The virus and the travel writer - Jo Carroll

I know, this title reads like a children's story. If only. Life has got a bit serious for many of us: the tribulations of a travel writer are nothing when compared to so many.

I'm fortunate. I don't need the income from my travel writing to put food on the table. For those who do - life must have become impossible. Where can they go? What can they write about? We are used taking our safety into account: we generally give serious social unrest a wide berth and don't put ourselves in the path of animals that might eat us. (Well, I did, once - but not deliberately). Speaking for myself: I am fascinated by the minutiae of people's lives - wherever they are and whatever their circumstances. I will oppose poverty tourism (gawping at mud huts or rows of metal beds in orphanages) till the day I die, but will defend anyone who spends hours round a fire listening to singing, and dancing, and telling stories. For me, those stories are the life-blood of travelling.

But what now? Generally, in July, I am thinking about where to go next winter. But not this year. If I go away at all, it will be a last minute decision, based on the possible safely of flying (using common sense rather than government demands that I spend money), the rate of infection in a country I might want to visit (bearing in mind that I suspect few countries are being honest about their figures) and the likelihood of social unrest (almost inevitable if people are hungry and don't feel cared for).

So, maybe I won't get away. Does it matter? Personally, I shall have to find a way to manage a long, cold, dark, wet, winter. I don't have to like it, but may have no choice but to get on with it.

But for travel writing in general - that's different. I'm not sure that writing about beautiful beaches, or tramping up mountains, is essential. We can live without it. But writers who look beyond the beaches, who talk to real people and tell their stories, who uncover tales of hardship and courage - these are vital. They serve to remind us that we all live in the same world. That our suffering, and their's, matters just the same. The government's clap-trap about 'world-beating' completely misses the point about our place in the world. We - you, me, the people down the road, the men and women in the barrios in Caracas and the rice fields of Laos - we all have the same needs and feelings. We need food, shelter, and people around us who love us. And we need people to notice us and tell our stories.

Travel writing is an essential reminder that we are not alone. Differences are nothing but window-dressing. Everyone is struggling, and we are no more, and no less, important than anyone else. That is  what travel writers remind us. Right now - when the world is so unsafe and so few can travel - we need them more than ever.

Here are a couple of my travel books: Bombs and Butterflies and Everlasting


Eden Baylee said…
I'm with you Jo. I love travel, but it's going to be awhile before I feel safe to board a plane. Only time will tell how well the airline industry is balancing their need for profit with the safety measures for passengers.

Keep well,
As someone who hates flying and is also reluctant to go anywhere dangerous, I am very grateful to travel writers and tv reporters for opening my eyes to all these very different pkaces. It's still frustrating not to be able to plan even a smaller summer break, but I've started to follow more railway companies and the Man in Seat 61 on Twitter to collect ideas for later.
Peter Leyland said…
Thank you Jo for this interesting piece. Driving to Dorset on Monday for a short break. We will look at East Coker.

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