Whenever you go on a trip to visit foreign lands or distant places, remember that they are all someone’s home and backyard.
— Vera Nazarian
Our first year traveling full time we spent on bicycles. It was a beautiful way to see the world. The drumbeat of pedal strokes become meditation, if you do it long enough. The predictable pattern to days is comforting in its simplicity: Pack the tent, ride 25 miles, picnic in the sun, ride 25 miles, set up the tent. Wash, rinse, repeat. Cycling forces an interaction with the landscape and the people who inhabit it that travel inside a vehicle does not. I love that.
But then, we turned a corner, our gap year became our life and we realized that we were going to keep going, keep traveling and our approach changed. We slowed down. We took to renting places for a few months at time instead of packing the tents every day. In sitting still we see a place differently than we do if we’re moving through, even if we’re moving in the slowest, most interactive way possible.
What is new and exotic to me is mundane to someone else. My favourite beach and dive vacation spot is on a stretch of ocean that is life and economic stability to someone else. The secret place I love to spend the winter might be heaven to me, but it’s a status quo prison to my friend who cannot escape it.
I don’t think about this enough. Most people don’t, I’d wager. If we did, we would travel differently, perhaps. Can we talk about that? How does the knowledge, and a growing understanding, of the fact that everywhere we go is someone else’s home and backyard change how we walk through this world? How should it?
“Wit, style, a keen and original mind, an eye for the unusual — these are what delight us in the travelogue writer. The compiler of a guidebook, on the other hand, must be a totally different kind of person. His job is to report the location, dimensions, age, and life-history of the monuments, and only incidentally, if at all the emotions or associations they arouse in his breast. Wit and originality have no place in such an assignment; in fact, they might very well get in the way. What he requires above all are the matter-of-fact virtues of thoroughness, diligence, and accuracy.”
–Lionel Casson, Travel in the Ancient World (1974)
“Sometimes I thought of the Peace Corps as a reverse refugee organization, displacing all of us lost Midwesterners, and it was probably the only government entity that taught Americans to abandon key national characteristics. Pride, ambition, impatience, the instinct to control, the desire to accumulate, the missionary impulse — all of it slipped away.”
–Peter Hessler, Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West (2013)
“China is easier to write about than Cheyenne, Leningrad easier than Louisville. But to see Cheyenne and Louisville written about well, to see the dailiness of America brought to life with freshness and humor, is to watch one of the hardest high-wire acts in travel writing.”
–William Zinsser, They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing (1991)
“Reading and restlessness — dissatisfaction at home, a sourness at being indoors, and a notion that the real world was elsewhere — made me a traveler. If the Internet was everything it was cracked up to be, we would all stay home and be brilliantly witty and insightful. Yet with so much contradictory information available, there is more reason to travel than ever before: to look closer, to dig deeper, to sort the authentic from the fake, to verify, to smell, to touch, to hear and sometimes – importantly – to suffer the effects of this curiosity.”
–Paul Theroux, The Last Train to Zona Verde (2013)
“As is often the case when I travel, my vulnerability — like not knowing what the hell I’m supposed to do upon arrival — makes me more open to outside interactions than I might otherwise be when I’m at home and think I know best what needs to be done. On the road, serendipity is given space to enter my life.”
–Andrew McCarthy, The Longest Way Home (2012)
“Because most tourists rarely penetrate beyond the boundaries of “tourist space,” they have few opportunities to experience and photograph that which is really “unspoiled.” Their limited knowledge of the culture and life of the indigenous people tends to narrow down their conception of the “typical” to the stereotypical. …Locals often stage themselves in response to perceived touristic demands for authenticity.”
–Erik Cohen, “Stranger-Local Interaction in Photography,” Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 19 No. 2 (1992)
“One strike against travel writing, though, is that many writers who describe familiar places without making shallow or trite observations suddenly run into trouble when they go on the road. They seem to lose their inhibitions when they find themselves in exotic surroundings, and start telling us how red-cheeked and healthy the children look, how much more in touch with nature Third World farmers appear, or how dull-witted the natives look because they stare at foreigners with their mouths hanging open. Part of the fun of being a traveler is making broad generalizations from what little you see and hear, or discovering that there is a grain of truth in many cultural stereotypes, but those sorts of insights don’t necessarily belong in a book.”
–Mark Salzman, in They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing (1991)
“I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravel’d world, whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.”
–Alfred Tennyson, “Ulysses” (1833)
“Now the quest for the authentic Other is one of vanishing horizons. One genuine “backstage” is penetrated, only to reveal another fake front-stage: the act of observation changes that which is observed. Hence travelers do not (indeed cannot) succeed in their quest any more than tourists. That is only too clear from the accounts of the great Victorian travelers which are riddled with gross misconceptions. If they were not so serious, as with their concern (for instance) for the ‘mysteries’ of the Middle-Eastern harem, they would be laughable.”
–David Brown, “Genuine fakes,” from The Tourist Image: Myths and Myth Making in Tourism (1996)