The Evolution Of Travel Writing Starting With Dickens

Thursday, July 8, 2010

With accessibility to the internet and traveling becoming a hobby, travel writers are not few and far between. Just the other day, someone asked, “Why do people want to write about travel? Travel writers are everywhere. Why don’t they do something different, something edgy?”

Truthfully, the question was humbling, and it wasn’t until I read Frank Bures’ review of Charles Dickens On Travel that I could formulate a cohesive answer, or at least a semi-cohesive.

For centuries — millenia, really — people have traveled the world. Whether it was in search of a new home or a new experience, people have been compelled to explore the Earth. It has only been until recently, in the grand scheme of time, that people have had the ability to communicate about their experiences. As Bures reflects on historical travel writing:

The point was to describe the world rather than to dance upon its stage. The purpose was to transport people to another part of the world in an edifiying, Victorian kind of way. It was something to make readers who couldn’t see the world become more worldly. It was more education than entertainment or art.

However, as Bures highlights, he stumbled across a literary figure that most do not associate with the travel section: Charles Dickens. By reading the compilation of the Victorian author’s notes, Bures found a voice that could describe the best of times and the worst of times a whole world over. He discovered, quite possibly, the first modern travel writer.

For a modern travel writer, the story is not found in the description of events but the meaning of experience. Making observations of the landscape and scenery can be interesting but, as Bures points out, there needs to be entertainment, there needs to be art. Excitedly, he found Dickens’ recounts of travel uplifting. “He is bending his ear for the absurd. He is reflecting on beauty and aging. He is turning his eye to the dynamics between people.”

So it is that travel writing needs a purpose, a point to the adventure, a story of sorts, a process of enlightenment — a suggestion always made by most established travel writers.

I took my notes.

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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