Like almost everything else, the genre of Travel Writing has also undergone significant changes over the time. In the past, travel to distant places was mostly a unique experience available to a select few. Gradually, travel has become relatively accessible and cheaper to a much wider section of the public. Earlier, travel writings were more about the writer/ traveller venturing into the “unknown” and “undiscovered” lands, encountering dangers and experiencing exotic places. From Herodotus’s Histories, to Zhang Qian and Ibn Battuta’s narratives, travel writing in the ancient eras has largely depended on reportage and on the ground enquiry to make sense of the places the writers visited. As the world continued to shrink, thanks to several scientific discoveries and revolutions in transportation, travel writing ceased to be primarily a source of information about faraway places. With almost no place waiting to be “explored”, readers no longer looked for ‘information’ in the travel books but rather sought to establish a sort of connection with the writer whereby both share the same journey and experience the same essence in the shared space of narratives. As a result, travel writings tended to become more and more personal in nature.
In the recent decades, media and technology have played a crucial role in shaping the nature of contemporary travel writings. In the era of social media where information is readily available, photos are shared instantly and videos are broadcasted and shared from all parts of the globe, travel writers are exploring ways to succeed and thrive in the changed environment. This has invariably resulted in the exploration of new media platforms. Travel writers can now publish their works online through websites, blogs or even social media accounts. Although the printed books still remain important medium, writers are no longer dependent on the print-publishers to reach out to their audiences. This has great implications; by dismantling the traditional writer-publisher-reader chain, the new process leads the writers to address those dimensions of the genre which were hitherto untouched or unexplored. Thus online platforms have brought in more variety, diversity and innovation in terms of both content and the technique of writing. With the advent and popularity of travel blogging, anyone can publish their travel experiences without the supervision or censorship of an editorial body. This has not only reduced the space between the writer and the reader but also led to the creation of a pool of online content of diverse themes, qualities and most significantly, divergent perspectives.
‘Amateur blogging’ has most certainly revolutionized the nature and market of travel writing thereby rendering the task of professional writers even more challenging. Several researches and surveys have shown that many professional writers now look for personal branding to solidify their credibility and to build a loyal ‘fan-base’ that help to sustain their appeal to the market. This ‘branding’ facilitates to develop a sort of power equation that distinguishes professional writers from the amateurs. However, this distinction also gets blurred quite often.
Travelling and travel industry is one of the worst affected areas by the onslaught of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19. With unprecedented restrictions imposed on travel, travelling itself has become an issue of concern. Nobody is quite sure as to when travelling will return or whether at all it will return to its pre-COVID-19 form. With most countries closing their doors to foreign visitors until the situation gets back to ‘normal’, many are of the opinion that travelling will have changed by the humanity recovers from the shock, panic and fear. Some predict a less mobile future of travel which might witness an increased focus on local destinations in the near future. On a grimmer tone, some conjecture that travel might never return to the normalcy as we know it. With questions of safety and security looming large in the minds of people, the pandemic has radically altered the perceptions associated with travelling.
However, one interesting observation is that the lock-down days have witnessed a significant spike in the sale of travel books. Although this could be a temporary surge, this does testify to the collective wanderlust that characterizes human beings in general and have made travel writing as one of the most popular genre of literary writings.
Despite the changes and evolution in the genre discussed above, the essence of travel writing has remained the same and will perhaps stay that way in future as well. Soaking in the ambience, listening to people, relishing local foods, probing cultural nuances of a particular place and so on will always remain the common features of these narratives. From the ancient era, travel writing has also relied upon the most ancient art of storytelling. Stories, in any forms, have always appealed to human psyche and just recounting honest experience embedded in a form of story will always remain at the heart of travel writings. Experimentation with the form, medium and technique notwithstanding, these core essences will continue to breathe life into the travel accounts thereby keeping people hooked to the narratives.
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