Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Week One: Motivation of Travel

There are quite a lot of different types of travel writings out there, and a lot of different types of travel writers. Some travel writers are professionals (or would-be professional travel writers) who make a living traveling on someone else's dime or would like to, possibly having found a way to support themselves while traveling extensively; some travel writers, though, work in other capacities, and only occasionally write and publish their experiences.

Such pieces of travel writing might include details on how to travel cheaply (helpful for would-be travelers who might not have a lot of travel experience, or those who are going to a very new place and don't know where to start in terms of planning), where to eat or stay, and other pieces of advice. Some travel writing is akin to investigative journalism, focusing on social conflicts. Others write about first hand and personal experiences; many of these works can be found in publications such as the Best American Travel Writing series. Catherine Watson's "Where the Roads Diverged" speaks to the manner in which travel can be a search for home, but the allure of an idealized home doesn't necessarily include the consideration of minutiae or the complications of the necessity of self-sufficiency. Travel can be romantic, but can lead to fading idealism.

And then, of course, there are guidebooks, written anonymously or as part of a larger organization, such as the Lonely Planet or the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, or as part of personable travel guides like Rick Steves (whose focus seems to be mingling with the locals, but who has horrible foreign language pronunciation and nearly always seems to wear khakis) or Burt Wolf (who consistently stays in higher end hotels, and whose audiences are arguably older or mature). Some travel writers, though, write about their travels to share their adventures with their friends and family, and/or to remember the specifics of their travels.  Blogging is fairly easy way to become notice and gain an audience. Travel blogs and short stories (like those found in the The Best American Series, which includes a travel series) are something in which I'm becoming more interested; I like reading about people's personal travel experiences, and these are the sorts of things I'm likely to continue reading: hearing (so to speak) about people's experiences with those from other countries, places they've visited, food they've eaten, the history of different countries - all interesting topics.

Some travel blogs are more interesting than others; on my own, I'd read blogs that include simply personal narrative, and would tend to avoid that blogs like Runaway Jane, whose motivation seems to include increasing readership. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, but I'm not especially interested in lists, ways of saying "drunk" in Scottish,  or "Instagram Guides." (Although the content of that last blog post was interesting - and travel photography certainly can be - the title was a deterrent. I also don't need to be educated on how to travel cheaply or how to research information about a country I'm about to visit, but I can see the value in that for those who have traveled less.)

Something I hadn't much considered, though, are the reasons behind travel writing - the traveler's motivations. I'd never put much thought into this myself, mostly because my own motivation is curiosity, as well as having an appreciation for seeing something new. Clark notes that there are few declarations of admitting curiosity, novelty, or grief as motivations behind travel, believing that travel writers are imperialist; and that travel writing promotes, confirms, and laments the exercise of imperial power, which pervades the travel writer "at every level" (3); he notes that post-war travel writing has "become more sensitised to ethnic stereotyping...however, it refuses to relinquish its basic prerogatives" (10). I would argue that many there are many other reasons to travel (for example, visiting one's ancestral homeland, which might ostensibly be categorized as curiosity), and that travelers are not always aware of the reasons they travel. I would also argue that curiosity and novelty are the primary reasons for travel, but have difficulty in agreeing that this is genuinely imperial attitude.

Martin Jacques, in his TEDTalk "Understanding the rise of China," makes a valid point when it comes to cultural awareness, that there is a danger in applying individual cultural norms and mentalities to other countries, such as in the case towards China: He opines that the "attitude towards China is that of a kind of little Westerner mentality. It's kind of arrogant. It's arrogant in the sense that we think that we are best, and therefore we have the universal measure. And secondly, it's ignorant." Perhaps this would be a benefit of more advanced travel, though, or simply being aware that there is very little to universality. One might question the ethos of such a mentality, but this might be something I explore in a future blog post.

Being able to travel does require a level of financial independence that is not available to everyone at all times, but I'm not sure whether that can be categorized as imperialist. Having the financial wherewithal to travel is necessary; having a job that provides you with enough time off and/or flexibility with time off (or being financially well off enough not to need a job, or having enough of a retirement) is also essential. Several non-teacher friends and acquaintances have the luxury of packing up and going during the times of year I can't, if I want to keep teaching. Teaching is not conducive to winter holidays unless one takes a sabbatical.

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