Is travel writing dead?

Is travel writing dead? Granta 137 has asked that question, and, before I read what international travel writers are saying about the topic, as travel writer, I thought I should answer it myself.

First of all, what is travel writing? Is it a guidebook? Yes. Can it be a blog? Yes. Can it be an article in a magazine? Yes. Can it be a setting in a novel? Yes. And, can it be pure fiction, or the embroidered truth? Unfortunately, yes.

So, the question, is travel writing dead, depends on which genre within the genre you are talking about. For me, and my style of travel writing, it’s about telling stories about what I’ve seen and done. It’s not PR work. It’s not interviewing my computer. And, it’s not embellishing my photos – what you see is what I saw.

Travel writing can include a destination overview or round-up, accommodation choices, personal experiences of fear & laughter, advice or ‘how to’ articles, food, a journey or transport, events and festivals, history, health advice, nature, animals and, of course, personality profiles. They can also be a memoir.

In the past, I told students to ‘encourage with description, tempt with flavour, resolve doubts with fact, take an unusual viewpoint, introduce fascinating people, reveal little known information, offer practical advice – of course they don’t all have to be in one story. And what doesn’t work?  Stating the obvious, squeezing everything in, clichéd descriptions, trite phrases or a passive observer view’. It’s not a letter home to your family unless that’s how you are going to structure your book, your column, or travel book.

So, given these parameters, of course travel not writing is not dead: all the time I’m reading works by people writing along these lines in new and old literature, on the web, between the covers of books, and on my e-reader or tablet.

What is dead is the number of outlets available to reproduce such travel writing. Magazines and newspapers – which used to devote many pages to travel writing weekly – have drastically reduced. Along with this reduction is the huge decrease in dollars paid to the writer. My income is a pittance to what I used to be paid only a few years ago, and it’s very difficult to negotiate a payment – it’s mostly, “this is what we pay” and a take-it or leave-it attitude.

Pages in magazines and newspapers of course have reduced as circulation numbers and travel advertisements have also plummeted. Glossy flyers, posters in travel agent’s windows, and the Internet have replaced those adverts. No adverts equals no money equals pages reduced equals travel writers not needed.

The other reason local travel writers are not used are that editors are given free PR material to reproduce and, or, they use stories from the publishing stable of their international colleagues. This means in New Zealand we read stories written by British, or American, journalists and not something in a Kiwi voice and with a kiwi attitude to travel – and they are different.

Hear ends the rant. And, now on a wet Sunday afternoon in Wellington, New Zealand I can now devour my new Granta book and see what some of my admired, or unknown, travel writers have said about the topic.

Do you think travel writing is dead? What’s your favourite type of travel writer?

The kiwi travel writer enjoys Fiji cruising

Great train routes I’ve taken–have you?

I’m reading the 2006 book ‘Strangers in my Sleeper’ by fellow kiwi and travel writer, Peter Riordan, and it’s made me think of some of the many rail journeys I have taken, some return or multiple trips and, many in sleepers with strangers!

Off the top of my head they include:

Egypt:

  • Cairo to Aswan

Zimbabwe:

  • Harare to Victoria Falls

New Zealand:

  • Christchurch to Arthurs Pass
  • Christchurch to Picton
  • Christchurch to Invercargill
  • Wellington to Auckland (and return)

USA:

  • Miami to New York
  • LA to San Diego
  • Anchorage to Fairbanks

Thailand:

  • Bangkok to Suratani
  • Bangkok to Changmai
  • Suratani to Georgetown (Malaysia)
  • Kota Bharu to Kuala Lumpur

Europe:

  • London to Paris
  • Miami to Parma
  • Budapest to Prague

India:

  • Delhi to Haridwar
  • Haridwar to Agra
  • Jaipur to Mumbai
  • Kerala to Indore
  • Mumbai to Kerala (Ernakulum)

What are your favourite rail journeys? And, have you done any on my list – what did you think of them?

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Travel writers wanted: Wellington Travcom Event

Wellington Travcom Event, 25 October – Wine ‘n’ Cheese & Slide-show Spectacular

Please register by 19th October

The Wellington Travcom committee are pleased to invite you our second event for 2011

  • Want to network with fellow travel communicators while eating cheese and drinking wine or juice?
  • Want to socialise with fellow travellers while eating cheese and drinking wine?
  • Want to kick back and relax while four fellow travellers present a Pecha Kucha-style slide show

(Pechakucha is 20 slides – with only 20 seconds per slide – we guarantee there’ll be no yawning or nodding off. And who knows, next time it could be you. It’s a good excuse to hone your public speaking and brush up on Power Point – key travel communication skills, right?)  see more here

See and hear:

Heather Hapeta on “How I turned men into monks”

Sarah Bennett on “How I became a travel writer”

And, photographers Nick Servian and Chris Coad on a topic of their choice.

We will also be discussing plans for 2011 so bring your ideas, wants and desires for Wellington Travcom 2012

The where and when

  • Time: 6pm on Tuesday 25 October, Agostini Room (4th floor; nibbles & drinks served)
  • Place: Museum Hotel, 90 Cable Street (near Te Papa). Street parking available.
  • Cost: Travcom members $10; non-members $15.
  • Register with and send cheque to: Helen Davies, Travcom administrator, at 2B Pukehana Avenue, Epsom, Auckland 1023. Ph: 09 624 5707
  • OR email: helen.davies@clear.net.nz if you’d like to use internet banking or have any queries.
  • Register by 19 October. 

This event has been organised by the Wellington branch of the Travel Communicators’ Association.
Further info: Sarah Bennett (sarah@bennettandslater.co.nz); Judith Doyle (judith.doyle@clear.net.nz) and Heather Hapeta (heatherhapeta@orcon.net.nz)