The world of travel writing has changed over the last few decades—as have the travel tendencies of the general public. In the past, travel was an expensive and prized experience. Trips were few and far between, and were most certainly not available to all. Now that travel is super accessible—and relatively affordable—the majority of us are seeing the world in one way or another each and every year, and we are documenting our travels as well. The advent of photo sharing and blogging means that any traveler can instantly share their experiences with their audiences at home.
So, what does this mean for travel writers around the world, and the readers who still value the expertise a travel writer brings to the table? This was the topic on everyone’s mind at the 2013 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali.
Agustinus Wibowo, a leading Indonesian travel writer, believes that travel writers are changing their ways in order to adapt to the way travelers—and their travels—have changed:
“The world is constantly changing, the way we travel is changing and the travel writers are changing too. We look back at travel writing in the 19th century, and it’s more about the destinations and people’s experiences in undiscovered lands. Nowadays, nearly everyone can travel. There are so many budget airlines and it’s easier to get a passport. If a travel writer wants to insist on being the first person to visit a place, they won’t survive. Nowhere is untouched.
“Travel writing has become more about connection with your readers. Readers don’t just want information about the place—they can get that for free on the Internet. They want to buy your book to see behind the place. The point of connection is getting more and more important and travel writing is getting more and more personal. We share emotion between the writers and the readers. The reader is proud to share what the writer has experienced, and they consider the writer’s journey to be their journey too.”
Memoirs, and travel memoirs in particular, continue to be at the heart of the new non-fiction boom. All you need to do is think ofEat, Pray, Love, and the travel memoirs that followed to realize that our view of travel has morphed from seeing sights and the world to the life-changing experiences that our travels bring us, and who we end up on the other side of it. We are learning new things, experiencing new adventures, and changing our perspective, and bringing this all back to our homes, and our everyday lives. And our focus is now less on specific places and more on the stories that we hear—and tell—both in new places and when we return home.
Don Georg, editor-at-large and books editor of National Geographic Traveler, who was also at the 2013 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali had this to say about travel writing as storytelling:
“I think there is the kind of travel writing that Lonely Planet writers do, which is great and won’t go away because they are experts at what they do, and then there is another branch of travel writing, which is storytelling.
“Storytelling is this incredibly ancient and abiding art. It’s one of the things that distinguishes us as human beings. We like to share our stories. The travel writer connects with the world outside and then connects his experience with the readers’ lives and worlds. That’s what’s so hopeful and inspiring about travel writing for me. It brings the world closer together on a foundation of understanding, respect, community, and wonder. If we, as travel writers, can communicate that to our readers, we infuse the world with this sense of dignity and respect, appreciation and understanding. That makes the world a better place. For me, that’s the heart of what travel writing is all about. It’s incredibly important so it’s not going to go away.”