The Nature and Challenges of
Travel is the most experiential form of learning. It is also a
human behaviour that since the beginning of human civilization has
occurred for many reasons. To homo sapiens sapiens, travel
has meant survival; a search for ideals; an escape from one reality
to another; simple pleasure; a physical, psychological, and spiritual
process — and much more. Travel has defined us as a species.
Travel writing, journalism, literature has taken many forms. Travel
writers are essentially storytellers, and this tradition goes back
many centuries. The natures of those stories, the lessons inherent
in them, and how they are told are as diverse as the stories themselves.
And in the new electronic age when almost anyone who has been somewhere
significant can tell his or her story to the world, it is important
to take a closer look at the multi-dimensional craft of travel writing,
and indeed the nature of travel itself.
Berendt and Robert D. Kaplan, two very special travel
In a recent interview on Talking Travel, author John Berendt
(Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The
City of Falling Angels) spoke to Roy about his new book on
Venice. In the interview he comments on how his book came about
and makes specific reference to the art of travel writing.
To hear this interview
click on the audio icon.
Robert D. Kaplan is the author of a number of books including
Mediterrean Winter: A Journey Through History, a book
Talking Travel strongly recommends.
In a recent article in the
online Columbia Journalism Review, Kaplan also writes
about the nature of travel writing and journalism in general.
Below you will find excerpted statements from that article. To
read the entire article, click on the above link.
- The most dangerous thing a writer can do sometimes is to describe
what he sees in front of his face, for the very ideals and assumptions
that many of us live by are dependent upon maintaining a comfortable
distance from the evidence.
- The Internet now makes facts so effortless to obtain that there
is the illusion of knowledge where none actually exists.... rare
is the commentator who does the field work necessary to earn his
opinions — or even his prejudices.... the public is increasingly
removed from the intangible essences and minutiae of distant places
that explain the present, and thus forewarn of the future.
- Above all, it is the lack of appreciation for geography in the
broad, nineteenth-century sense of the word that is basic to an
age of journalism increasingly given to summarizing from above
rather than reporting from below.
- Barry Lopez, the nature writer, notes that in the current climate
even such a seemingly obvious notion as the American landscape
is a concoction of the media and advertising industries: in truth,
the American landscape is a product of many little landscapes,
each with its local genius...
- Journalism desperately needs a return to terrain, to the kind
of firsthand, solitary discovery of local knowledge best associated
with old-fashioned travel writing. Travel writing is more important
than ever as a means to reveal the vivid reality of places that
get lost in the elevator music of 24-hour media reports.
- ...the best travel books have always been about something else.
Mary McCarthy’s The Stones of Florence (1959) and Robert
Byron’s The Station (1928) deal with the art of the Renaissance
and the Byzantine empire respectively.... Owen Lattimore’s
The Desert Road to Turkestan (1929) is on one level about the
organization of camel caravans, and on another about Russian and
Chinese imperial ambitions.
- For what people really believe — contrary to what they
often tell journalists — takes time and effort to find out.
[When you don't :interview people but instead listen to them]
... Then in their talk there comes out the rich rough ore of what
they themselves accept as the truth about their lives and beliefs,
not spoiled in trying to refine it unskillfully by suiting the
words to the listener.... Just listening to people, to their stories
— rather than cutting them off to ask probing, impolite
questions — forms the essence of these and all other good
travel books.... You’ll never truly understand anybody by
asking a direct question, especially someone you don’t know
- Travel writing emphasizes solitariness. The best writing, literary
or journalistic, occurs under the loneliest of circumstances,
when a writer encounters the evidence firsthand without anyone
of his social, economic, or professional group nearby to help
him filter it, or otherwise condition his opinions.
- The best travel writing prepares you for what a place is really
like, and consequently gives the reader who will never travel
there an accurate ground-level portrait of it.
- How will good reporting survive? Individual men and women will
slip away from the crowd — away from the panels and seminars,
the courses and conferences, away from the writers’ hangouts
and e-mail networks — to cultivate loneliness.