Travel Writing

Truly evocative writing about place, travel writing is a genre that developed mainly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Earlier travel records can be singled out by their rarity: Herodotus, Marco Polo, Sir John Mandeville. ( Note that all of these authors were accused, at one time or another, of telling lies and tall tales.) The 16th century was characterized by histories of exploration and navigation, and the 19th century was, famously, the time of The Grand Tour.

Twentieth-century travel writers are inclined to be more individualistic, given to scoping out unique (and sometimes very obscure) areas of special interest. Tony Hawks travelled around Ireland with a fridge, and Richard Holmes hiked through the Cevennes, following in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson and his donkey, Modestine. Bill Bryson’s travel writing is known for his humour as much as it is for his descriptions of places; for a sample of his wicked wit, see his comments on the tacky tourist shops in Hamburg. Tim Moore is also one of the most entertaining travel writers that you could hope to read: for  his latest book, he goes out of his way to visit  the most boring places in Britain…

Often the best travel writers are literary authors who move into travel writing, sharing their experiences of a particular culture, country or city. I’m thinking of wonderful books like John Banville’s Prague, poet Patricia Storace’s Greece and novelist Francine Prose’s Sicily. All strongly recommended for armchair travel, or to take with you when you visit these places!

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