Travel writing covers a wide spectrum .Guidebooks emphasize practical touring while travelogues, memoirs and essays are more concerned with a sense of place. Adventure and armchair travel take the reader on trips they may not want to hazard themselves -or cannot afford. The following group of writers include several of these genres.
Although he is best known as a humorist and a novelist, Twain also wrote travel commentaries. It was a rare thing in the 19th century for Americans to be traipsing abroad except for the upper crust who had to make their homage to Europe. Twain traveled all over. Innocents Abroad covers his travel across the world and brings an American perspective to other cultures and a cutting edge of sarcasm to the ways of the world.
John Steinbeck. When you think of Steinbeck, you think of The Grapes of Wrath or perhaps East of Eden or his short stories. All of his works contain such minute and vivid descriptions of the American landscape as well as her people. But his Travels with Charlie is actually a travel memoir about his journey cross-country in a truck fitted as a sleeping van accompanied by his dog Charlie. These include both adventures and some philosophizing.
Not too well known now, but a staple in the 1920s and 1930s, he was an early advocate of adventure journalism. We had several of his books in my house and I read them as a child. Halliburton would recreate famous expeditions such as Hannibal crossing the Alps or Ulysses’ sea voyages. At a time before the Internet, Halliburton and Lowell Thomas instilled a love of adventure travel in American readers.
John Muir. Though he was born in Scotland, Muir grew up in America, first in the Midwest and then in the pioneering country of California. He walked a thousand miles across the country then took a boat to Cuba and Panama and wrote about his trek. But his main influence was in the field of conservation. His writings helped to create Yosemite National Park and he founded the Sierra Club which still acts today as a bastion of ecological conservation. His writings reflect his love of nature and wilderness areas.
Although I know him mostly as a novelist of such books as The Mosquito Coast, Theroux has gained a reputation as a travel writer because of the way he is able to generalize a whole culture from the observations of his travels. He gained his travel reputation from The Great Railway Bazaar, a travelogue about a trip he made by train that covered Britain, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South-East Asia, and Japan and then back across the northern loop to England again. He has written other travel essays and works as well as novels.
Elizabeth Gilbert. Her book Eat, Pray, Love became an international best seller with over 12 million copies in print. It is a strange mixture of personal memoir, travelogue and self-help book. Gilbert is an acute observer and her descriptions of foreign places and people make them come alive. Her year-long journey through Italy, India and Indonesia describes a progression through sensual eating, ascetic prayer and flowering intimacy in the three countries where she sojourned. I generally don’t like personal journeys of discovery, but she does it so well, she becomes every woman.
Frances Mayes: Under the Tuscan Sun is the pre-eminent expatriate book. How to buy an Italian villa, renovate it, meet the locals, renovate some more, hold dinners parties, work in the garden and write it all down in colorful, sensual prose. Mayes has written another book about her travels to other parts of the world with her lover, Ed. The movie version of Under the Tuscan Sun had a lot more drama, but the book has a lot more recipes. So if you can imagine yourself in a Tuscan villa making morels in wine or whatever you will enjoy this book. This book probably appeals more to women than to men.
When it comes to guidebooks, Frommer Travel books seem to cover every corner of the world. But this series emanated from a single self-published guide which he wrote and self-published called The GI’s Guide to Traveling in Europe. It emphasized budget travel and sold well, so Frommer restructured it into Europe on $5 a Day, an instant hit. Later editions used commentaries from various readers who wrote in with tips. Frommer became a pioneer not only in practical reporting for the average traveler, but in the increasing use of feedback from the public.
Rick Steves: Steves is an example of an accidental tourist who becomes a beacon of common sense to the traveling public. Rick became enamored of traveling through Europe after his first experience as a teenager, visiting piano factories with his father. In 1976, he started a business called Europe through the Back Door and conducted guided tours throughout the continent. His first book, Europe Through the Back Door, used his tour technique to take the reader through the day and offer practical tips. There have been many more books covering individual countries since. He also has an engaging TV series on PBS.
Pico Iyer. This travel writer/essayist/philosopher was born in England of Indian parents but his family migrated to the United States when he was seven and he grew up in California. His works can be found in magazines (Time) the Internet (www.worldhum.com and www.salon.com) and the several books he has authored. Such titles as Video Night in Kathmandu and Falling off the Map show his particular and interesting slant on the world as someone from a multi-national background who can relate to other cultures in a unique way. He also edited the annual edition of Traveler’s Tales for many years.
Crafting the Travel Guidebook