Before we get too far into 2009, I should probably try to sum up some of my travel-writing highlights from last year. Interestingly, my two most prominent happenings in recent months — the release of my second book and my TV hosting debut on the Travel Channel — weren’t even on my radar at the beginning of 2008. Indeed, it wasn’t until late January of last year that Travelers’ Tales approached me about what would eventually become Marco Polo Didn’t Go There — and the Travel Channel didn’t put “American Pilgrim” onto my plate until June.
Here’s a quick rundown of what I did (in professional realm, at least) in 2008:
- My year started on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and ended in the Old Town district of Wichita, Kansas. In between that time I visited Chile, the Falkland Islands, Montreal, New York, Paris, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nova Scotia, and many parts of North America (both on book tour and for the TV shoot).
- Though writing and touring for my new book took up a lot of my time in 2008, I did have other various travel articles appear in National Geographic Traveler (about the Falklands), Islands (about Brazil), Surfer (Brazil), Forbes.com (Israel), the New York Times Magazine (East Africa), and World Hum. In the non-travel realm, I wrote a couple of American-culture-themed articles for The Believer — “The Henry Ford of Literature,” and “Humor Doesn’t Translate Internationally.” Two of my older stories also landed in anthologies last year — “The Art of Writing a Story About Walking Across Andorra,” which appeared in The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 2, and “Death of an Adventure Traveler,” which appeared in The Best Travel Writing 2008.
- Marco Polo Didn’t Go There debuted in September, and my tour took me to over 20 cities in North America, including stops at several book festivals and universities. For a rundown of all the old tour stops — as well as a listing of upcoming events in Los Angeles, Tucson, Kansas City, New Orleans, Paris and San Francisco — check out my Events page. Amid the tour, my book got nice reviews from the likes of the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Orange County Register, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch listed Marco Polo Didn’t Go There among its “Best Books of 2008,” and Britain’s The Guardian called it “the best — and most quirky — post-modern travel-writing text book available on either side of the Atlantic.”
Before I physically toured the country in support of the book, I had a virtual book tour that visited venues like Tim Ferriss’ blog, Budget Travel‘s “This Just In” blog, and National Geographic Traveler‘s “Intelligent Travel” blog. I also blogged from the book-tour road for Gadling (though I eventually became too busy to maintain that online diary). Interviews and profiles about the book appeared in Poets & Writers, World Hum, Outside Online, the San Jose Mercury-News, GoNomad, and a number of other venues — all of which are linked from my Interviews page.
- My foray into TV hosting was a strange offshoot of 2007, when the Travel Channel began actively looking for “qualified insiders” — people with active travel expertise, not just “actors” — to host their shows. I think 12-15 different production companies approached me that year, wanting me to send them clips or make an audition tape. Despite all the interest, nothing panned out until last summer, when Pioneer Productions of London cast me to host “American Pilgrim,” which explores the travel conditions of the original Mayflower Pilgrims. The one-hour Thanksgiving special was shot over the course of 11 days in August at various North American locations, and debuted in late November.
- Finally, I’ll point out that I finally shot a new author photo, after years of using a candid mug from a 2001 magazine assignment in Burma. That shot, which the excellent Cathrine Wessel originally snapped for Conde Nast Traveler, has graced the back cover of both of my books, and has been featured in countless interviews. It was a great shot — it made me look all rugged and and cheek-boney and travel-writerly — but it was beginning to get old and over-used, so while I was in Oregon last fall I had the very talented Portland photographer (and my former college classmate) Fritz Liedtke shoot a new set of author photos at the Columbia Gorge. Some of Liedtke’s shots are already online at RolfPotts.com, and have appeared alongside interviews in the Orange County Register and on the Outside contributor’s page. A sample shot — along with my classic old Cathrine Wessel show — is below.