Six Travel Writers (and an Artist) Who Didn’t Make it Home

Lists: Frank Bures remembers fellow travelers who've been lost on assignment

08.02.10 | 9:29 AM ET

Dan EldonPhoto of Dan Eldon by Ho New/Reuters

Most travel writers venture into the world and make it home in one piece, but over the years, a few have not made it back. Here’s a look at several whose journeys took unexpected turns. May their memories and words live on a little longer.

Dan Eldon

While primarily a photographer, 22-year-old Dan Eldon also kept strange, beautiful, obsessive journal collages of his travels. In 1993, he and three others were killed by a mob in Somalia. Four years later, his journals were published as a book called “The Journey is the Destination.” The story of that journey will be told in a film starring Daniel Radcliffe as Eldon, scheduled for release in 2011.

Claudia Kirschhoch

In May 2000, a 29-year-old writer and editor named Claudia Kirschhoch was scouting a guidebook for Frommer’s at a Sandals Resort in Negril, Jamaica. One afternoon, she left her hotel room, walked down the beach and was never heard from again. Despite a reward of 1 million Jamaican dollars and a suspect, investigations languished and she was never found. In 2002, she was declared dead

Robert Byron

In 1941, just four years after writing the second greatest travel book of all time, Robert Byron, then a 36-year-old, was on the SS Jonathan Holt off the north of Scotland. He was traveling to Meshed, Iran, to report for a London newspaper—as well as to do a little spying. But the Second World War was underway, and in the early morning his ship was hit by a torpedo. As it sank, Byron perished along with 51 others. Six people survived.

Clem Lindenmayer

Australian-born Clem Lindenmayer was climbing in the mountains of southwest China in 2007 when communication from him to his family back home stopped. The 47-year-old Lonely Planet writer spoke several languages and had worked for the company for two decades. According to one report, his body was found 4,600 meters above sea level, at Riwuqie Peak. Xinhua news agency reported that it was located by villagers, but a posting on The Thorn Tree by his family said the search team had been led by his wife; it attributed his death to “natural causes.” He was said to have been cremated where he was found.

Craig Arnold

In the spring of 2009, Arnold, one of the most promising poets of his generation, arrived on the Japanese island of Kuchinoerabujima, where he was planning to write a book of essays and poems about volcanoes. He also kept a blog—Volcano Pilgrim: Five months in Japan as a wandering poet—on which the last entry is dated April 26. That’s when the innkeeper at the place where he was staying notified authorities that Arnold hadn’t come back from his hike. A search team discovered his footprints stopped near the top of the volcano crater. The searchers failed to find him, but a group of American trackers located his tracks near a “high and dangerous cliff” and concluded that there was “virtually no possibility he could have survived the fall.” 

On his blog, Arnold quoted Dante: “In the middle of our life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood,” then he asked the questions that many of us have asked mid-journey: “Cold and windy, or dark and pathless, what is this forest in which we find ourselves? Or rather, where we lose ourselves, in order to find out way out of it? Going to and fro on the earth, and walking up and down on it, where do we hope to end up?”

Bruce Chatwin

The great travel writer, and author of In Patagonia and The Songlines, did not die on the road, but he did die of what he called “the hazards of travel.” He claimed variously that his illness was caused by bone disease, a bat cave and bad thousand-year-egg. It’s hard to know where exactly Chatwin contracted the HIV which ultimately resulted in this death in 1989 at age 48; it could have been anywhere in the world.

Kinga Freespirit

The Polish travel writer, whose real name was Kinga Choszcz, hitchhiked around the world for five years and recounted that journey in her 472-page book, “Led by Destiny.” She was traveling in West Africa in 2006 when she contracted cerebral malaria, fell into a coma and died in a hospital in Accra, Ghana, at age 33.

Have we missed travel writers who passed away while traveling? Please let us know in the comments below.

Frank Bures is a contributing editor at World Hum, where his stories have won several awards. More of his work can be found at

3 Comments for Six Travel Writers (and an Artist) Who Didn’t Make it Home 08.03.10 | 6:44 AM ET

Interesting stories.  Who knew that travel writing could have dire consequences but it makes sense.  You do take a risk when you leave your home to explore the world and unknown.  It’s the chance you take to see the world and write about it.

Emily 08.07.10 | 1:55 PM ET

Don’t forget about Daniel Pearl! And there are many hundreds more….enough that there is an organization called Committee to Protect Journalists. As a journalist, it truly saddens me that these people who simply want to learn about a new place or culture (or scandal) are murdered.

Dave 08.14.10 | 3:23 PM ET

Our dear Bruce, our golden boy, described the incident but did not describe it truly.  He said he got away unhurt and left for us to imagine what might have befallen him.  Or did he tell the truth, preferring that we imagine something other?

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