Travel writing is a genre of literature that centres around the author's experiences and observations while exploring new places, cultures, and people. It often involves a personal narrative or a first-person perspective, and the author typically shares their thoughts, impressions, and emotions about their travel experiences. This writing can take many forms, such as guidebooks, memoirs, essays, and blog posts. The style can also vary from humorous and light-hearted to reflective and introspective.
From the earliest accounts of Marco Polo of his travels along the Silk Road to the contemporary travel writers like William Dalrymple who document their experiences around the world, the body of travel writing has played a crucial role in helping us understand the world around us.
Importance of Travel Writing
Getting a sense of other places
One of the key elements of travel writing is the use of descriptive language to create vivid images of the geography, architecture, and environment of the place. One can know and visualize a place far from where one’s sitting at the moment. It can inspire readers to explore new destinations and cultures themselves.
"Berlin Diary" by William L. Shirer is a first-hand account of life in Nazi Germany by an American journalist who lived and worked in Berlin from 1934 to 1940. Shirer describes the atmosphere of fear and repression that pervaded German society, as well as the gradual erosion of civil liberties and the rise of the Nazi Party. "Among the Believers" by V.S. Naipaul is travelogue that explores the author's journey through several Islamic countries, including Iran, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
Knowing other cultures
Travel writing can provide a window into the cultures, traditions, and customs of people around the world. Travelogues offer insights into the way people live, their values, beliefs, and practices and travel writers can dispel stereotypes and misconceptions about different countries and cultures.
Paul Theroux’s travelogue “The Great Railway Bazaar” documents his journey from London to Tokyo, by train. Along the way, he meets people from different countries and cultures. Through his writing, Theroux takes us on a journey through the unique lives of these people, while also providing us with an understanding of their community, cultures and beliefs.
Another important role of travel writing is to raise awareness about social and political issues around the world. Many travel writers use their platform to highlight the issues faced by marginalized communities and to bring attention to human rights violations. Through their writing, they can shed light on the struggles faced by people in different parts of the world and help to inspire action to bring about change.
"The Motorcycle Diaries" is a travelogue and memoir written by Ernesto "Che" Guevara about his travels through South America with his friend Alberto Granado in 1952. The trip was an eye-opening experience for Guevara, who witnessed the poverty and inequality that existed in the region. It explores the personal transformation of one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century, as well as a reflection on the social and political realities of Latin America in the 1950s.
Voicing Marginal Communities
Travel writing can also provide a platform for different voices and perspectives. Through travel writers, we can gain a body of experience of women, people of colour, and members of marginalized communities.
The travel writer Pico Iyer in his book “The Lady and the Monk,” documents his travels in Japan, challenging the Western view of the country as an exotic and mysterious place. It broadens the common understanding of Japan and the people who live there. "Love in the Life of Muslim Women" is an essay written by Nighat Gandhi which explores the intersection of love and Islam, particularly for Muslim women in South Asia. Gandhi argues that Islam does not prevent women from experiencing love and romantic relationships, despite common misconceptions.
Travel writing plays a crucial role in helping us to understand the world around us by providing a window into different cultures, highlighting social and political issues, and giving voice to marginalised perspectives. Travel essentially brings into play ‘contact’ with other worlds and culture. The traveller also reaches closer to themselves by reaching out to the world. Travel writing documents this interaction and enhances richly the body of literature.Written by Prachi Rautela