Tom Swift: A Travel Writer Is Not A Tourist

Friday, March 26, 2010

When you are a travel writer, you are living in two worlds. One world is based on the existential experience of belonging: finding out where you belong or how things belong. The other world is finding words to express that which you have discovered. Without one, you would not have the other, and most of the time, the worlds are conflicting. This existential dilemma is what Tom Swick poignantly and poetically outlines in his article at WorldHum. This thought came to him whilst seated, by himself, on a plane, looking at couples and families preparing for relaxing vacations and, essentially, not altering their normal lifestyle, just transferring it:

The travel writer, when thought of at all, is regarded as a charmed figure, never stymied in front of a customs officer or a computer screen. The travel writer, when he reflects, sees himself as aimless, clueless but nevertheless underappreciated.

The travel writer in the days of yore had a difficult task, but a different one. He would relay investigative information — perhaps from an ethnocentric perspective — back to his country, back to his home. Today, as Swift observes, the travel writer is faced with a difficult task, too: to find meaning in differences. He infers that YouTube and the increase in techno-travel blogs have made the basic travel book borderline obsolete. Perhaps it is the decline of travel literature as a marker of the travel writer´s introspective crisis. Despite being nearly moved to tears due to his heartbreaking accuracy, I found optimism in Swift´s words. Travel writers are faced with a challenge and maybe they will flounder or maybe the term will disappear from oversaturation. Yet, there is something in sharing experiences — with whoever will read them — that differs from merely seeing something from a tourist´s perspective, it is something worth writing for. As Swift´s article closes:

The travel book itself has a similar grab bag quality. It incorporates the characters and plot line of a novel, the descriptive power of poetry, the substance of a history lesson, the discursiveness of an essay, and the—often inadvertent—self-revelation of a memoir. It revels in the particular while occasionally illuminating the universal. It colors and shapes and fills in gaps. Because it results from displacement, it is frequently funny. It takes readers for a spin (and shows them, usually, how lucky they are). It humanizes the alien. More often than not it celebrates the unsung. It uncovers truths that are stranger than fiction. It gives eyewitness proof of life’s infinite possibilities. This is why you write it.

By Brit Weaver


About the Author

Toronto born and based, Brit is an avid leisure cyclist, coffee drinker and under-a-tree park-ist. She often finds herself meandering foreign cities looking for street eats to nibble, trees to climb, a patch of grass to sit on, or a small bookstore to sift through. You can find her musing life on her personal blog,

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