Travel writing is for reading and dreaming and tapping into another’s insights. I’ve been doing just that lately with a few stories from A Woman’s Path: Women’s Best Spiritual Travel Writing (published by Travelers’ Tales). With writers like Annie Lamott, Maya Angelou and Natalie Goldberg, it’s a book that you know is full of gold, wisdom and the stellar writing. It’s a slam-dunk for a travel reader. For me, it’s a renewed journey into exotic lands revealed through the thoughts and fears and courage of the women slipping into those worlds then back out again to say, “Here, this is what I thought, this is what I saw and learned and this is what changed me. Come share.”
The stories have renewed my interest in reading about travel.
I’d drifted away from the category, thinking – oh so wrongly – that I didn’t need it anymore, that travel articles are no longer relevant. Not to me. I have the Internet, Google and several travel sites that tell me everything I need to know about a destination, including how previous travelers judged it. And the travel reviews are up-to-date, telling me how clean the hotel is now, not five years ago when the travel manual last sent someone to check. Which shows, I know, that I have moved well and deep into the camp of Internet travel shoppers.
So, what is it about this travel writing that draws me so? I think it’s the personal essay heart of the writing. I’m learning about the place, but I’m sharing an inner journey at the same time. When Cherilyn Parsons writes about feeding a dying child at Mother Teresa’s orphanage in India, I see the orphanage, the desperation, and then, too, the awakening love in the author. We gain an understanding together, of the paradox of finding love in the most wretched and disheartening of situations.
This is armchair travel writing at its best. The genre’s writer takes us across continents, through chaotic bazaars, and into 5-star hotels, but it doesn’t bother to focus on the details of how we get there or who we call to book the passage. Maybe we’ll never go, maybe going is not the point. Reading about it is. Learning about the world and the people in it.
The book’s publisher describes this genre so well. Here’s what they say:
Stories stoke the imagination, inspire, frighten, and teach. In stories we see more clearly the urges that bring us to wander, whether it’s hunger for change, adventure, self knowledge, love, curiosity, or even something as prosaic as a job assignment or two weeks off. —Travelers’ Tales
I’ve become a fan of the publisher; I guess that shows. Even more telling than what I’ve said so far is the fact that I set out here to write a blog about travel writing, the sort of blogs I write best and most, the sort that have a how-to element to them. Then I got to thinking about Parsons’ story about Mother Teresa and about Anne Lamott’s bumpy ride in Row 38 (read the book for this one, too). And I thought, to me, this is really what travel writing is about.
Travel writing is most moving to me when it is more than a hotel on the beach (though I have nothing against a week in Cabo San Lucas). Travel writing to me is about a journey. It’s not a goal, as in, “I’ve done Europe and China, now off to Turkey!” And it’s not so much about where you go but where your body takes the ‘you’ in you — like, for example, to compassion and love in an orphanage in India.