Alden Jones on the ethical conundrum of travel writing

“Good writers — travel writers or otherwise — make real and tangible a world that some readers have never inhabited. Just look at the great draw of the bizzaro worlds of “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games.” What turns travel writing into an ethical question that sets it apart from sci-fi or literary fiction is that travel writers take real cultures and erect them for readers who trust them to be loyal and accurate. But the truth is, most travel writers are only passing through.”
–Alden Jones, “Is ‘Exoticism’ A Dirty Word?” WBUR Cognoscenti, August 30, 2013

Posted by | Comments (4)  | October 28, 2013
Category: Travel Quote of the Day, Travel Writing

4 Responses to “Alden Jones on the ethical conundrum of travel writing”

  1. DEK Says:

    There was a time when, if you wanted to learn about a distant place, a traveler’s account was about your only source. But for a long time now — well before the Internet — we have had a richness of other sources far superior to the accounts of passing travelers. We read travel literature to learn about the experience of a traveler there who, like us, will only be passing through. The report of a long-time resident, however knowledgable, is not travel literature. Travel literature is not about the place visited, but about the experience of visiting it.

  2. Rolf Potts Says:

    Well said, DEK.

  3. Roger Says:

    Too many times I’ve had to be in a hurry through a place worth exploring and said to myself, “I wish I could stay here a while.”

  4. Peter Korchnak Says:

    Thanks for sharing the quote. I agree with Alden Jones that good travel writing makes a place real in the mind of the reader. So often though, I read more about a traveler’s experience in a place rather than about the place itself – the experience of someone just passing through gets way more ink and pixel than bringing the place to life for someone reading the text. I find this to be the case mostly with travel blogs. Essays of the ilk that make it to travel writing anthologies seem to me to describe a place through stories of people inhabiting the place, while placing the experience of the traveler himself in the background.