Marco Polo Didn’t Go There

Travel Writing Book Review: Marco Polo Didn't Go There
Updated: Apr 19th, 2011

Few travel writers and travel bloggers, if any, don’t know who Rolf Potts is.

When you say the words “travel writing”, many people think of a “went there, did that” guidebook-like style of writing, and in truth much of travel writing is exactly that.

What prolific writer, author, and well-known vagabond Rolf Potts produces, however, is better described as travel literature, and he sets a very high standard for the rest of us to aspire to.

His most recent book, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer, is a compilation of some of his stories crafted from his experiences traveling around the world over a ten-year span.

There are few books I would read a second time, but this is definitely one of them.

His stories have been published in high-profile publications such as National Geographic Traveler, Conde Nast Traveler, Outside Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, (and many more), websites including the venerable Salon.com, Slate, and WorldHum, as well as numerous literary anthologies chronicling the best examples of travel writing, such as The Best American Travel Writing 2009, among others.

Add to that already impressive resume the fact that he’s a five-time (as of this writing) winner of the prestigious Lowell Thomas Award, and you have someone well-qualified to be a role model, even if we hate him just a tiny bit for being SO good that he makes the rest of us suffer by comparison.

What’s Good:

It’s a wonderful and very entertaining read for anyone – writer or not – and it’s easy to see why Rolf has won so many awards and accolades. More importantly however, is that with this book Rolf gives a great gift to other travel writers, both experienced and aspiring, by including a “commentary track”.

At the end of each chapter are Rolf’s notes, wherein he describes how he made his decisions on what to include, what to leave out, and how he structured real characters and events into an entertaining story. This is the kind of instruction that you could otherwise only get by taking one of his multi-week travel writing workshops.

What Could Be Better:

I spent weeks trying to find something to constructively criticize, if only to present a balanced review, but the only thing I can come up with is that I wish it had more chapters. I have an extremely small amount of spare time but I happily spent it reading this book, and was genuinely sad to reach the end. There are few books I would read a second time, but this is definitely one of them.

Also, and maybe this is just me, but I found his endnotes to be as interesting as the stories they explain, and would have liked more of those as well.

Summary:

It’s not a “how to”, but if you have any aspirations of becoming a travel writer, or even to improve your creative writing techniques, you should consider buying this book. You will be learning from one of the best writers of our generation.

~Trisha

What Travel Writing books have you read? Which do you recommend?

About Trisha Miller 116 Articles

Trisha Miller Editor-in-Chief, TravelWritersExchange.com - Trisha joined the Travel Industry in 1996 with a background in telecommunications and helped to build (and later sell) one of the industry's top inbound call centers specializing in air travel.

Her career in Travel Writing began with creating destination-specific content for a corporate travel intranet, and continued as she contributed content to a large number of travel-related companies that were establishing an online presence throughout the late '90's and early '00's.

Currently she is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, and a former Board Member of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (2009-2015).  Still a frequent world traveler, and occasional guest-blogger on a number of other Travel Blogs, Trisha writes about travel and technology, sometimes both at the same time.

You can follow Trisha on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/TravelWriting

17 Comments

    • Hey JoAnna – I really enjoyed it! It took me a long time to get through it only because I’d read a chapter, then read the endnotes, then go back and re-read the chapter with the insights I learned from Rolf’s notes. I don’t think everyone needs to be as much of a study-geek as I am though!

  1. Trisha – your site from the posts right down to your comments is just a well-spring of great info. This book sounds great – I look forward to checking it out!

    • What I loved best about this book is that while the stories really stand on their own as interesting and entertaining, even if you have no interest in the end notes, it’s also a really valuable teaching tool for writers. It’s rare to find a book that is both educational in a concrete way, and just plain fun to read too. 🙂

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