Travel and writing are a passionate pair. Can’t you just picture them strolling through a hilltop town in Tuscany with fingers entwined? They stop to embrace … travel’s hands slide down writing’s back, lower, lower … whoaa – let’s not get carried away. But with a magnetic attraction like that is it any wonder travel writing and travel blogging rank so high on the dream job list? (FYI: They also rank high on the world’s worst paying job scale, but that’s another story.)
So why can’t travel and writing keep their hands off each other?
I’ve come up with six reasons. Do you agree or disagree?
Why travel and writing are lovers Reason #1: Sharing – otherwise known as I have got to tell someone or I’ll burst into flames!
It’s hard to contain the buzz in your blood that comes from travelling or rising to a challenge, and you can’t always contain yourself. Since it’s generally not acceptable to run through the streets with your arms in the air screaming, “I just talked to a monk in Luang Prabang!” or “I saw a polar bear rub his bum on a tree in Churchill!” or “I just drank stinking mineral water in Budapest!” writing about it is the next best thing.
Yes, my socially-connected friends, it’s even better than Instagram and selfies.
FYI: When is it acceptable to run around screaming instead of writing down your thoughts?
- If your experience involves pickpocketing or any other type of physical attack feel free – unless, of course, you’re the one doing the pickpocketing. Then it’s still acceptable, even admirable, but not wise.
Sharing through travel and writing primo example-o: Into the Heart of Borneo by Redmond O’Hanlon. After reading this book I will forever love Iban tribesmen, but it’s the ending that slides right down my throat and grabs my intestines – it’s a love story, if you will – and gets me every time.
The White Masai. When German-born Corinne Hofmann falls for a Samburu warrior in Kenya, she definitely has a story to share. Ay Caramba, does she ever.
Why travel and writing are lovers Reason #2: Processing your journey – otherwise known as What the feck is going on?
Travelling can mess with your head (hopefully in a good way). At some point you have to deal with the effect on your psyche. One way of processing your feelings is by having nightmares about rats, which is a technique I’ve used in the past, another is by documenting your journey through writing.
A travel book that processes: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Why do people hate this book? Because it’s a best seller and therefore must be shunned? Personally, I found it mega witty and mesmerizing in a traumatized-divorcee-finds-new-life sort of way.
Why travel and writing are lovers Reason #3: Laughter – otherwise known as Stop! You’re killing me!
I’m all about respecting a destination but I’d be lying if I said travelling doesn’t sometimes seem like a voyage into the absurd. Humour, done with underlying compassion, is the perfect outlet for expressing your astonishment/bewilderment/warped sense of humour towards the world, and is one of the most fun travel genres to read.
So go ahead, make my day. Write something funny. I beg you.
When is it not okay to write about travel with humour?
- When it’s someone else’s pain
- When it’s done from a position of pompous superiority
When is it okay to write with humour?
- When it’s your own pain. Bring it on.
- If you have a gifted sensibility for poking fun at foreign cultures without belittling them à la Mark Twain
- If you’re politically astute and just don’t care, like P. J. O’Rourke who wrote Holidays in Hell, (but who somehow seems to care, even if he doesn’t – or is it the other way around?)
Laugh with this: The Innocents Abroad and A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain. Warning: Do not travel to Germany while reading the chapters on Germany – you will never look at the country the same way again, particularly if you’re sitting through a really long concert.
Into the Woods by Bill Bryson – An excellent example of the laughing-at-himself-while-making-merciless-fun-of-his-useless-yet-loveable-friend travel genre.
Why travel and writing are lovers Reason #4: Teaching – otherwise known as the I’m more evolved than you so listen to me school of travel writing
Travel is a journey of discovery. When you grasp some new piece of understanding about a place or a culture, it’s natural to want to impart this insight to others (hello, Paul Theroux!), especially if it helps to deconstruct harmful cultural stereotypes (and let’s pause a moment to appreciate my impressive use of the word ‘deconstruct’).
When is it not wise to impart your understanding and acceptance of foreign customs?
- When you really do believe you’re more evolved than everybody else
- When it harms people/the environment/animals
- When it involves people blowing the contents of their nose onto the street. Seriously. I will never get used to seeing that. (Even if it IS also part of Canadian hockey culture as my husband insists. Have we not evolved at all?)
Travel books that teach: If you want to know about life in the Peace Corps, it’s hard to pass up First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria – How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart by Eve Brown-Waite.
Holy Cow – an Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald. While clearly an outsider looking in, Macdonald brings you along on her explorations of India’s spiritual cultures, from sacred cows to the Hugging Amma. You may not always agree with her approach but her heart’s in the
write right place.
Why travel and writing are lovers Reason #5: Boasting – otherwise known as “Ma! Look at me!”
I’m not saying boasting is always bad, not when it comes to travel and writing and not when it’s done well – good storytelling will always have a place in my library.
When is it not a good time to boast?
When you have successfully made your first million as a drug smuggler, pirate and/or importer of endangered animals. Or, if you’re setting off on an exotic dancing tour of global strip joints. (Actually, those are all books I’d read. Carry on.)
Travel books worth boasting about: Lost in Mongolia – Rafting the World’s Last Uncharted River by Colin Angus: Even my mother got swept up in this nail-chewing adventure and I couldn’t believe a young dude from Calgary wrote this.
Speaking of Western Canadian adventure writers, let’s give a nod to Paddle to the Amazon – The Ultimate 12,000-Mile Rafting Adventure by Winnipeg writer Don Starkell, an excellent addition to the no-idea-what-we-were-getting-into category of travel literature.
Road Fever by Tim Cahill. A classic adventurer’s whirlwind journey from Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
Why travel and writing are lovers Reason #6 – Healing, also known as I hurt. Can no one see my pain?
There is nothing like a personal quest to come to terms with who you are, what you’ve struggled through and how you can change, forgive and move on. When the exterior journey parallels an interior journey (and no, by interior journey I don’t mean Journey to the Centre of the Earth or a Field Guide to Caving in Cappadocia – I mean a personal internal quest), the story can be a catharsis for both writer and reader. This is a good thing, because transformation is what travel and writing are all about.
When is it not wise to chronicle your internal journey?
- When you’re making it up. It’s called fiction.
Heal with this: Tigers in the Snow by Peter Matthiessen. Even if things don’t turn out as planned aka you don’t find a rare Siberian tiger in the remote eastern regions of Russia, it’s still the journey that counts – particularly if you’re grieving.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed – When this former not-quite-but-almost heroin addict and fearsome Pacific Coast Trail meet, adventures collide. And it’s not just the book that’s transformational. Every chapter is transformational. It’s one of the best, er, acts of copulation between setting and interior quest I’ve ever read … in fact I’m beginning to think setting and interior quest are an even racier couple than travel and writing.
PS: Am I allowed to use the word copulation in a travel blog?
Read more: Travel is the ultimate luxury, but what is luxury travel?
For more travel and writing blog posts: visit my Writing Category Page.