Travel writing might well be the oldest form of journalism. Its basic formula – I came, I saw, I wrote – is essentially journalistic, but it is one that predates the invention of newspapers, magazines, and indeed ‘journalists’ by many centuries. The book of ‘travels’, in which the writer ventures to foreign lands and records his impressions and encounters there, is a form which stretches back beyond the birth of mass media, beyond the inception of European empire, beyond the invention of the modern ‘novel’ (often pinpointed as the publication of Robinson Crusoe in 1719), past the thirteenth-century launch of the Travels of Marco Polo, and all the way to the writing desks of Herodotus and the other reporters of the ancient world. This, then, is a specialist genre with serious antecedents. Given this, and despite
travel writing’s reputation as lying at the softer end of the journalistic spectrum, it is perhaps unsurprising that it is a form that strays into deeply contentious territory, and which encounters daunting critical issues out there in the theoretical wilderness.
What exactly is ‘travel writing’? In the most basic sense it is simply any non-ﬁction writing which takes ‘place’ as its central subject matter. However, in the twentyﬁrst century the great gamut of travel writing can be broken down into three main subsets. At the top of the pile is ‘travel literature’, published in book form and spanning
a spectrum from the light-footed anecdotes of Bill Bryson, to the highbrow impressions of Colin Thubron. Much of this travel literature – particularly that which focuses on a speciﬁc theme within a place – can certainly be regarded as