A story about finding your own road, rather than chasing a destination, won travel writer Erik Gauger the title of Travel Blogger of the Year.

Travel Blogger of the Year is run by Terra Incognita, a social enterprise that seeks to promote the best examples of ethical ecotourism worldwide, and sponsored by SWAROVSKI OPTIK, Tranquilo Bay, Bunica Maria, Natucate, GVI, Conservation Careers and several other organisations.

The competition seeks to raise awareness about our planet’s incredible places and people, and explore our connection with nature and each other through ethical travel.

Gauger’s winning story ‘The Places Between‘ highlights the joy of travel as a journey of discovery, rather than focusing on a destination as the end goal.

“Today, a lot of travel influencing makes us feel like travel means a certain destination. But to me, it’s the actual act of traveling, of going somewhere, rather than arriving somewhere, where all the interesting things happen”, said Gauger, an amateur travel writer based in Portland, Oregon, USA.

“…‘The Places Between’ is a parable of my mission as a travel writer – to encourage travelers to find their own road and then to concoct something of their own from it,” added Gauger, who has been writing and photographing for his personal travelogue, Notes from the Road, since 1999.

A view of the Patreksfjörður fjord in the Westfjords region of Iceland, a few minutes before midnight. This area is known for its large colonies of Atlantic Puffins, and, aware of their decline, Erik investigated whether it was ethical for travel bloggers to write about eating puffins in haute cuisine restaurants in Reykjavik. Credit Erik Gauger, notesfromtheroad.com.


“Bloggers are some of the best storytellers of our time, and we want recognise and reward their talent by supporting and promoting them internationally”, said Dr Nick Askew, Co-Founder of Terra Incognita.

“There is a shift happening in tourism, as travelers seek more authentic, meaningful and ethical experiences. But even for informed travelers, it’s challenging to navigate all the information available online,” said Kristi Foster, Co-Founder of Terra Incognita. “Honest storytelling has the power to influence travel for the better, and this competition is about creating more of that”.

“[The Places Between] really rang with me and I think helped clarify how I also feel about places I visit and how I respond when people ask about where my favourite place to visit is”, said naturalist, author and tour leader Ed Drewitt, one of the Travel Blogger of the Year judges.

A Russet-naped Wood Rail foraging under the protection of Red Mangroves n Ria Celestún, Yucatan, Mexico. “One of the most magical aspects of travel is when something exquisite and rare emerges from out of nowhere. Such magic happens on the way to places, not when you get there”. Credit: Erik Gauger, notesfromtheroad.com.


Seventeen-year-old Rhianyon Larson won the Travel Blogger of the Year Judges’ Choice Youth competition with a story that raises climate change through the lens of a favourite national park and the familiar stages of growing up.

“I hope readers will take away the importance of being in nature and not seeing it as something to conquer or an accomplishment, but a space of tranquility and ease that has the ability to spread peace through all of us if we let it”, said Larson.

Glacier National Park. Credit: Rhianyon Larson.


Gauger and Larson’s compelling messages were chosen from 155 entries from writers and bloggers around the world, by a panel of 20 judges including world-renowned travel bloggers, writers, conservationists and ethical organisations.

Runner-up entries also explored important themes rather than destinations, including conservationist, blogger and National Geographic Kids Education Editor Kate Stephenson’s honest account of pregnancy while visiting Saint Lucia, and conservationist Kathleen Retourne’s description of the power and resilience of nature.

The competition also awarded a Readers’ Choice award to second-time winner Uthman Ayoku Oyebamiji, a Nigerian Wildlife and Ecotourism Management undergraduate student, ornithologist and conservationist. His story featured Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the last remnants of primary high forest in southern Nigeria.

Travel Blogger of the Year 2020 awarded a total of 12 bloggers, in the Judges’ Choice and Readers’ Choice Adult (19 and over) and Youth (12-18) categories.

Competition winners will be featured on Terra Incognita’s blog, one of the Top 10 Wildlife Travel Blogs, and collectively win three pairs of SWAROVSKI OPTIK binoculars, 12 trips of a lifetime, training courses, career boosts and more.

Travel Blogger of the Year 2020 is Terra Incognita’s second competition, after Wildlife Blogger of the Year 2018, which engaged over 24,000 people worldwide and attracted nearly 100 entries, while raising awareness about wildlife and nature travel online and in an eBook ‘The Wildlife Blog Collection’.

Both competitions have helped grow a community of writers and bloggers who champion more ethical forms of travel.

Point of the Arches, Washington. “During a backpacking trip on Washington state’s rugged coast, I imagined what it would be like to survive in an isolated coastal community after a climate emergency. I interviewed a survivalist, an expert of climate-friendly farming and the sourcing specialist at Patagonia Provisions”. Credit: Erik Gauger, notesfromtheroad.com.


“Travel bloggers are often the only journalist-types to visit places that are biologically sensitive, or that face threats from large tourism developments,” said Gauger. “When travel bloggers see themselves as areas being part of their beat, rather than just offering tips on a destination, they can see that their voice can play a critical role in how that place develops”.


Full list of Winners and Runners Up

Judges’ Choice – Adult

Winner | Judges’ Choice: Erik Gauger, The Places Between

First Runner Up | Judges’ Choice: Kate Stephenson, Saint Lucia: The birds and the baby

Second Runner Up | Judges’ Choice: Kathleen Retourne, Where the sky meets the earth

Judges’ Choice – Youth

Winner | Judges’ Choice: Rhianyon Larson, Glacier National Park

First Runner Up | Judges’ Choice: Celeste, Puffin Island

Second Runner Up | Judges’ Choice: Alex Brickle, Hope for the best, plan for the worst

Readers’ Choice – Adult

Winner | Readers’ Choice: Uthman Ayoku Oyebamiji, Adventure in a Sacred Grove

First Runner Up | Readers’ Choice: Josh Adam Drummond Robertson, Rustles in the dark: Wild Uganda

Second Runner Up | Readers’ Choice: Volker Bassen, Paradise Found

Readers’ Choice – Youth

Winner | Readers’ Choice: Jenny Lin, Our Home, Bradgate Park

First Runner Up | Readers’ Choice: Aaliyah Eade, Costa Rica…Pinch Me, Am I Dreaming?

Second Runner Up | Readers’ Choice: Thomas Kimbell, Mauritius – A Story of Paradise


Main image credit: Erik Gauger of notesfromtheroad.com.