Ferne Arfin 29 March 2020
Editorial: Why write about travel now?
There was a time, not all that long ago, when reading about travel was an aspirational activity. People opened magazine or newspaper travel pages, read favorite travel writers, watched travel programs on television, and, yes, even browsed the internet to dream about places they might visit…someday.
Not every click on a travel page or travel website was aimed at generating an instant sale – of a flight, a train ticket, a travel package, a hotel reservation, a rental car, a travel wardrobe. Not every reader of travel stories was planning to book a vacation on the spot.
When travel writing inspired
Thousands of people were undoubtedly inspired to visit the vast emptiness of southern Chile and Argentina after first hearing about the region from Bruce Chatwin’s beautiful book, In Patagonia. They learned about the Central Asian cultures hidden within the former Soviet Union from Colin Thubron’s The Lost Heart of Asia. They were moved to tears by Peter Matthiessen’s Himalayan meditations on his quest for The Snow Leopard.
These days, there are not many avenues for that kind of writing. Even the most talented travel writers, who used to hone their craft through features in quality magazines and Sunday supplements, have to spend too much of their time writing the kind of quick, short pieces that are more about selling trips and holiday packages than about inspiring travellers.
Travel writing in a time of pandemic
So here we are, all over the world, facing the COVID 19 contagion. Flights are cancelled, restaurants and bars are closed. So are visitor attractions, theatres, cinemas and public transportation. Vacationers and holiday makers are stranded thousands of miles from home. Everything necessary for travel is in a state of suspended animation.
Why write about travel now?
— Because we still like to dream about faraway places, about unfamiliar cultures, landscapes, foods, experiences.
— Because we still want to find out about undiscovered corners of our own countries, our own cities; to be surprised by something new hiding in plain sight, right around the corner from where we live.
— Because our irrepressible human curiosity to see what’s around that next bend, what’s at the end of that road, beyond that next mountain, cannot be suppressed forever.
One day this crisis will be over. Life will return to some kind of normality. When that happens, the desire to stretch our horizons, to go, to discover will explode.
And in the meantime, travel writers will be here helping those of us afflicted with wanderlust to bide our time with their storytelling, inspiring us all to dream about getting out of our armchairs to travel again.