What is the point of travel writers? Jo Carroll

Ah, travel writers - they can transport us all over the world.

But times have changed since Eric Newby wrote about his Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. Now we can google anywhere we want. We can watch people terrify themselves with white water rafting or bungee jumping. We can relax to the shush of the waves while we sip wine from the comfort of our own living rooms. Do we need words any more?

And, if we do need words (I'm a writer - what is life without words?), what are we hoping for? To find out about a faraway place we might visit some day? To learn about cultures and differences that can widen our horizons? To get vicarious pleasure from someone else's risk-taking?

I've written about travel for decades. I think that the focus - even the reason - for travel writing has changed. When I wrote about my round-the-world trip (Over the Hill and Far Away) I was in my mid-50s and wanted to show that it was possible for women of any age to take on the world and have adventures safely. (More or less safely ... there was a man with a gun in Lucknow ...)

Times have changed - and not only for women. Politics has made more countries unsafe - maybe this is a good reason for travel writers to highlight cultural differences and how irrelevant they can be. We all have the basic human needs for food, shelter, and people around us who love us. Everything else is window dressing. In a world in which skin colour or religion is increasingly seen as divisive maybe the travel writer has a vital role in debunking myths about differences.

On the other hand, our understanding of the environmental challenges facing the planet has also changed. When you read, in the Sunday glossies, of someone's two weeks in the Maldives, do you drool over the blue sea while at the same time muttering about the impact on the environment of such jaunts? Is a caveat that the writer has contributed a few trees enough to salve a conscience?

I've just returned from Ecuador - a six week trip, and I did much more than flop about by the sea. In six weeks I did my bit for the Ecuadorian economy. And I have stories: one day I'll write about the tarantula ...

But if I have to choose between continuing to travel and write as I do, or making sure that the planet is protected so my grandchildren can travel and write if they want to - then it's more important to me that I do my restorative bit to save the world for them. But as readers - what is important to you?

While you're pondering, I'll leave you with a picture. This was taken in the middle of a busy city (Guayaquil). Maybe you can think of a caption:


Eden Baylee said…
My neighbours are currently in Ecuador and seem to be having a fabulous time.

As for travel, I do as much as I can given the constraints of time, income, and current commitments. I've traveled on my own since my early twenties and have always loved it. In the past few years, I've traveled to Cuba with a girlfriend as a way to help a few people who live there and are now friends. I write about the people and place to encourage others to visit.

It's my belief we can all contribute to making the world a smaller place -- in whatever way we can.

JO said…
I have also spent as much time as I can travelling, and hope I have introduced readers to some unexpected places. But I’m not sure it’s ethical to carry on wandering as I do when the planet is struggling. Each time I fly (and it’s the only way to get to Ecuador) I do my damaging bit to the environment. On the other hand, if we respond by travelling we shut ourselves off from everything we can learn about other cultures.

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