The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” — St. Augustine
While studying at University College Cork, I took a very informative Travel Writing class. The course taught me so much about the art of traveling, and a lot of the material I learned applies to everyday life. Personally, I believe that many of the conversations we had in class cross everyone’s mind every so often, but maybe not to a stimulating degree. Throughout the course, I often asked myself: What is my role in this world and if I don’t like the answer I receive, how must I change my role so it benefits me?
What is Travel Writing?
Travel Writing concerns the importance of various impressions because the traveler is also the author. Therefore, travel writing is always retrospective because it is being written after the journey already happened. With this form, the author interprets the world through his/her own perspective. There is a “referential pact” between the author and the reader because the audience is expected to trust the author’s words. The writer filters the experience through his/her eyes, raising the question of authenticity and proper interpretation.
As such, sometimes it is difficult for the reader to separate fact from embellishment because travel writing can easily become a nonfactual work. In this way, travel writing is hard to classify as a genre because it is influenced by several various forms of writing. Often, it is considered a hybrid genre that is autobiographical (but this is not always the case). In short, travel writing draws upon elements of fiction and nonfiction. Two significant questions arise as a result of this: Does the writer fill the text with statistics and information? Or is the writer more interested in relaying a subjective experience? In certain aspects, there may also be a narrator or plotline because the author is often inclined to write about personal growth in the form of self-discovery.
Due to the passing nature of travel, there are always expectations when a person travels. As a result, disappointment often follows preconceived ideas about travel. Travelers (and writers) are perceptive of the outside world (in a way that he/she wouldn’t be if he/she were not writing about his/her experiences). Hence, the traveler’s journey is not only about encountering something new but also producing something unique and unheard of. The traveler desires to venture to the exotic, capture the exotic, and bring something from the exotic back.
In this case, the traveler consumes the exotic and is aware of the stereotypes associated with said culture. Therefore, the poetics of travel writing highlight the importance of memory because it facilitates the expression of these experiences. To travel is to undertake an adventure that will never happen again. The act of traveling perpetuates a particular way of perceiving one’s surroundings. As such, the notions of impressions leave an acute mark in the traveler’s memory.
The tourist adopts a superficial approach to travel because he/she is not in a different culture or country for a lengthy period. Although, several arguments claim time is of little importance when compared to actions and understanding. Thus, the tourist looks at the surface and is not interested in digging deeper and understanding his/her surroundings as they truly are. The level of disengagement stems from the fact that the tourist knows that he/she will not be in the same destination for long.
Moreover, the tourist engages in a type of silent participation that only allows him/her to witness his/her surroundings rather than actively take part. There is a degree of partial involvement, but nothing more because the tourist does not belong to the same space and time as the natives. Many believe that he/she exists in a parallel dimension that is far removed, experiencing his/her surroundings at a much different pace.