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Lacombe-based travel writer Debbie Olsen lands international writing award

Accomplished Lacombe-based travel writer Debbie Olsen has landed a prestigious international award.
Debbie Olsen and her husband Greg Olsen are pictured here in Monument Valley, Arizona. Photo submitted

Accomplished Lacombe-based travel writer Debbie Olsen has landed a prestigious international award.

She was one of three recipients of the award in the category for ‘Best U.S. Travel Destination’ at the IPW Conference in San Antonio, Texas this past May.

Olsen, who penned a travel column for the Red Deer Advocate for about 20 years and currently writes for the Calgary Herald, has also been published in numerous travel magazines over the years - far and wide.

“There’s this conference in the U.S. called the IPW Conference - I had heard about it but I had never attended it,” she explained. “It’s definitely the biggest one in the U.S. and I think it might be the biggest in North America, too.

“For the past 16 years, they’ve also had a travel writing contest with three categories.”

Olsen submitted a piece she had done on discovering the Indigenous side of Arizona.

In the article, which was published in the National Post earlier this year, Olesen noted, that, “If you want to explore Indigenous America, Arizona is a good place to start.

“The state is home to 22 federally recognized Indigenous nations and more than a quarter of the total land in Arizona is tribal land. There are many unique and beautiful places that allow visitors to discover the past and present of Indigenous culture.”

Along with her husband Greg, she visited the northern parts of the state last year - including a fascinating location called the Canyon de Chelly.

“I was able to do these really cool Indigenous tours, and so that’s what the article was about - finding Indigenous America in Arizona,” she explained. “I liked the experience, and the article - so I submitted it. I also thought the topic mattered.

“And so the article won - which was awesome! They presented it at the conference - it was amazing,” said Debbie, who has called Lacombe home for more than 30 years.

Born in Victoria, Debbie lived in southern Alberta briefly before the family settled in Lacombe. She later attended the University of Alberta and married her husband Greg who was hired as a teacher here in town.

Surprisingly, she didn’t have her sights set on a writing career at first.

She had won a few little writing awards growing up but opted to earn a degree in medical lab science. This led to a job at the Lacombe Hospital.

“For many years, I continued to work in lab medicine while I wrote on the side. I also worked in a lab at the Lacombe Agriculture Research Centre for 17 years.”

But what launched the writing more fully was that she lost her job at the hospital due to government cutbacks. “I started thinking about what I would really like to do.”

A passion for traveling led to a stint as a travel agent.

“I was at the office one day, and a trade magazine came in for agents. You had to write something for this contest, which was from Tourism Singapore, and the prize was a trip for two to Singapore with five nights at the Ritz Carlton Singapore!”

Debbie promptly tackled the required writing assignment that was part of entering the contest.

She won and jetted off to Singapore.

“Through all of that time, I had started writing again. It was like finding this piece of myself that I had left behind.”

She later called the Red Deer Advocate and offered to submit pieces on traveling.

An agreement was struck and the rest is ‘happy’ history.

“From there, I started branching out and approached other publications.”

An award-winning writing journey was sparked, and it’s proven a most fulfilling path.

“I love that I’m always learning something new. I also think that travel expands people’s perspectives - I know it has expanded mine. I also think it gives us more understanding and more empathy.”

Not to mention that the accolades keep coming.

Just this past weekend, Olsen was first place for her Best Spirit of Canada article and an Honourable Mention for Best Indigenous Travel Article at the Travel Media Association of Canada awards ceremony.

Greg also won an Honourable Mention for Best Photo Series.

“We’re both really honoured and grateful to be able to do what we do.”

Check out the Olsen’s blog at

Pictured here is Debbie Olsen receiving a certificate for her IPW Award from Cathy Reynolds (lead manager of IPW Press Operations). Photo submitted

Mark Weber

About the Author: Mark Weber

I've been a part of the Black Press Media family for about a dozen years now, with stints at the Red Deer Express, the Stettler Independent, and now the Lacombe Express.
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