Worth writing home about

What an apt time to take an interest in the world of travel! Holiday companies and international airlines may be currently collapsing to the sound of credit crunching, yet the insatiable appetite of the traveller appears utterly undiminished. From globe-trotting and gallivanting in gap years to jam-packed jaunts on jumbo jets over and above the juddering journeys to and fro home and university, campus and term-time accommodation, travel has become the cardinal component of the modern student’s life. We are all travellers now.

But, I hear you holler, there is a distinct difference between leaving on a jet plane headed for some far-flung tropical island such as St. Lucia and being bumped about on the back of a Unirider bus bound for Royal Leamington Spa. Well, yes and no! For the most effective means of eliminating tedium and drudgery in our daily lives, the cheapest, most resourceful, not to mention environmentally friendly, way of wiling away the hours, is surely to try to view the place in which we find ourselves at any given time through the eyes of a traveller.

#### What is travel?

It’s worth considering that the term ‘travel’ finds its origins as a Middle English variant of travail, used in the same sense to denote a laborious endeavour. While irritatingly intrusive security checks at airports may make even the shortest of flights feel like a formidable undertaking, it would be quite disingenuous to suggest that the ability – nay, luxury – to snap up cheap flights and arrange accommodation online is anything other than a comfortingly convenient, if ultimately unsustainable, aspect of twenty-first century life. Travel is both a precious privilege and an increasingly common commodity.

If the existence of the ever-expanding mass tourism industry is not without its ecological costs, the increased speed and relative ease of travelling is also in danger of destroying the very essence of this activity that gave it its distinction. Without wishing to romanticise the voyages of bygone eras by road, rail or sea, which were all too often open only to the few and not the many, travellers of yesteryear certainly seemed to make more of an attempt to really prepare for and properly research a distant destination in detail before boarding. Nowadays you’d be lucky to catch a re-run of the Holiday programme.

Preparation is important. Michael Palin unapologetically describes himself as a “toilets before temple traveller”. Indeed, it is useful to include practical advice and precise detail when reporting a trip as well as description of, as Palin puts it, “glamorous getaways, glorious sunsets, colourful markets, elegant buildings and sublime contemplations of the beauties of creation.” To my mind, the travel writer must marry mundanity with majesty.

#### A word of warning

Like the first-time traveller’s pale yet pimpled ankle in an area of mosquito-borne disease, the Travel section of a newspaper is especially susceptible to a menace that can cause nausea, drowsiness and a chronic lack of concentration – in travel writing, the cliché is to be avoided like cerebral malaria! To prove the point, headlines to avoid include, “The Road Less Travelled” and “The Journey of My Life”.

Don’t let this put you off having a go at travel writing, whether it’s the first time or the first time in a long time. Cliché repellent in hand, we welcome offerings from one and all, as long as the writing is vibrant and reading the tale is a vitalising experience. Think how you can creatively encapsulate your adventures in pictures and prose so that others, too, may take inspiration. Discover the world out there, the wonderful world of travel.


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