What do you look for in a travel book? - Jo Carroll

What do you look for in a travel book?

One of the most memorable pieces of advice I was ever given was 'don't write about things people can see on the telly'. And so I have never written about hearing Rigoletto at the Sydney Opera House as both can be found online without too much difficulty (even though it was wonderful).

That mentor also told me make sure I involved my own experience - which meant writing about things I hadn't told my daughters about. I'll never forget steeling myself to tell them about the man with a gun in Lucknow.

But my last trip took me to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. I spent a few days deep in the upper Amazon basin, where caimans hide in the shallows and tarantulas creep up the hut walls. Google any nature site and it's easy to see pictures of the Amazon (though they can't capture that wet mud smell, nor the wake-up call of the howler monkeys).

I took a road trip through the mountains, where the ground trembles for so much of the time that roads are constantly cracked. Volcanoes spurt steam high into the sky. The air is thin, and clear, and raptors soar on the thermals. I'm sure you can see that if you google 'Andes'. Though that moment when you discover dragonflies copulating is very special:

And so the Galápagos Islands - easy enough to find pictures of tortoises and iguana and parading frigate birds online. But nothing can replace that feeling of being humbled by the whole experience - being so close to creatures like this that are so rare and so precious:

Having said all that, when I read about travels it's the people who intrigue me. How they live and work and raise their families in the mountains or in the depths of the jungle. What stories do they tell? What sense do they make of me, a white woman wandering around and often unable to contain my curiosity about their ways of life? And, because I'm even more interested in people than I am in places, I write about them.

But you - when you pick up a travel book, what are you hoping to find?

You can find examples of my travel writing on my website: www.jocarroll.co.uk. And if you want to know what I got up to in Ecuador, there's always Frogs and Frigate Birds


AliB said…
Hi Jo - I've just been to a travel writing evening so this caught my eye. I agree it's the people who make the places come alive - grist to the writing mill - and the uniquely personal viewpoint. Intrigued by your description of Amazon and Galapagos - my son and is wife are off there soon. Ali B
Lydia Bennet said…
There are fascinating enjoyable and successful books which are all about trivial things we all see and do any day, look at Bill Bryson's 'travel' books! I think that was bad advice, frankly. You can find anything on google - but part of the advice worth following imo, is to avoid 'expositions' or 'info dumps' of paragraphs of facts, THEY can be found on google if someone is interested enough, what readers want is how YOU experienced things and reacted to them and yes, the people and critters involved, which is how you approach your writing anyway!
madwippitt said…
Oh dear. Dogs ... my favourite travelogues are, I'm afraid, the ones that feature dogs. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (Montmorency, fox terrier) ... Boogie Down the River and Five Hundred Mile Walkies, and the one about the Pennine Way walk by Mark Wallington (Boogie, ancestry unknown), Travels with Charley (John Steinbeck (Charley, poodle) and the three Narrowdog books by Terry Darlington - Narrowdog to Carcassonne, to Indian River and to Wigan Pier (Jim, whippet, joined later by Jess, also a whippet)...
Umberto Tosi said…
I'm with madwippitt! Dogs amok! Nice post.

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