Growing up, I remember spending hours flipping through magazines and not just any kind. I was infatuated with travel or political magazines with their large spread images in perfectly captured, glistening pages. Later, I would have a developing obsession with typography and graphic design. Arts that I admired from afar.
But if the images were what drew me in initially, the accompanying travel essays are what created a pack rat. As my mother will swear to you to this day, I could not bear the thought of parting with my magazines. They would get stacked in dusty corners, in colorful bin, or even under the bed. I would cut stories, quotes, and images out of them, only to put these into a draw for safekeeping (no safer than the magazine piles). On slow nights, I would re-read the magazines and find new articles to save and more reasons I could not recycle these paper treasures.
The authors of those travel essays were my role models. Forget the Britney Spears and NSYNCs of my childhood, I wanted to be those adventurers. I crushed over their writing, how they depicted a culture, a moment, or a thought so reflectively, yet so emotionally intuitive. As a reader, I experienced their journeys as if they were my own. Their ability to translate the spiritual into the tangible for my younger (and rather naive) mind was parallel to none. At the heart of the connection with their readers was a desire to authentically share while being open enough for the readers to also have their own feelings apart from the piece. There was no underlying command from the author to feel this, see that, laugh now. It was effortless prose.
Skimming through the endless amount of travel Iiterature available today, I feel like we’ve lost the Greats. Instead of gaining more travel essays, we’ve lost so many. Instead, we’ve gained more do-this, see-that, feel-like-this. While these are important contributions to the field in general, simply ask anyone who needs to know how to get to the Louvre or what to bring for a visa into Laos from Bangkok, they do little justice to the wanderluster sitting at home with a cup of coffee. What motivates me to save every last penny, pence, Taiwanese dollar are the articles that move me, spiritually and then eventually physically: the ones that make it difficult to sit planted on my kitchen table chair. Travel guides tell me what I’ve missed so far but they don’t show me what awaits. As the saying goes in writing, “Show me, don’t tell me.”
I know what an African safari looks like, that Machu Pichu is not to be missed, and that the grand canyon by helicopter is amazing by way of my computer, but I do not know what stepping out in a Swiss town feels like in August, what sounds can be heard during prayer in Tibet, or what translates the sensation of that winning goal and its Latin American football stadium.
Either way, I lust for essays, plus a good English Breakfast tea and scone set, that make me nostalgic for places that I have yet to travel.