine settings. George reveals that the most treasured facet of life on Shikoku is the “wide spirit and heartfelt hospitality” of its residents and earns the bronze for taking us to a part of Japan that remains untouched by industrial modernization.

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