Travel literature

Travel literature
Travel writing and its most common sub-genres
First edition of Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)

Travel literature is travel writing of literary value. Travel literature typically records the experiences of an author touring a place for the pleasure of travel. An individual work is sometimes called a travelogue or itinerary. Travel literature may be cross-cultural or transnational in focus, or may involve travel to different regions within the same country. Accounts of spaceflight may also be considered travel literature.

Literary travelogues generally exhibit a coherent narrative or aesthetic beyond the logging of dates and events as found in travel journals or a ship's log. Travel literature is closely associated with outdoor literature and the genres often overlap with no definite boundaries. Another sub-genre, invented in the 19th century, is the guide book.



Handwritten notes by Christopher Colombus on the Latin edition of Marco Polo's Il Milione.

Early examples of travel literature include Pausanias' Description of Greece in the 2nd century CE, and the travelogues of Ibn Jubayr (1145–1214) and Ibn Batutta (1304–1377), both of whom recorded their travels across the known world in detail. The travel genre was a fairly common genre in medieval Arabic literature.[1]

One of the earliest known records of taking pleasure in travel, of travelling for the sake of travel and writing about it, is Petrarch's (1304–1374) ascent of Mount Ventoux in 1336. He states that he went to the mountaintop for the pleasure of seeing the top of the famous height. His companions who stayed at the bottom he called frigida incuriositas ("a cold lack of curiosity"). He then wrote about his climb, making allegorical comparisons between climbing the mountain and his own moral progress in life.

Michault Taillement, a poet for the Duke of Burgundy, travelled through the Jura Mountains in 1430 and left us with his personal reflections, his horrified reaction to the sheer rock faces, and the terrifying thunderous cascades of mountain streams.[citation needed] Antoine de la Sale (c. 1388–c. 1462), author of Petit Jehan de Saintre, climbed to the crater of a volcano in the Lipari Islands in 1407, leaving us with his impressions. "Councils of mad youth" were his stated reasons for going. In the mid 15th century, Gilles le Bouvier, in his Livre de la description des pays, gave us his reason to travel and write:

Because many people of diverse nations and countries delight and take pleasure, as I have done in times past, in seeing the world and things therein, and also because many wish to know without going there, and others wish to see, go, and travel, I have begun this little book.

In 1589, Richard Hakluyt (c. 1552–1616) published Voyages, a foundational text of the travel literature genre.

Other later examples of travel literature include accounts of the Grand Tour. Aristocrats, clergy, and others with money and leisure time travelled Europe to learn about the art and architecture of its past. One tourism literature pioneer was Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894).

Travel literature also became popular during the Song Dynasty (960–1279) of medieval China.[2] The genre was called 'travel record literature' (youji wenxue), and was often written in narrative, prose, essay and diary style.[3] Travel literature authors such as Fan Chengda (1126–1193) and Xu Xiake (1587–1641) incorporated a wealth of geographical and topographical information into their writing, while the 'daytrip essay' Record of Stone Bell Mountain by the noted poet and statesman Su Shi (1037–1101) presented a philosophical and moral argument as its central purpose.[4]

In the 18th century, travel literature was commonly known as the book of travels, which mainly consisted of maritime diaries.[5] In 18th century England, almost every famous writer worked in the travel literature form.[6] Captain James Cook's diaries (1784) were the equivalent of today's best sellers.


The Americans, Paul Theroux, Bill Bryson and William Least Heat-Moon, Welsh author Jan Morris and Englishman Eric Newby are or were widely acclaimed as travel writers although Morris is also a historian and Theroux a novelist.

Travel literature often intersects with essay writing, as in V. S. Naipaul's India: A Wounded Civilization, where a trip becomes the occasion for extended observations on a nation and people. This is similarly the case in Rebecca West's work on Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.

Sometimes a writer will settle into a locality for an extended period, absorbing a sense of place while continuing to observe with a travel writer's sensibility. Examples of such writings include Lawrence Durrell's Bitter Lemons, Deborah Tall's The Island of the White Cow and Peter Mayle's best-selling A Year in Provence and its sequels.

Travel and nature writing merge in many of the works by Sally Carrighar, Ivan T. Sanderson and Gerald Durrell. These authors are naturalists, who write in support of their fields of study. Charles Darwin wrote his famous account of the journey of HMS Beagle at the intersection of science, natural history and travel.

Literary travel writing also occurs when an author, famous in another field, travels and writes about his or her experiences. Examples of such writers are Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Mary Wollstonecraft, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hilaire Belloc, D. H. Lawrence, Rebecca West and John Steinbeck.


Fictional travelogues make up a large proportion of travel literature. Although it may be desirable in some contexts to distinguish fictional from non-fictional works, such distinctions have proved notoriously difficult to make in practice, as in the famous instance of the travel writings of Marco Polo or John Mandeville. Many "fictional" works of travel literature are based on factual journeys – Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and presumably, Homer's Odyssey (c. 8th cent. BCE) – while other works, though based on imaginary and even highly fantastic journeys – Dante's Divine Comedy, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Voltaire's Candide or Samuel Johnson's The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia – nevertheless contain factual elements.

Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957) and The Dharma Bums (1958) are fictionalized accounts of his travels across the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

One contemporary example of a real life journey transformed into a work of fiction is travel writer Kira Salak's novel, The White Mary, which takes place in Papua New Guinea and the Congo and is largely based on her own experiences in those countries.[7][8][9]

Travel literature in criticism

The systematic study of travel literature emerged as a legitimate field of scholarly inquiry in the mid-1990s, with its own conferences, organizations, journals, monographs, anthologies, and encyclopedias. Among the most important, pre-1995 monographs are: Abroad (1980) by Paul Fussell, an exploration of British interwar travel writing as escapism; Gone Primitive: Modern Intellects, Savage Minds (1990) by Marianna Torgovnick, an inquiry into the primitivist presentation of foreign cultures; Haunted Journeys: Desire and Transgression in European Travel Writing (1991) by Dennis Porter, a close look at the psychological correlatives of travel; Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women’s Travel Writing by Sara Mills, an inquiry into the intersection of gender and colonialism during the nineteenth century; Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (1992), Mary Louise Pratt's influential study of Victorian travel writing’s dissemination of a colonial mind-set; and Belated Travelers (1994), an analysis of colonial anxiety by Ali Behdad.

The study of travel writing developed most extensively in the late 1990s, encouraged by the currency of Foucauldian criticism and Edward Said's postcolonial landmark study Orientalism. This growing interdisciplinary preoccupation with cultural diversity, globalization, and migration is expressed in other fields of literary study, most notably Comparative Literature. The first international travel writing conference, “Snapshots from Abroad”, organized by Donald Ross at the University of Minnesota in 1997, attracted over one hundred scholars and led to the foundation of the International Society for Travel Writing (ISTW).[10] The first issue of Studies in Travel Writing was published the same year, edited by Tim Youngs. Annual scholarly conferences about travel writing, held in the USA, Europe and Asia, saw an unprecedented upswing in the number of published travel literature monographs and essay collections, as well as a proliferation of travel writing anthologies.

Major directions in recent travel writing scholarship include: studies about the role of gender in travel and travel writing (e.g. Women Travelers in Colonial India: The Power of the Female Gaze [1998] by Indira Ghose); explorations of the political functions of travel (e.g. Radicals on the Road: The Politics of English Travel Writing in the 1930s [2001] by Bernard Schweizer); postcolonial perspectives on travel (e.g. English Travel Writing: From Pilgrimages to Postcolonial Explorations (2000) by Barbara Korte); and studies about the function of language in travel and travel writing (e.g. Across the Lines: Travel, Language, and Translation [2000] by Michael Cronin). Tim Youngs is a driving force behind the growth of the field, notably through the journal Studies in Travel Writing, through his two co-edited volumes of essays on travel writing, Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing (2002), co-edited with T. Hulme, and Perspectives in Travel Writing (2004), co-edited with G. Hooper. Youngs also co-organized the 2005 travel writing conference, “Mobilis in Mobile”, in Hong Kong. Kristi Siegel is another prolific editor of travel writing scholarship, having edited Issues in Travel Writing: Empire, Spectacle and Displacement (2002), as well as Gender, Genre, and Identity in Women’s Travel Writing (2004).[11]

Notable travel writers and travel literature

Note: listed by year of birth

8th century BC

  • Homer (fl. 8th century BC)
    Odyssey epic poem accounting the travels of the Greek hero, Odysseus, on his voyage home from Troy.

5th century BC

2nd century AD

  • Lucian of Samosata (c. 125 – after c. 180)
    True History documents a fantastic voyage that parodies many mythical travels recounted by other authors, such as Homer; considered to be among the first works of science fiction.
  • Pausanias (fl. 2nd century)
    Description of Greece

4th century

  • Decimus Magnus Ausonius (c. 310 – 395)
    Mosella (The Moselle, c. 370) — describes the poet's trip to the banks of the river Moselle, then in Gaul.
  • Faxian (c. 337 – c. 422), Chinese traveler to India and Ceylon
    A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms: Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fâ-Hien of His Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414) in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline

5th century

  • Rutilius Claudius Namatianus (fl. 5th century)
    De reditu suo (Concerning His Return, c. 416) — the poet describes his voyage along the Mediterranean seacoast from Rome to Gaul.

7th century

8th century

10th century

  • Ahmad ibn Fadlan (fl. 10th century)
    Kitāb ilā Mulk al-Saqāliba (كتاب إلى ملك الصقالبة) (A letter to the king al-Saqāliba, Ibn Faḍlān's account of the caliphal embassy from Baghdad to the King of the Volga Bulghārs, c. 921)

11th century

12th century

13th century

14th century

  • Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1368 or 1369), Moroccan world traveler
    Rihla (1355) — literally entitled: "A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling".

15th century

16th century

  • Ẓahīr ud-Dīn Muḥammad Bābur (1483-1531), founder of the Mughal Empire
    Baburnama, memoirs, including his descriptions of the places he lived and/or conquered.
  • Duarte Barbosa (?–1521), Portuguese writer and explorer who died in Magellan's circumnavigation
    The book of Duarte Barbosa: an account of the countries bordering the Indian Ocean and their inhabitants (1516, originally known through the testimony of Italian Giovanni Battista Ramusio)
  • Fernão Mendes Pinto (1509–1583), Portuguese explorer and writer
    Peregrinação (meaning "Pilgrimage", published posthumously in 1614) — memoir of his travels in the Middle and Far East, Ethiopia, Arabian Sea, India and Japan, as one of the first Europeans to reach it in 1542.
  • Richard Hakluyt (c. 1552–1616)
    The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589) — a foundational text of the travel literature genre.

17th century

  • Evliya Çelebi, (1610–1683)
  • Johann Sigmund Wurffbain (1613–1661)
    Reise Nach Den Molukken Und Vorder-Indien, 1632-1646 (Travel to the Moluccas and the Middle East Indies, 1632-1646) (1646)[12]
  • François de La Boullaye-Le Gouz (1623–1668)
    Les voyages et observations du sieur de La Boullaye Le gouz (1653 & 1657) — one of the very first true travel books.
  • Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694)
    Kashima Kikō (A Visit to Kashima Shrine) (1687)
    Oi no Kobumi, or Utatsu Kikō (Record of a Travel-Worn Satchel) (1688)
    Sarashina Kikō (A Visit to Sarashina Village) (1688)
    The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (trans. 1967)
  • Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)
    Gulliver's Travels (1726, amended 1735)
  • Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762) — known for the letters she wrote during several trips abroad, which were important for later female travel writers. These letters include:
    Turkish Embassy Letters — letters describing her life as an ambassador's wife in Turkey, important as one of the earliest discussions of the Muslim world by a woman

18th century

19th century

20th century

21st century

  • Michael Palin (b. 1943)
    Sahara (2002)
  • Julian Barnes (b. 1946)
    A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (1989)
    England, England (1998)
  • Tom Miller (b. 1947)
    Best Travel Writing 2005, introduction, pp. xvii-xxi, (2005)
    A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration, (2004) pp. 325–343.
    Writing on the Edge: A Borderlands Reader, (ed.) (2003)
    Travelers' Tales—Cuba, (ed.) (2001)
    Jack Ruby's Kitchen Sink: Offbeat Travels Through America's Southwest (2000)
    Trading With the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba (1992)
    The Panama Hat Trail: A Journey From South America (1986)
    Arizona: The Land and the People, (ed.) (1986)
    On the Border: Portraits of America's Southwestern Frontier (1981)
  • Mikirō Sasaki (b. 1947), Japanese poet and travel essayist
    Ajia kaidō kikō: umi wa toshi de aru (A Travel Journal of the Asian Seaboard, 2002)
  • Lawrence Millman (b. 1948)
    An Evening Among Headhunters: And Other Reports from Roads Less Taken (1999)
    Last Places: A Journey in the North (2000)
    Northern Latitudes (2000)
    Lost in the Arctic: Explorations on the Edge (2002)
  • Chris Stewart (b. 1950)
    Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia (1999)
    A Parrot in the Pepper Tree (2002)
    The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society (2007)
  • Bill Bryson (b. 1951)
    The Palace Under the Alps (1985) — an early work that is more of a travel guide than a narrative.
    Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe (1992)
    Notes from a Small Island (1995) — travels in the United Kingdom.
    A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (1999)
    In a Sunburned Country (2001)
  • Douglas Adams (1952–2001)
    Last Chance to See (1990)
  • Vikram Seth (b. 1952)
    From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet (1983)
  • Predrag Miletić (b. 1952)
    By bicycle to Hilandar (2004)
  • Quim Monzó (b. 1952)
    Guadalajara (1997)
    Barcelona und andere Erzählungen (2007)
  • Neil Peart (b. 1952), drummer for the Canadian rock band Rush
    The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa (1996)
    Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road (2002) – a chronicle of motorcycle trips through North and Central America
    Traveling Music: The Soundtrack of My Life and Times (2004) – a contemplative road trip
  • Kenn Kaufman (b. 1954)
    Kingbird Highway: The Story of a Natural Obsession That Got a Little Out of Hand (1997)
  • Rory MacLean (b. 1954)
    Stalin’s Nose (1992)
    The Oatmeal Ark (1997)
    Under the Dragon (1998)
    Next Exit Magic Kingdom (2000)
    Falling for Icarus (2004)
    Magic Bus (2006)
  • Dennison Berwick (b. 1956)
    Savages, The Life and Killing of the Yanomami (1992)
    Amazon (1990)
    A Walk along The Ganges (1986)
  • Pico Iyer (b. 1957)
    Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-so-Far East (1988)
    Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World (1993)
    Tropical Classical: Essays from Several Directions (1997)
    Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home (2000) — three excellent collections of essays on the postmodern experience of travel.
  • Tony Horwitz (b. 1958)
    One for the Road: An Outback Adventure (1987)
    Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia (1991)
    Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (1998)
    Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before (2002)
    A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World (2008)
  • Jeffrey Tayler (b. 1962)
    Siberian Dawn: A Journey Across the New Russia (1999)
    Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness (2000)
    Glory in a Camel's Eye: Trekking Through the Moroccan Sahara (2003)
    Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel (2005)
    River of No Reprieve: Descending Siberia's Waterway of Exile, Death, and Destiny (2006)
  • Karl Taro Greenfeld (b. 1964)
    Speed Tribes: Days and Nights with Japan's Next Generation (1995)
    Standard Deviations: Growing Up and Coming Down in the New Asia — an exploration of the traveler/backpacker subcultures in the Far East during the 1990s by a writer who was there.
  • William Dalrymple (b.1965)
    In Xanadu: A Quest (1989)
    City of Djinns (1992)
    From the Holy Mountain (1994)
    The Age of Kali (1995)
    Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (2009)
  • Tahir Shah (b. 1966)
    Sorcerer's Apprentice
    In Search of King Solomon's Mines
    Trail of Feathers
    The Caliph's House
    In Arabian Nights
    House of the Tiger King
    Beyond the Devil's Teeth
  • J. Maarten Troost (b. 1969)
    The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific (2004)
    Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu (2006)
  • Cleo Paskal
    Navigating Customs: New Travel Stories by 12 Writers [Less Than] 25 (2007)
  • Kira Salak (b. 1971)
    Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea (2001)
    The Cruelest Journey: 600 Miles to Timbuktu (2004)
  • Tom Bissell (b. 1974)
    Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia (2003)
  • Bishwanath Ghosh (b. 1970)
    Chai, Chai: Travels in Places Where You Stop But Never Get Off (2009)

See also


  1. ^ El-Shihibi, Fathi A. (2006). Travel Genre in Arabic Literature: A Selective Literary and Historical Study (Originally presented as the author's thesis (Ph.D.--Boston University, 1998)). Boca Raton, Fla: ISBN 1581123264. 
  2. ^ Hargett 1985, p. 67.
  3. ^ Hargett 1985, pp. 67–93.
  4. ^ Hargett 1985, pp. 74–76.
  5. ^ Stolley 1992, p. 26.
  6. ^ Fussell 1963, p. 54.
  7. ^ Finkel, Michael (August 2008). "Kira Salek: The White Mary". National Geographic Adventure. Retrieved 12 November 2010. 
  8. ^ Trachtenberg, Jeffrey A. (26 July 2008). "Imaginary Journey". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 12 November 2010. 
  9. ^ "The White Mary: A Novel". ASIN 0805088474. 
  10. ^ "Welcome". International Society for Travel Writing. 2010. Retrieved 4 February 2010. 
  11. ^ Siegel, Kristi. "Publications". Retrieved 12 November 2010. 
  12. ^ Works by or about Johann Sigmund Wurffbain in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  13. ^ Works by or about Emily Kimbrough in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  14. ^ Works by or about Roger Pilkington in libraries (WorldCat catalog)


  • Batten, Charles Lynn (1978). Pleasurable Instruction: Form and Convention in Eighteenth-Century Travel Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520032606. OCLC 4419780. 
  • Chaney, Edward (1998). The Evolution of the Grand Tour: Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations Since the Renaissance. London: Frank Cass. ISBN 9780714645773. OCLC 38304358. 
  • Chatzipanagioti-Sangmeister, Julia (2006) (in German). Griechenland, Zypern, Balkan und Levante: eine kommentierte Bibliographie der Reiseliteratur des 18. Jahrhunderts. Eutin: Lumpeter and Lasel. ISBN 9783981067422. OCLC 470750661. 
  • Fussell, Paul (1963). "Patrick Brydone: The Eighteenth-Century Traveler As Representative Man". Literature As a Mode of Travel. New York: New York Public Library. pp. 53–67. OCLC 83683507. 
  • Hargett, James M. (1985). "Some Preliminary Remarks on the Travel Records of the Song Dynasty (960-1279)". Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 7 (1/2): 67–93. doi:10.2307/495194. JSTOR 495194. 
  • Speake, Jennifer (2003). Literature of Travel and Exploration: An Encyclopedia. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn. ISBN 1579582478. OCLC 55631133. 
  • Stolley, Karen (1992) (in Spanish). El lazarillo de ciegos caminantes: un itinerario crítico. Hanover, NH: Ediciones del Norte. ISBN 9780910061490. OCLC 29205545. 

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