Travel writing is dead. So say many. Ralph Waldo Emerson went so far as to say: “Travel is a fool’s paradise.” Or as Foreign Policy magazine writer Graeme Wood puts it, “travel is a sickness that afflicts those who don’t realize that wisdom is inward. Instead of broadening the mind, travel narrows it.”
(Maybe this explains why well-travelled Aussies can enjoy the fine hospitality accorded to them overseas and yet still act with appalling cruelty towards refugees and would-be asylum-seekers.)
Travel writers used to provide valuable insights into places they visited and observed in depth. But no longer. In a world of pressing problems, where hunger and disease are still rampant and exploitation widespread, today’s travel writer instead writes about the quality of the cocktails in his or her five-star hotel.
For myself, a recent travel writers’ luncheon was the final straw. Instead of meaningful discussion about the destination that was the theme of the day, talk focussed around whether you’d be picked up by a vintage Peugeot or a Rolls-Royce by a particular luxury hotel. I felt like puking on the carpet.
So, what’s the alternative? To instead lapse into despair for the state of the planet? Maybe not. According to neuro-conservationists, environmentalists may be sending the wrong message.
“Instead of focusing the spotlight on results of scientific studies that prove our planet is rapidly warming, or on statistics about alarming species extinction rates, they should be talking about how an ocean view will make us feel happy or standing among trees will arouse our feelings of peacefulness, ” says nature writer Candice Andrews.
So instead of becoming a super-narcissistic “travel writer”, maybe it’s better to take a long, sober look at the state of the world – and if you don’t like what you see, then CHANGE IT!
In his brilliant essay “Design’s Invisible Century“, Thomas Fisher argues that much of the world’s current financial and environmental problems are due to atrociously poor design. Most of these problems, he says, are due to badly conceived or simply outdated laws, policies and procedures that have helped create and perpetuate environments that have become inequitable, unsustainable and dysfunctional.
Surely, no sane society would put up with such solvable problems as poverty and urban gridlock! When every person has the potential to help change the world for the better, why participate instead in making it worse?
Review Graham’s catalogue of travel writing.