Travel Writing

Today I am thinking about travel writing: how is it structured, what is the difference between a tourist piece and travel literature, how does travel writing blur the lines between fact and fiction and how does it borrow narrative techniques to create engaging story.

travelTravel writing covers a range of vastly different topics and styles. I wonder what forms the distinction between fact based fiction with an element of travel and a travel literature that has fictitious narratives and techniques throughout. I am curious to investigate how travel writing is categorised. I think issues may arise here, for example, Bruce Chatwin’s ‘Songlines’ has been referred to as a travel narrative while the author himself felt it was a novel.

Travel literature can only be subjective because the writer can never fully take themselves out of the picture. Even the most objective of writing is written through the pen of the author and is therefore, tainted with ideologies.

The purpose and aim of the travel writing is important, otherwise the writing could become a show piece for the tourism industry and would therefore fall short of travel ‘literature’. The idea of being commissioned to write a publishable travel piece is I think fraught with danger – is the author simply writing for money, is this a sell out to tourism, or is the author able to maintain autonomy and passion throughout this process.

Travel writing should explore a sense of place, but interestingly, fiction narratives can do this also. Travel writing should capture the sound and smell of a place where a photo perhaps cannot. Pieces that explore the journey within and the journey without are very engaging for a reader and can offer a more personalised travel experience.

Tourism seems product or package deal driven, aimed at selling a service be it a particular flight, hotel, destination or activity. Tourism focuses on a set of places, sights, bars, markets and prices of these: the facts and statistics, the history, the when and where of it all, kind of like a list of rules to follow to have a particular set of almost scripted occurrences.

Travel is more independent and is focused on the experience of travel for its own sake. It’s the dive in and enjoy it, or not. It’s gritty and real and definitely not a scripted experience. It’s about being in the here and now, the moment and being open to whatever is around you. It is about immersion and spontaneity rather than viewing something from the outside forcing things to be a particular way.

Tourism uses the language of sales and persuasive techniques. It’s about selling a particular experience for a particular price, in a particular way within a certain word count; whereas travel writing uses rich and descriptive vocabulary, taking it’s time to evoke a sense of place and convey a real emotive experience.

Tourism is an exercise in sales. The author is vying for newspaper or magazine space, the author is trying to get a ‘job’. It includes: market research as well as research about a place and how to get there.

Travel writing feels more authentic and real than a tourist driven piece. The author requires full self-expression and the ability to show the reader a place and to convey emotion in engaging ways.

Do you read travel writing? What are your thoughts?

Photo credit: Travel

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