Travel Writing in the 21st Century

Gone are the days of diaries detailing the living conditions on ships crossing oceans, tales of discovering new lands, and stories documenting the political pursuit to conquer the world. Okay, maybe people still write about those things, but the 21st century has arrived, and with it, an atmosphere conducive of the opportunity to write about travel. The Internet not only provides a means to seek travel opportunities, but also a space to share one’s travel experiences with the public. The creation of public spaces to write, such as blogs, evolved travel writing in addition to authors like Elizabeth Gilbert, who brought travel writing into the public eye in her novel turned film, Eat Pray Love.

It’s human nature to have an “ethnographic impulse,” the desire to learn more about who we are and where we came from (Rubies 243). I certainly have experienced that impulse, as evidence of this entire blog and my life-changing trip to Italy. I longed to see where my ancestors originated from and wanted to study the history of the motherland along the way. Documenting my experiences through writing has given me an outlet for my own self-discovery and using a blog to share my writing has provided me with a support system to continue doing so.

Travel writing takes so many forms and there are definitely blurred lines around the definition of travel writing. That’s actually something that I love about this genre. There are no rules, no guidelines I have to stay within, and no topics are off limits. I’ve written about topics that range from art replicas in Las Vegas all the way to getting lost in Italy while navigating the train system. I’ve written about topics that are full of emotion and others that are full of satire (like my brief comments about bidets), and I leave it all here, in this blog. I know that most of my readers are my friends on Facebook, who I casually notify each time I make a new post, but there are times when a complete stranger will like my post or leave a comment when they enjoyed my writing. This is why I write. This is why I share my experiences with others in such a public way.

“There is no politically innocent methodology for intercultural interpretation” (Clifford 19). No two people will ever have the same intercultural experience because there is no identical way for us to view the world. It’s okay to not like the food, or to think a location is not clean. It’s okay to disagree with the local politics, or to not understand the traditions. What is not okay though is blatant disrespect for another culture and their way of life and to think that your own ways are better. If that’s your mentality while traveling, then what is your purpose going at all?

When I travel I try to take everything in. I want to remember everything and I want to share my reflections with everyone. I want to evoke emotion and make people laugh. I want to show people that traveling and especially planning for a trip does not have to be stressful but that it’s also unrealistic for a travel experience to be “perfect.” There’s no such thing as a perfect trip. Getting lost, feeling embarrassed, becoming more humble, letting go of stresses, and laughing at yourself are the best consequences of traveling. I’ve certainly felt like a “stupid American,” while abroad, but I know each of those times made me grow as a global citizen. If others can experience that too through my writing, then I know I’m making a difference.

While I am now studying travel writing, my eyes are opening to how broad this genre can be. One thing that stands out though is that, “The travel narrative is addressed to the home culture” (Clark 1). This is something I believe to be true of all travel blogs. We write about our experiences to our intended audience, which is people who are just like us. If we are trying to share an experience and allow others to learn and grow through our writing, they need to understand it.

Whatever your purposes are for traveling or for writing, be open to the lessons that they both have to offer. That’s what I learned during my first week in Italy. When I arrived to my study abroad program, there was an immediate three-day weekend. Almost all of the students in my program took off for paradise-like and tourist destinations all over Europe but I did not. I was terrified. I was in a foreign country for the first time in my life and I was completely alone.

Though I had made friends who invited me to go with them to their destinations, I still said, “No.” And on that first night I spent alone in Italy, my roommates all off to other destinations, I put on a pot of spaghetti and I started writing this blog. I wrote, “Day One,” “Coperto,” and “Orvieto Underground” all on that first night alone, and I decided never again would I let myself feel scared of traveling. I would never turn down an opportunity to experience the world, and then, something quite amazing happened. I became who I am today. The day after I started this blog, I made some new friends who told me that they met a local Italian man who offered to take us on a hike to a nearby waterfall. Knowing inside that everything I learned as a young female growing up in the United States, I was supposed to turn down that opportunity, but I didn’t. Hiking to that waterfall was one of my favorite days in Italy, and in turn it prompted one of my favorite blog posts, “Sorry Dad” (don’t worry though, he forgave me).

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3 thoughts on “Travel Writing in the 21st Century

  1. Hi Mariah,

    I have to first say that when I first checked your blog to respond to, I was blown away by how pretty you had it set up that I had to revamp mine. I don’t want my blog to be abandoned once the class is over. I plan on exploring more of your site as I am definitely interested in reading about your experiences. Thank you for linking your first posts to this one 🙂

    Back to your blog – I like how you draw from the readings and relate them to your views on travel writing. I also like how blunt you are in regards to respecting the places you go versus having opinions on the experiences. What I would suggest in citing scholarly work is use their name within the sentence, and ever perhaps linking their work (if possible) rather than citing their work with the page – just to make it feel less essay-like. Overall, though, your voice is an appropriate balance for a public audience and academic writing.

    I have to thank you for telling us briefly about your first weekend in Italy. It reminded me of a time I was “alone” in a new place. It wasn’t very far but foreign to me nonetheless. Without giving too much away as I may use it for my own blog, I was left to explore San Diego by myself. I wasn’t afraid, though, I was so happy to be able to do it as dangerous as parents make it out to be. I took the light rail and buses for the first time on my own in a strange city, found my way to the beach, explored downtown. I had a blast. I’m glad you got yourself to go on that waterfall hike, it sounds amazing! I look forward to catching up on your blogs and upcoming ones as well 🙂 Nice work!

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  2. Mariah,
    The checker board images really drew me in to your site! What I really enjoyed about this post was the appropriate tone you struck with your audience. You weave pop culture and the theoretical readings in with your own voice seamlessly – your tone is easy going but mature. I want to read more, but for now I held back from reading “Puerto Penasco” since I will be writing on my trip there this summer. I’ll be sure to come back to it though. I’m so glad I visited your blog!

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  3. Hi Mariah,
    The structure of your blog is popping to the viewer showing colorful pictures and dates that speak to the place visited. Colors usually represent a person’s personality and attitude. Your array of colors tells me you are a vibrant and outgoing person, Your introduction provides a quick historical update to the 21st century – good job.
    Your blog left no dead space and your ending left readers with on a positive note. My suggestion to follow in reading the blog is not to insert websites within the paragraph. For me, it was a little distracting. Maybe at the end of the blog you could say – Visit these sites for more information – or something that will draw them to click the resources.
    I might have been cautious as you were when going on tourist destinations. I might have tried researching some of those places before. But since I have not traveled to Europe I really don’t know what I would have done. I am glad you enjoyed your trip!
    Janice Yargo-Gatchell

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