Thoughts on Travel Writing

Boring, English summer afternoon.
In a bookshop.
In a shopping centre.
In South East London (to be precise).

Looking for escape.
Looking for inspiration.
Perusing, thumbing, skimming the travel books.

Books about people who have been many different, distant, far-off, exquisite and, exotic places. The sort of places that when they say they have been there, everyone generally reacts with a jaw-dropping «WOW!» – and they stare wide-eyed in admiration, thinking ;

« I’d like to go there. »

There is also a hint of jealousy.

« How come he (she) has been there and not me? »

« Going there is wasted on people like that. Look at him; he’s just a pleb. »


« Well, I don’t care, I didn’t want to go there anyway, and I’m certainly not going now that he (she) has been there.”

Looking through the numerous travel books, I notice one major trend;

Travel writing does not appear to be about one person going many different places. There are many different books by many different authors, but each person only ever seems to have been to one place.

Many books seem to concern the same place – you wonder if the various authors didn’t get reduced group travel and all go together.

The only difference seems to be how people got to where they were going and what they did when they got there.


People go TO, or IN or AROUND.

The most popular travel preposition seems to be AROUND – implying that you intend to come home and your travels have been no more than going round in a large circle. Personally speaking, this preposition does not imply any depth or discovery; it is merely describing how a person went around the edge of something without actually bothering to go in.

TO – meaning that you go somewhere – it doesn’t necessarily imply that the person comes back, because they haven’t gone AROUND. Travelling TO somewhere meaning that you are not going to talk about your destination, but simply about how you got there. Either a long litany of highly unseaworthy boats and steam trains or a simple voyage of self discovery (presumably on a long train journey).

The final preposition – IN – I’m not actually travelling, because I am already here, so I’m going to tell you about what I do here everyday. Popular themes – my life IN France.

TRAVELS IN AND AROUND – a popular title – go round the edges and end up in the middle.


The purpose of travelling is (obviously) to change air, get a new perspective, do something different, discover new cultures, have an adventure (you choose).

Travelling therefore going somewhere else to have a new experience and then, at some point, come home.

The place has to be interesting or exciting enough to make it worth your going there in the first place.

Travel writing therefore is essentially writing about it all – telling others about what you did, when you went somewhere – like writing your holiday postcards, but, when you get home, AND making it sound interesting enough to make others want to go there, and also to get it published.

This afternoon, I am in a bookshop in Bromley.

I could write about my travels to, in and around this sinister corner of South London BUT Bromley is perhaps not exotic enough. There again I write about life in small-town France, which is just as sinister as life in Bromley.

What have people written about?

Riding round India on an Enfield motorbike and stopping off on the way to talk to some interesting locals and Knock up a curry with « real » ingredients that you will never find in your local supermarket.

Farting around Northern Italy on a Vespa (don’t want to go to far south, that’s the poor part) – visiting typical Tuscan and Umbrian villages, popping in Renaissance churches, zooming round vineyards for a wine tasting, then eating in an authentic little restaurant and chatting fluent Cappuccino with the locals.

(You could do the same in France in a 2cv – come to think of it, as I peruse these books, I can’t find any about rolling round France in a 2CV, though there are plenty of books about « How nice it is to live in France, but not quite as nice or easy as it used to be, but it still better than living in Libservative Britain. »)


Plenty of works about walking the Pilgrim ways of Europe (always accompanied by a donkey) – Compostella, Canterbury, Fatima and Lourdes. Voyages of self-discovery by agnostic types who don’t really find God, but certainly drink plenty of wine on the way.

  • Round China on a train
  • My trip on the Trans Siberian
  • Floating down the canals of France
  • Round the USA on a Harley Davidson
  • Round the world on the smallest boat you can find.

I might try my hand at travel writing. Just have to think of places I have been and all the interesting or idiosyncratic people I have met. Where can I start?