About Travelers’ Tales: Brief History, Our Philosophy, The Books

A Brief History

Travelers’ Tales got its start in 1993 when travel writers James O’Reilly and Larry Habegger teamed up with writer and publisher (and James’s brother) Tim O’Reilly to produce a new kind of travel book, one that would paint a portrait of a country through the experiences of many travelers. Through true stories, these books would give readers a depth of understanding that can only come from people who have been there. Reading each book would be like sitting in a cafe filled with fellow travelers swapping tales about the place you’re headed next – you come out changed, and eager for more. Over time, this basic premise has been expanded to include a variety of anthologies, travel advice books, and single-author narratives. Headquartered in Palo Alto, California, Travelers’ Tales currently has more than 150 titles in print, and publishes approximately 4-6 titles per year.

Our Philosophy

We are all outsiders when we travel. Whether we go abroad or roam about our own country, we often enter territory so unfamiliar that our frames of reference become sorely inadequate. We need advice not just to avoid offense and danger, but to make our experiences richer, deeper, and more fun. Traditionally, travel guides have answered the basic questions: what, when, where, how, and how much. A good guidebook is indispensable for all the practical matters that demand attention. More recently, many guidebooks have added cultural and experiential insight to their standard fare, but something important is still missing: guidebooks don’t really prepare you, the individual, who has feelings and fears, hopes and dreams, goals.

This kind of preparation is best achieved through other travelers’ tales, for we get our inner landmarks more from anecdote than from information. Nothing can replace listening to the experience of others, to the war stories that come out after a few drinks, to the memories that linger and beguile. For millennia it’s been this way: at watering holes and wayside inns, the experienced traveler tells those nearby what lies ahead on the ever-mysterious road. Stories stoke the imagination, inspire, frighten, and teach. In stories we see more clearly the urges that bring us to wander, whether it’s hunger for change, adventure, self knowledge, love, curiosity, or even something as prosaic as a job assignment or two weeks off.

But travelers’ accounts, while profuse, can be hard to track down. Many are simply doomed in a throwaway publishing world. And few of us have the time anyway to read more than one or two books, or the odd pearl found by chance in the Sunday newspaper travel section. Wanderers for years, we’ve often faced this issue. We’ve always told ourselves when we got home that we would prepare better for the next trip – read more, study more, talk to more people – but life always seems to interfere and we’ve rarely managed to do so to our satisfaction. That is one reason we created Travelers’ Tales. We needed a kind of experiential primer that guidebooks don’t offer.

Another development that led us to Travelers’ Tales has been the enormous changes in travel and communications. It is no longer unusual to have ridden a pony across Mongolia or honeymooned on the Loire. The one-world monoculture has risen with daunting swiftness: no longer is it surprising to encounter former headhunters watching All-Star Wrestling on their satellite feed or to find the last guy at the end of the earth wearing a Harvard t-shirt and asking if you know Michael Jordan. The global village exists in a rudimentary fashion, but it is real.

In 1980, Paul Fussell wrote in Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars a cranky but wonderful epitaph for travel as it was once known, in which he concluded that “we are all tourists now, and there is no escape.” It has been projected that by the year 2020, tourism will not only be the world’s largest industry, it will be the largest industry the world has ever seen. This is a horrifying prospect indeed – hordes of us hunting for places that have not been trod on by the rest of us! Fussell’s words have the painful ring of truth, but this is still our world, and it is worth seeing and will be worth seeing next year, or in 50 years, simply because it will always be worth meeting others who continue to see life in different terms than we do, despite the efforts of telecommunication and advertising talents. No amount of creeping homogeneity can quell the endless variation of humanity, and travel in the end is about people, not places. Furthermore, the very fact that travel endangers cultures and pristine places more quickly than it used to calls for extraordinary care on the part of today’s traveler. We need to be better prepared before we go, so that we might become honored guests and not vilified intruders.

And so, it is with these factors in mind that we create every Travelers’ Tales book: that one of the best ways to prepare for a trip is from the stories of others; that few individuals have the time to search out a good selection of these stories; that growing tourism and world issues demand sensitive and thoughtful preparation. Our selection of stories in each book is by no means comprehensive, but we are confident it primes the pump, and makes one’s use of guidebooks more meaningful. Travelers’ Tales books are not meant to replace travel guides, but to accompany them. No longer does one have to go to dozens of sources to map the personal side of his journey; simply reach for Travelers’ Tales, and truly prepare yourself before you go.

The Books

Travelers’ Tales Country and Regional Guides
Travelers’ Tales began by collecting useful and memorable anecdotes by country – because that’s how people travel-to produce the kind of sampler we’ve always wanted to read before setting out. These anthologies show the spectrum of experiences to be had or avoided in each country. The authors come from many walks of life: some are teachers, some are writers, some are scientists; all are wanderers with a tale to tell. Some are well-known, best-selling writers, others are being published for the first time. Their stories help to deepen and enrich the experiences of the traveler. Our selection of stories in each book is by no means comprehensive, but we are confident it primes the pump, and makes one’s use of guidebooks more meaningful. Travelers’ Tales books are not meant to replace travel guides, but to accompany them. No longer does one have to go to dozens of sources to map the personal side of his journey; simply reach for Travelers’ Tales, and truly prepare yourself before you go.

Each book in the Travelers’ Tales Guides Series is organized into five simple parts. In the first, the “Essence of” section, we include stories that reflect the ephemeral yet pervasive nature of a place. Part Two, “Some Things To Do,” contains stories about places and activities that others have found worthwhile. In Part Three, “Going Your Own Way,” we’ve chosen stories by people who have made a special connection between their lives and interests and the people and places they visited. Part Four, “In the Shadows,” shows some of the struggles and challenges facing a country, and Part Five, “The Last Word,” is just that, something of a grace note or harmonic to remind you of the book as a whole.

Travelers’ Tales first book was Thailand, published in 1993, and soon followed by Mexico in 1994. Since then, we’ve applied the same “country” format to cities (San Francisco, Paris), sites (Grand Canyon), states (Hawai’i) and regions (American Southwest, Tuscany). The series also now includes books on India, France, Spain, Hong Kong, Brazil, Nepal, Japan, America, Australia, Ireland, Greece, and Cuba. Our destination guides remain the backbone of our publishing program.

Travelers’ Tales Special Interest Anthologies
In 1995 we applied our concept of presenting many stories in one volume to themes, such as women’s and spiritual travel.A Woman’s World, published in 1995, was the first such theme-based anthology, and began a strong series of women’s interest titles as well, including, Love and Romance, A Mother’s World, Women in the Wild, Family Travel, A Woman’s Passion for Travel, and Her Fork in the Road. Over the years, we’ve added other areas to our special interest anthologies: food (Travelers’ Tales Food, The Adventure of Food); spirituality (The Road Within, The Ultimate Journey, A Woman’s Path, and Pilgrimage); humor (There’s No Toilet Paper on the Road Less Traveled, Not So Funny When it Happened); adventure (Danger!, Testosterone Planet); and gift and other special interest (A Dog’s World, Gift of Travel, Gift of Birds, Gift of Rivers).

Travel Advice
The publication of A Woman’s World in 1995 uncovered an incredible interest in, and need for information about, women’s travel. Marybeth Bond, editor of A Woman’s World, compiled the best advice and wisdom for women travelers into Gutsy Women: Travel Tips and Wisdom in 1996. This led to a series of books of travel tips and wisdom. Even these “consumer titles” are imbued with the Travelers’ Tales philosophy, and are designed to give the traveler the confidence and know-how to be adventurous and open, curious and daring. In classic Travelers’ Tales fashion, each book is peppered with anecdotes from other travelers, each adding their own wisdom. This series now includes books covering women’s travel (Gutsy Women, Gutsy Mamas, and Safety and Security for Women Who Travel); dining (The Fearless Diner); money saving (The Penny Pincher’s Passport to Luxury Travel and The Fearless Shopper); and health (Shitting Pretty: How to Stay Clean and Healthy While Traveling). Authors of the Travelers’ Tales advice books are frequently quoted as experts in articles on travel, and sought after as speakers. The best-selling Gutsy Women has just been released in a revised and expanded second edition.

Footsteps: The Soul of Travel:
In 1999, Travelers’ Tales took the obvious next step, adding single-author travel narrative books to our list with the publication of Laurie Gough’s Kite Strings of the Southern Cross: A Woman’s Travel Odyssey, and launching the new series Footsteps: The Soul of Travel. Footsteps showcases a variety of talented voices, one voice at a time. Although diverse in subject and style, all Footsteps books tell the story of the transformative power of travel. Other titles in the series include The Sword of Heaven: A Five Continent Odyssey to Save the World; Storm: A Motorcycle Journey of Love, Endurance, and Transformation; Take Me With You: A Round-the-World Journey to Invite a Stranger Home; The Way of the Wanderer: Discover Your True Self Through Travel; Last Trout in Venice: The Far-Flung Escapades of an Accidental Adventurer; One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey with Our Children; and The Fire Never Dies: One Man’s Raucous Romp Down the Road of Food, Passion and Adventure.

Travelers’ Tales Classics:
Our newest series is Travelers’ Tales Classics. Devoted to bringing out-of-print favorites back to a whole new audience, these are books we love, tales which have dazzled, moved and changed us – but which have long been unavailable. These stories remain vibrant and relevant, especially with the ever-growing interest in travel narratives. The series includes Richard Halliburton’s 1925 gem The Royal Road to Romance, Isabella Bird’s 1878 narrative Unbeaten Tracks in Japan and Leonard Clark’s 1953 Amazonian adventure The Rivers Ran East.

Gift/Concept Books
With the spring 2001 publication of 365 Travel: A Daily Book of Journeys, Meditations, and Adventure, we have begun a line of gift/concept books. Again, these books are a direct outgrowth of what has come before. All of our books are filled with the gem of a perfect quote, the quirky factoid, an editor’s idiosyncratic favorites, attractive images. Our gift books are designed to combine these elements and more into cleverly-themed, beautifully designed packages, creating books that will inspire and delight and be given as gifts again and again.