Most travel writing is rubbish. The kind of travel writing that gets published in national newspapers and magazines is usually just there to fill in the space between the glossy photos and the advertisements. Any travel related articles that are challenging, controversial, or even just interesting, are likely to be rejected if there is even the slightest chance of alienating potential advertisers. Few magazines are now willing to take the more long term view, that quality content will attract more readers over the long term, leading eventually to higher advertising revenues.
The other big problem is that travel writing – even for national publications – is so poorly paid, that it is only really viable if you were already planning to visit somewhere, or if the trip is being paid for by an advertiser. Any criticism, questioning or even irreverence, is therefore unlikely to go down particularly well. Most travel writers eventually realise that if all they are going to be doing is writing disguised advertising copy, then they might as well get a better paid job doing this elsewhere, and use the extra money to pay for their own holidays.
Most of the travel books currently being published are either written by television personalities, involve aspirational lifestyle changes, or revolve around some kind of novelty quest (an ideal travel book proposal would probably involve Katie Price bouncing to Tuscany on a space hopper). Every now and again, however, a more interesting kind of travel writing will be unleashed upon the world.
Here is a list of some of the best alternative and anti-travel writing to have ever have been published:
P.J. O’Rourke: Holidays in Hell
This is the first book that I read by P.J. O’Rourke and it’s still one of his best. It’s basically just a collection of articles written over several years, in which he visits some of the world’s less obvious tourist attractions. I couldn’t help feeling that all of these destinations seemed far more appealing than the thought of spending a fortnight by the beach at a luxury hotel. Clever, funny and different.
Daniel Kalder: The Lost Cosmonaut
According to Daniel Kalder: “The duty of the traveller, of the voyager, is to open up new zones of experience. In our over explored world these must of necessity be wastelands, black holes, and grim urban blackspots: all the places which, ordinarily, people choose to avoid. The only true voyagers, therefore, are anti-tourists”. I actually liked the idea of the book more than the book itself. Nevertheless, Daniel Kalder is a writer with some good ideas who is not afraid to challenge the conventions of travel writing.
Dave Eggers: You Shall Know Our Velocity
Strictly speaking, this isn’t actually a travel book, but a novel about a series of related journeys. If Douglas Coupland were to write a travelogue, then it would probably end up being something like this. Others have drawn comparison to beat writers such as Jack Kerouac but the style if far more contemporary. While not as good as his acclaimed debut ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ it is still clever, stylish and interestingly odd.
Andrew Mueller: I Wouldn’t Start from Here
As with ‘Holidays in Hell’ this book consists of a series of articles written about some of world’s least touristed but most interesting destinations. Subtitled ‘The 21st Century and Where It All Went Wrong’, the author visits recent hot spots and interviews a series of influential figures. Being as much of a rock journalist, as a foreign correspondent, his explorations of some of the darker realities of the modern world are often punctuated by references to popular culture.