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The genre of travel writing has become something of a sore spot for many travel writers. Admitting to being one or enjoying the genre itself has become as much of a threat to your reputability as to admitting you listen to Coldplay. It’s seen as trivial, but then again, there is travel writing, and then there is travel writing—the kind that helps you make better sense of your world.
Travel writer Sorrel Wilby said, “We all dare to dream, but few of us dare to act. We spend our lives hesitating in the wings, not dancing on the stage of life.” Surely then, travel writers live on this stage of life? Nomadic travel authors, as opposed to armchair travel authors, enjoy an incredible list of achievements: Robyn Davidson with an emotionally crippling tale of her travels across the desert of Australia in Tracks, Peter Matthiessen’s brutal trek through awe-inspiring scenery in Nepal in The Snow Leopard, Colin Thubron’s grand excursion through the desolate ranges of Asia in Shadow of the Silk Road. Through all of this strenuous adventure, it is clear that not all travel writing are full of clichés and bad accents.
The difference, I suppose, comes down to the “traveler” and the “tourist”. Many travel writers, in fact, disparage the tourist. In Tracks, Davidson writes, “Neither of us liked being on the road after our time in the wild country, because we had to deal once again with that strange breed of animal, the tourist.” Simon Calder addresses the unfortunate breed: “If you are serious about being sensitive, you should go to Benidorm or some other place where you cannot make much difference to the existing mess.” That’s right, there is a petition to mark out specific boundaries for the tourist around the world. It’s a superficial apartheid!
Of course, the tourist may come across as a guidebook-clinging, excessive photo snapper of every museum, church, sign post, or sandwich, but why not let them be? Let’s quit being judgemental. Let’s leave the tourists to take photos of their red double-deckers, the intrepid adventurers to tell their epic tales of exploration, and the tasteless to listen to Coldplay!
By Lauren Smith