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travel writing

Travel Writing: The Self and the World by Casey Blanton (Routledge, 2002)

Definition:

A form of creative nonfiction in which the narrator's encounters with foreign places serve as the dominant subject.

"[W]hat raises travel writing to literature," says William Zinsser, "is not what the writer brings to the place, but what the place draws out of the writer. It helps to be a little crazy" (The Writer Who Stayed, 2012).

See also:

Examples of Travel Writing:

Examples and Observations:

  • "The best writers in the field [of travel writing] bring to it an indefatigable curiosity, a fierce intelligence that enables them to interpret, and a generous heart that allows them to connect. Without resorting to invention, they make ample use of their imaginations. . . .

    "The travel book itself has a similar grab bag quality. It incorporates the characters and plot line of a novel, the descriptive power of poetry, the substance of a history lesson, the discursiveness of an essay, and the--often inadvertent--self-revelation of a memoir. It revels in the particular while occasionally illuminating the universal. It colors and shapes and fills in gaps. Because it results from displacement, it is frequently funny. It takes readers for a spin (and shows them, usually, how lucky they are). It humanizes the alien. More often than not it celebrates the unsung. It uncovers truths that are stranger than fiction. It gives eyewitness proof of life’s infinite possibilities."
    (Thomas Swick, "Not a Tourist." The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2010)


  • "There exists at the center of travel books like [Graham] Greene's Journey Without Maps or [V.S.] Naipaul's An Area of Darkness a mediating consciousness that monitors the journey, judges, thinks, confesses, changes, and even grows. This narrator, so central to what we have come to expect in modern travel writing, is a relatively new ingredient in travel literature, but it is one that irrevocably changed the genre. . . .

    "Freed from strictly chronological, fact-driven narratives, nearly all contemporary travel writers include their own dreams and memories of childhood as well as chunks of historical data and synopses of other travel books. Self reflexivity and instability, both as theme and style, offer the writer a way to show the effects of his or her own presence in a foreign country and to expose the arbitrariness of truth and the absence of norms."
    (Casey Blanton, Travel Writing: The Self and the World. Routledge, 2002)


  • V.S. Naipaul on Making Inquiries
    "My books have to be called 'travel writing,' but that can be misleading because in the old days travel writing was essentially done by men describing the routes they were taking. . . . What I do is quite different. I travel on a theme. I travel to make an inquiry. I am not a journalist. I am taking with me the gifts of sympathy, observation, and curiosity that I developed as an imaginative rwiter. The books I write now, these inquiries, are really constructed narratives."
    (V.S. Naipaul, interview with Ahmed Rashid, "Death of the Novel." The Observer, Feb. 25, 1996)


  • Susan Orlean on the Journey
    "To be honest, I view all stories as journeys. Journeys are the essential text of the human experience--the journey from birth to death, from innocence to wisdom, from ignorance to knowledge, from where we start to where we end. There is almost no piece of important writing--the Bible, the Odyssey, Chaucer, Ulysses--that isn't explicitly or implicitly the story of a journey. Even when I don't actually go anywhere for a particular story, the way I report is to immerse myself in something I usually know very little about, and what I experience is the journey toward a grasp of what I've seen."
    (Susan Orlean, Introduction to My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who's Been Everywhere. Random House, 2004)


  • Jonathan Raban on the Open House
    "As a literary form, travel writing is a notoriously raffish open house where different genres are likely to end up in the bed. It accommodates the private diary, the essay, the short story, the prose poem, the rough note and polished table talk with indiscriminate hospitality. It freely mixes narrative and discursive writing."
    (Jonathan Raban, For Love & Money: Writing - Reading - Travelling 1968-1987. Picador, 1988)

    "Travel in its purest form requires no certain destination, no fixed itinerary, no advance reservation and no return ticket, for you are trying to launch yourself onto the haphazard drift of things, and put yourself in the way of whatever changes the journey may throw up. It's when you miss the one flight of the week, when the expected friend fails to show, when the pre-booked hotel reveals itself as a collection of steel joists stuck into a ravaged hillside, when a stranger asks you to share the cost of a hired car to a town whose name you've never heard, that you begin to travel in earnest."
    (Jonathan Raban, "Why Travel?" Driving Home: An American Journey. Pantheon, 2011)


  • The Joy of Travel Writing
    "Some travel writers can become serious to the point of lapsing into good ol' American puritanism. . . . What nonsense! I have traveled much in Concord. Good travel writing can be as much about having a good time as about eating grubs and chasing drug lords. . . . [T]ravel is for learning, for fun, for escape, for personal quests, for challenge, for exploration, for opening the imagination to other lives and languages."
    (Frances Mayes, Introduction to The Best American Travel Writing 2002. Houghton, 2002)
Also Known As: travel literature
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