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Competition judges, in alphabetical order, for 2012 

(new panel members will be added through the summer)

We are enormously privileged to be working with the following judges for our competitions. Not only are they supportive of Leap Local, but they also take great interest in the competition entries, offering meaningful advice and deserved praise where possible.

To keep up to date with the competition, check the website regularly and join us on facebook for announcements and to interact with travellers and judges as we post both their useful, and uselessly hilarious, travel DOs & DON'Ts -

  Vicky Baker (back for a fourth year to judge all competitions) is a professional freelance journalist currently based in Buenos Aires. In 2008, she worked her way around South America for a travel column that was published in the paper every Saturday: The idea was to escape the standard gringo trail and meet the locals using travel-networking sites, such as Since then, she has become a spokesperson for this new mode of local travel, speaking at events (TNT Travel Show, London) and on the radio (BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Five Live, Radio New Zealand). Her blog: .

Vicky is still a regular contributor to the Guardian newspaper's travel section and Other work has been published in the National Geographic Traveller, Observer (Escape), the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, TNT, Overseas, Time Out, Travel Mail, The Linguist, Matchbox, and International Travel and Tourism News. She has also written for travel guidebooks and websites.

 Kimmy Beach (back for a third year - travel story competition judge) writes from Alberta, Canada, where she lives with her husband. Kimmy has four collections of poetry in print (Nice Day for Murder: poems for James Cagney, Alarum Within: theatre poems, fake Paul, and in Cars). She holds a First Class Honors degree in English, and has been a teacher, workshop leader, fries flinger, Stage Manager, and roller rink skate cop. Her second collection has twice been adapted as a full-length stage play, and she launched her third book on stage at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Kimmy served on the poetry jury for the 2010 Governor General's Literary Awards. She has just finished a travel memoir about her trips to a tiny village on the south coast of Crete. Along with Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Kimmy facilitated a sold-out writing retreat in this very village in 2012. She believes the best way to help the Greek economy is to go there once a year with a bunch of writers and drink a lot of local wine. That's the plan for the rest of her life. Click to see Kimmy's books or visit

When Gary Buslik (back for a third year - travel story competition judge) wrote for travel magazines, he discovered that by tossing around insincere promises, he could get hotels and restaurants to give him free rooms, meals, and drinks to write something nice about them. So he was able to forge a useless profession into a rewarding lifestyle. These days he writes novels, short stories, and essays and, in case the government should ask any questions, teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

His essays appear often in Best Travel Writing anthologies (Travelers' Tales). You can read his latest piece, "Lanterns of Fear," in Best Travel Writing 2011.

Gary's work has been published in many commercial magazines and anthologies. His novel The Missionary's Position is a favorite of the Caribbean tourist crowd, and his book, A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean, won Benjamin Franklin and ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards for travel writing. His new book, Akhmed and the Atomic Matzo Balls , was just released in March 2012.

  W.B. Hafford (back for a third year to judge the Guides & Services comp) is an archaeologist, writer, traveller and scuba diver, but not always in that order. His research speciality is in the Eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age, his writing is in both non-fiction and fiction, and his travels and diving are all over the globe. When not travelling, he teaches archaeology and writing at the University of Pennsylvania.

 Garry Craig Powell (New judge for 2012 Guides & Services Competition) is an Englishman who has degrees from the universities of Cambridge, Durham and Arizona. He taught English in Spain, Poland, Portugal, where he lived for ten years, and the United Arab Emirates, where he worked for five years on the women's campus at an Arab university and three years at a men's college. His fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, McSweeney's, Nimrod, Queen's Quarterly, and other venues. His novel-in-stories, Stoning the Devil, which is set in the Emirates, was published by Skylight Press in August 2012 (for more information, see, or the Garry Craig Powell, Writer, Facebook page).

Garry Craig Powell teaches creative writing at the University of Central Arkansas and is also employed as a doorman by an exceptionally fickle calico cat named Diamond. 

Tahir Shah (returning to judge the 2012 travel story competition) is the author fifteen books, many of which chronicle a wide range of outlandish journeys through Africa, Asia and the Americas. For him, there’s nothing so important as deciphering the hidden underbelly of the lands through which he travels. Shunning well-trodden tourist paths, he avoids celebrated landmarks, preferring instead to position himself on a busy street corner or in a dusty café and observe life go by. Insisting that we can all be explorers, he says there’s wonderment to be found wherever we are – it’s just a matter of seeing the world with fresh eyes.

Shah’s newest novel, TIMBUCTOO, is inspired by a true life tale from two centuries ago. The story of the first Christian to venture to Timbuctoo and back – a young illiterate American sailor – it has been an obsession since Shah discovered it in the bowels of the London Library twenty years ago.

He recently published a collection of his entitled TRAVELS WITH MYSELF, a book with reportage pieces as diverse as the women on America’s Death Row, to the trials and tribulations of his encounter in a Pakistani torture jail.

His book CALIPH'S HOUSE: A Year in Casablanca, is lauded as one of Time Magazine’s Top 10 Books of the year…  (more about Tahir)

Peter Sibbald (returning to judge the Guides & Services Competition) is a veteran photojournalist (cover, portrait and editorial) for publications such as TIME, National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, Forbes, En Route, Bloomberg, Maclean’s, New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Globe & Mail, Forbes, Fortune, Money, L.A. Times, Science, R.O.B., Chatelaine, News Week and many more. His assignments have taken him around the world and his photos have given us lasting impressions of indigenous people, world leaders, culture and its oddities, heroes and criminals, rodeo cowboys, the travesty of urban sprawl, and international stars both famous and infamous.

Peter’s editorial work is represented in New York by Redux Pictures, his commercial stock photographs in the UK by Alamy and his fine art prints in Toronto by Bau-Xi Photo Gallery.

Lavinia Spalding (returning to judge travel story competition) is author of Writing Away: A Creative Guide to Awakening the Journal-Writing Traveler, chosen one of the best travel books of 2009 by The Los Angeles Times, and coauthor of With a Measure of Grace: The Story and Recipes of a Small Town Restaurant. A regular contributor to Yoga Journal, her work has also appeared in a wide variety of literary and travel publications, including Sunset Magazine, World Hum, Post Road, and Inkwell. She was the editor of the anthology, Best Women's Travel Writing 2011, and 2012, and is once again editing the 2013 anthology.

Upon graduating from the University of Arizona’s creative writing program, she took a one-year position teaching ESL in Busan, South Korea, and stayed for six years. An incorrigible nomad, she has traipsed through more than thirty countries on five continents, a blank notebook and a clutch of pens her constant companions. She is a practicing Buddhist, a Scrabble junkie, an avid kimchi maker, and an amateur knife thrower.

She currently lives in San Francisco and can always be found at

Lavinia Spalding and Marcy Gordon are teaching a food, wine & travel writing workshop this October, in Spain.

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.

Sean O'Reilly (third year judging travel story competition) is an author, editor, speaker, and the director of special sales and editor-at-large for Travelers' Tales. His recent editorial credits include: Travelers' Tales China, The Best Travelers' Tales 2004, Hyenas Laughed at Me and Now I Know Why, Travelers' Tales American Southwest, Travelers' Tales Greece, Travelers' Tales Ireland, Travelers' Tales Grand Canyon, Danger!, Pilgrimage, The Ultimate Journey, and Testosterone Planet. He's the author of the controversial book, How to Manage Your DICK. Widely traveled, Sean most recently completed a journey through the islands of the South Pacific. He lives in Virginia with his wife and six children.

J. Maarten Troost (returning to judge travel story competition) is the author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Getting Stoned with Savages, and Lost on Planet China. He currently lives in Washington DC with his wife and two children.

Kevin Vallely (New judge for 2012 Guides & Services Competition) was named one of Canada's leading adventurers by The Globe and Mail. His adventuring resume includes: skiing Alaska’s 1,860-kilometre Iditarod Trail; traversing the 640 km frozen surface of Lake Baikal with Ray Zahab in the record time of 13 days 16 hours, bettering the previous mark by over a week; attempting to bike and climb the island of Java’s 13 -10,000-foot volcanoes (a trip cut short when post-9/11 Indonesia became too dangerous); competing on the only Canadian team to finish the last and most difficult Eco-Challenge adventure race held in Fiji; retracing a 2,000-kilometre Klondike-era ice-bike route through the dead of an Alaskan winter; retracing the Sandakan Death March through Borneo jungles; and recently with teammates Ray Zahab and Richard Weber, breaking the world record for the fastest unsupported trek from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole.

Kevin has written four cover stories for OUTPOST (adventure travel magazine) since 2005, where he was also Editor-at-large and contributed extensively as the gear editor. He has published articles in The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the National Post.

He is currently planning a self-propelled journey across the North West Passage. The expedition will be called: The Last First. The expedition, if successful, will be a world first and will highlight the changes that our arctic regions are going through. It will consist of a team of 5 rowing an ocean rowing boat from Tuktoyaktuk to Pond Inlet through the famed North West Passage in the summer of 2013.

(Kevin Vallely - adventurer - journalist - speaker - designer. To read more and see photos and videos visit )


Barbara Weibel (new judge for the 2012 Guides & Services Competition) After years of working 70-80 hours a week at jobs that paid the bills but brought no joy, a serious illness made Barbara Weibel realize that she felt like the proverbial "hole in the donut" - solid on the outside, but empty on the inside. A year later, fully recovered, she abandoned her career and home to travel around the world, searching for joy and meaning in her life. She documented her journey on her blog and soon realized that the only things that had ever made her happy were travel, photography and writing.

Nearly six years later, Weibel is still traveling and writing about her experiences on, which has become one of the top independent travel blogs in the world. In late 2009, realizing that she was on the road more often than not, Weibel gave up her apartment, sold or gave away her remaining furniture, stored her few personal mementos and embarked on a life of perpetual travel. These days, she travels about ten months each year, returning to the States once or twice a year to visit friends and family.

Over the years, her travels have slowed considerably from her initial round-the-world trip, during which she visited 16 countries in six months. She began staying longer and longer in each place in order to write about the fascinating cultures she visits, often staying with local families and immersing into their way of life. Typically, Weibel stays at least a month in each country, publishing a series of articles about that country as she wanders without reservations and concrete plans.

To read about Weibel's adventures and see her large-format daily photos, visit her blog: Hole In The Donut Cultural Travel, or "Like" her Facebook Page, where she posts real time comments on a daily basis: Hole In The Donut Travels Facebook Page.


Nicola Dee (CEO of Leap Local) is the judging debate moderator for the Guides & Services competition.

Kirsten Koza (Leap's Executive Director and Magazine Chief) is the judging debate moderator for the Travel Story Competition.


Richard Hammond (judged Guides & Services Competition from 2009-11) is the founder and director of - a website that features green places to stay and over 200 holidays in the UK and Europe that can be reached by train. He is also the travel editor of National Geographic Green magazine supplement and writes a monthly column in Geographical - the magazine of the Royal Geographical Society. Richard co-wrote (with Jeremy Smith, the former editor of the Ecologist magazine) the Rough Guide to green holidays: 'Clean Breaks -500 new ways to see the world'.

Richard has written over 130 articles on green travel in the Guardian, and is now a leading spokesperson on the subject - he has recently given talks at the Adventure Travel Show, Destinations, TNT Travel Show and Best of Britain and Ireland Show, and has appeared on BBC Radio 4's flagship travel programme Excess Baggage. In November 2009, his greentraveller blog was awarded the British Travel Press Travel Editor's Green Award.


Peter Moore (judged 2010-11) is one of Australia and the UK's favourite travel authors. His first book, No Shitting in the Toilet, quickly became a backpacker classic. His second, The Wrong Way Home, is regarded as 'must-read' for those considering taking the overland route from London to Sydney. And Vroom with a View, captures the unbridled joy of jumping on a Vespa and riding around Italy.

His other books include The Full Montezuma (travelling around Central America with the Girl Next Door), Swahili for the Broken-Hearted (Cape Town to Cairo by any means possible),Same Same But Different (the Mekong Delta on a '64 Vespa) and Vroom by the Sea (the sunny parts of Italy on a bright orange Vespa). Peter is currently working on a book about Britain calledBlimey: One man's attempt to become a Brit on the side, and has launched Vagabond Editions, an Indie publisher specialising in travel-related eBooks. (