October 20, 2014

Travel writing is about what the place brings out of the writer

“What raises travel writing to literature is not what the writer brings to a place, but what a place brings out of the writer.”
–William Zinsser, in They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing (1991)

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October 13, 2014

Tourism is like a quick fix of empathy

“This is the grand fiction of tourism, that bringing our bodies somewhere draws that place closer to us, or we to it. It’s a quick fix of empathy. We take it like a shot of tequila, or a bump of coke from the key to a stranger’s home. We want the inebriation of presence to dissolve the fact of difference. Sometimes the city fucks on the first date, and sometimes it doesn’t. But always, always, we wake up in the morning and find that we didn’t know it at all.”
–Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams (2014)

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October 6, 2014

Off-the-beaten-track adventure is still possible

“Rather than lament the fact that trips would have been better in some golden age of travel, we might as well celebrate the fact that we are enjoying the tail-end of an era in which a certain kind of off-the-beaten-track adventure is still possible.”
–Nicholas Danforth, World travel can be all about timing, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/20/2012

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September 29, 2014

Tourism has a way of spoiling the unspoiledness you are there to experience

“I confess that I have never understood why so many people’s idea of a fun vacation is to don flip-flops and sunglasses and crawl through maddening traffic to loud hot crowded tourist venues in order to sample a ‘local flavor’ that is by definition ruined by the presence of tourists. This may (as my Festival companions keep pointing out) all be a matter of personality and hardwired taste: The fact that I just do not like tourist venues means that I’ll never understand their appeal and so am probably not the one to talk about it (the supposed appeal). But, since this note will almost surely not survive magazine-editing anyway, here goes: As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way — hostile to my fantasy of being a real individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. (Coming up is the part that my companions find especially unhappy and repellent, a sure way to spoil the fun of vacation travel:) To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.”
–David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster, Gourmet, August 2004

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September 22, 2014

Ariel Levy on the anxiety that hits just before a journey begins

“I always get terrified right before I travel. I become convinced that this time will be different: I won’t be able to figure out the map, or communicate with non-English speakers, or find the people I need in order to write the story I’ve been sent in search of. I will be lost and incompetent and vulnerable. I know that my panic will turn to excitement once I’m there — it always does — but that doesn’t make the fear before takeoff any less vivid.”
–Ariel Levy, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” The New Yorker, 11/18/2013

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September 15, 2014

When you travel more slowly, you make stronger connections

“Michael [Rockefeller] was working with a bottomless supply of money — the one thing that limits most people, that checks them, that forces them to use friendship and reciprocity and patience with others. And there is a profound difference between people who are friends and people who want your money. Had Michael had less money, he could have had to move more slowly, would have had to settle in villages for longer, to trade, to make connections, to become known. Instead, he averaged a day or two in every village; he arrived, bought, and moved on.”
–Carl Hoffman, Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art (2014)

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September 8, 2014

You can “travel” anywhere you want before you actually go there

“There is very little mystery left in driving around America when you can search a million photos of the Grand Canyon online, or when you hew rigidly to the route laid out by the automated Google Maps voice as you roll through the desert. You can travel anywhere you want before you actually go there. Inevitably, this changes how it feels to arrive at a new place — leaving you with that nagging sense of having been there before, of having lived this moment before. Digital culture demystifies something that strains to remain legendary, demoting an enigmatic frontier to the banality of a default desktop photo. • The effect of digital culture isn’t just how it alters our old dreams, but also what it offers as an alternative. If physical space feels finite even when we couldn’t possibly see it all in person, the new worlds we create for ourselves feel truly limitless. The Internet, of course, is the main venue in question, with its countless portals to wherever we wish to go, with the way it fragments us from a single person into a Facebook self, a Twitter self, etc. What is perhaps less considered is how open-world video games have, for a not-inconsequential portion of a certain generation, supplanted that notion of discovering yourself somewhere in the American continent. • There’s still plenty to be said for the experience of driving across America, but increasingly, it’s the virtual worlds that trigger our imagination. We no longer have to be concerned about arriving at the opposite coast and realizing that we still have ourselves to deal with when we arrive. Now we can acutely craft how we present to others with our various profiles, or disappear entirely into characters in some sprawling digitized world. Mostly, these kinds of games still operate in a fantasy/sci-fi vein, offering the player a world entirely dissociated from our own. We require different things out of video games than other art — we seek an active performativity, and games like ‘Skyrim’ or ‘World of Warcraft’ deliver.”
–Ryan Leas, Move over, Kerouac! “Grand Theft Auto” is the American Dream narrative now, Salon, 1/5/14

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September 1, 2014

Thomas Swick on the merits of traveling alone

“Of course, writers of any kind are never the norm; those of us who write about travel are different from the start, since we usually head out alone. The reason cited most often is freedom from distraction; when you’re by yourself, you’re more attuned to your surroundings. Less discussed, but just as important, is the fact that, alone, you’re also more sensitive. You not only notice your surroundings more clearly, you respond to them more deeply. Smiles and small kindnesses mean more to the unattached traveler than they do to a happy couple. A merchant in Fethiye adds a few extra sweets to my purchase and I’m extremely touched, in part because no one has paid any attention to me in days. If I’d been there chatting with my wife, I wouldn’t have been so moved; I may not have even been aware. And the merchant quite possibly would not have been inspired like he was by my lonely presence.”
–Thomas Swick, A Moving Experience, The Morning News, 12/03/2013

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August 25, 2014

William Least Heat-Moon on why we travel

“Why do we, for a spell, trade the security and comfort of a familiar place for the liberty offered by an unfamiliar space, a swap of domestic fixity for freedom of the open road? Even if we go as tourists, where there and then dominate the peregrination — rather than going like travelers, who each moment try to embrace the challenge of the here and now — don’t we usually set out motivated by curiosity of one degree or another? (A tourist, of course, may grow into a deeper traveler just as a journeyman sawyer becomes a master wheelwright; and further, all travelers, even the most awakened, are at times forced into mere tourism.) When we go on a visit (related to the word view), what may we hope to see (related to seek)? And what happens within us when seeing develops into seeking that encourages further seeing? Is such questioning not among the highest orders of human inquiry?”
–William Least Heat-Moon, Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road (2013)

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August 18, 2014

Mike Spencer Bown on the dark side of travel and technology

“It used to be that you would hardly ever see anyone you met ever again. With the advent of email, the half-life of a friendship was about a year. Keeping up with mail tended to fall off at that rate, but with Facebook it lasts forever. There is a dark side, however. Over the last several years I’ve often found entire hostel common rooms, with perhaps 40 backpackers, all absorbed in smartphones and tablets, barely aware of each other’s presence.”
–Mike Spencer Bown, What I’ve Learned: The World’s Most Traveled Man, Esquire, 10/25/13

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day
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