What is Travel?

travel, photography, airplane

The answer to that question depends upon which century of human history the asker is speaking from. Academicians, with their books and records and ‘archives’, claim that we are living in an era of the ‘post-colonial travelogue’, that is, people (Europeans (mainly British)) once penned stories of exploration and discovery that explicitly condoned and/or endorsed a colonial foreign policy, and now they don’t do that anymore. To summarize: travel writers are no longer copy writers for a system whose flow chart reads, claim land -> exploit natives -> extract resources. No, instead, travel writing has evolved from the instructional character of Medieval texts; to the romantic, colonial discourse extending from the enlightenment to the 19th century; to the modern, ‘subjective’ tales of contemporary travel literature. Exteriority has been eschewed for interiority, the inner journey, the quest for self-discovery, for reconciliation regarding the near innate guilt felt for centuries of colonialism.

That is a rough, and by no means adequate explanation of the history and historiography of travel writing for almost a thousand years. It’s just, I’ve been diving into the scholarly literature recently and it is a fascinating world, so I’m trying to fit it into a one-off blog post. What is a travel story? On its face, travel implies movement, and implicitly movement from the familiar to the exotic or completely unfamiliar. That certainly isn’t false, but it doesn’t have to be true. You can travel within your city, you can meet new people and experience wildly unfamiliar environments less than a mile from your own home.

For example: most New Yorkers have never set foot in an abandoned subway station, or a maintenance tunnel. If travel is about the unfamiliar, and by extension the act of discovery, then there are infinite dimensions for that activity to play out. Over time, over space, between people, comparative journeys, revisitations, introspection. I lived in the staid, sleepy city of Greensboro, NC for 3 years, and spent the majority of my life living near it, but I continuously discovered new things, new people, unconsidered views, underappreciated streets and neighborhoods while rambling around within its borders.

So this suggests yet another thing about travel: it is attitudinal. A traveler is always looking for new things, whether those things reside in a different hemisphere, or a 9 iron away. It must be pointed out that escapism features prominently within any discussion of travel. This is true, many people rove around as a form of escape from something (bill collectors, illegitimate children, criminal histories, existential malaise, chronic restlessness, whatever), but that doesn’t violate the proposition that travelers are seekers of novel situations.

As fun as dissecting and analyzing the complexities of the idea of travel, it also fun, as hell, on its own, intrinsically, and that fact shouldn’t be overlooked or buried under the arcane offspring of philosophical and socio-historical vocabulary.

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7 thoughts on “What is Travel?

    • Thanks for reading. I enjoy travel, and telling stories, and experiencing things, but I feel like there should be more discussion about travel as an act, rather than specific trips or destinations. Does that make any sense? Like……travel from class, political, economic, racial, gender, historical, or other contexts, not just simple travelogues. I think delving a little into the academic, theoretical side of travel is fun. Haha, so yeah, I hope that isn’t too rambling, but thanks again for the comment!

    • Thanks Kay, there’s a rich history of travel writing that I’m only just beginning to get into so it’s kinda fun to dork out occasionally.

      I just finished reading your Hong Kong post, loved it. I’m living and working in Beijing right now so I’ve made several trips to Hong Kong and have always enjoyed myself.

      • Really? How is working in Beijing? I’ve always wanted to go and have never had the opportunity. I’d love to find a job one day that lets me work abroad.

        As for the travel writing history, I completely agree! I feel like travel writing is truly something that grows with society and it’s really cool to look at it from a fresh perspective. You seem to really know your stuff!

        Thank you for your kind words. Definitely following your blog for more updates and awesome posts!

        ~Kay

  1. I think that new kind of travel writing is photo blogs with themes. Text and photos they act together. Blogs offers possibility to present more photos than traditional travel books and at same time to give a personal aspect.

    For me travel is to collect experiences. Also to find beautiful places, foreign cultures and meeting people when on travel, they are important to me and that’s why I love to travel. When saying experiences, there are many kinds of them. To drive fast legally on German highways, where are no speed limits, is such an experience that I want to enjoy it again and again.

    When I was young I traveled a little bit around in our world. Now, when retired from my job, I travel in my own country in Finland. There is so much to see here, that I did not have any idea about it. My travel experiences I share with the world in my blog. I think also that we can make a travel to hobbies which we do not know normally. How many of us know “beading” or quilting? They are words, but what they presents?

    I am not academic, just an old man who lives very active life.

    Happy blogging!

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