Awards For Works Published in 2019 - 2020

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Outside Magazine Leads Field of Four Top Winners
In SATW Foundation Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition

Freelance Writer Kevin West Earns Travel Journalist of the Year Award

October 16, 2020 — Outside magazine earned seven awards, and National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times and Travel + Leisure each won six awards to become the top winners in the 2019-20 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition, overseen by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation.

National Geographic Traveler took three Gold awards, one as the Best Travel Magazine. Outside also won three Golds, all for individual articles. Among its two Golds, The New York Times earned highest honors in Newspaper Travel Coverage. Travel + Leisure won Gold in the Travel Journalism Websites category.

Kevin West, freelance writer from Monterey, Mass., is the Travel Journalist of the Year, earning the Grand Award for a portfolio of work.

The competition, for work from spring 2019 to spring 2020, drew 1,299 entries and was judged by faculty from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. The Lowell Thomas Awards, recognized as the most prestigious in travel journalism, were announced in a video presentation at the 2020 Virtual Convention of SATW, the premier professional organization of travel journalists and communicators. Members usually convene annually at a domestic or foreign destination but went virtual this year because of COVID-19.

In citing the Grand Award winner, judges praised West for bringing “artistry to every assignment. … Words are not just tossed onto the page, but parboiled and plated with care to deliver a … result that is as much about style as it is about substance.” West also won Bronze awards for Culinary-Related Travel and Environmental and Sustainable Tourism.                                      

Also honored for Grand Award travel portfolios were Stephanie Pearson, freelance writer and contributing editor for Outside (Silver); Sebastian Modak, freelance writer-photographer and author of “The 52 Places Traveler” for The New York Times in 2019 (Bronze); and Aaron Teasdale, freelance writer-photographer (Honorable Mention).

In Newspaper Travel Coverage, judges praised The New York Times for “unpredictable content, rigorous research, polished writing and lush, striking photography.”

Silver for Newspaper Travel Coverage went to Wall Street Journal Off Duty, complimented for stories that are “smart, stylish and sophisticated — as well as practical and unpretentious.” Commended for its unusual story angles, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland took Bronze. Honorable Mention went to The Boston Globe.

Of Outside’s Gold awards, Stephanie Pearson won two: “The Uncertain Future of the Boundary Waters,” in Environmental and Sustainable Tourism, and “Does Travel Insurance Cover the Coronavirus?” in Service-Oriented Consumer Work. Mark Sundeen took Gold for “I Was Flying to Montana to Bury My Son,” in Personal Comment. Outside also won one Silver and three Bronze awards.

Besides its top Travel Magazine honor, National Geographic Traveler took Gold in Special Packages/Projects for “Sound Journeys,” George W. Stone, Editor-in-Chief; and in Photo Illustration of Travel for “California: A Quest for Quiet,” by Jennifer Emerling. The magazine also earned two Bronze awards and an Honorable Mention.

Others in the National Geographic media family won two Gold awards: In Culinary-Related Travel, “The Path to Uncharted,” by Jill Robinson, in a special issue of National Geographic; and in Guidebooks, “Frances Mayes Always Italy,” by Frances Mayes and Ondine Cohane, for National Geographic Books.

For Travel Coverage in General Magazines, which contain varied topics besides travel, Yankee magazine took Gold for the second year in a row. Silver went to Midwest Living, Bronze to Outside and Honorable Mention to Westways.

The second Gold for The New York Times went to Pico Iyer for “A Journey Into Greece’s Land of a Thousand Stories,” in the publication’s Style Magazine. The newspaper also received two Bronze awards for work by freelancer Sebastian Modak as “The 52 Places Traveler” author (2019), besides a Silver and an Honorable Mention.  

Besides its Gold, Travel + Leisure earned two Bronze, one Silver and two Honorable Mentions.  

BBC Travel tallied five awards, including a Gold for “Is This the Future of Underwater Exploration?” by Ellie Cobb, in Multimedia Single Work.

Bloomberg Pursuits earned four awards, including Gold for “You Can Now Ride a Submarine to the Deepest Point on Earth,” by Fran Golden, in the Short Work on Travel category. Afar took three awards, including Gold for “Playing by Heart,” by Lavinia Spalding, in Special-Purpose Travel. And Matador Network won three awards, with two Golds: “Bars That Don’t Close and a Deep South Cultural Education in Natchez, Mississippi,” by Matthew Meltzer, in U.S./Canada Travel; and “Phil Good Travel: Things Get TRIPPY in Zagreb, Croatia,” by Phil Calvert and team, in Video on Travel.

 “This contest illustrates why the Lowell Thomas Awards continue to be THE showcase for the best reporting and writing in travel,” said Emeritus Professor John Fennell, who with Professor Jennifer Rowe helped coordinate the judging. Winners this year stood out in several respects, Fennell said. Their entries show an ability to balance the personal with the universal, deftly weaving reflections with experiences to create stories that inspire. They also excel at practical information to guide travelers, he said.

Among the other Gold Winners are Kim Cross in Foreign Travel for “Noel + Leon,” in Bicycling; Emily Gillespie in Cruise Travel for “Instead of Flying to This Peruvian City, She Took a Slow Cruise Down the Amazon — on a Cargo Ship,” in The Washington Post; Melissa Sevigny in Adventure Travel for “The Wild Ones,” in The Atavist Magazine; and Taylor Dolven and Alex Harris in Travel News/Investigative Reporting for “Crew Are Stuck on Miami Cruise Ships With COVID-19 Spreading. Some Aren’t Being Paid,” in the Miami Herald.

Bob Krist won Gold in the Travel Book category for “Old Souls & Timeless Places” from Brilliant Press. Brad A. Johnson took Gold in Travel Blogs for his food and travel blog on

This year the Travel Audio competition was split into two categories, and Liz Beatty won Gold in both: in Travel Audio-Radio for “Rafting North America’s Wildest River System,” on Sirius XM Canada Talks, and in Travel Audio-Podcasts and Guides for “Inside Great Lakes Indigenous Culture — Before There Was a Canada/US Border,” on

This year SATW Foundation is giving 99 awards in 26 categories and $21,650 in prize money to journalists in recognition of outstanding travel journalism.

The awards are named for Lowell Thomas, acclaimed broadcast journalist, prolific author and world explorer during five decades in travel journalism.  The competition is open to all North American journalists.

The sustainability of the annual competition is made possible by a generous contribution from Gold Supporter Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company with a portfolio of brands in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia, including Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Cunard, Seabourn and Princess Cruises.

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Click here to see the Winners Gallery, showing results, judges’ comments and winning entries in all categories.