When Travel Stories Get Awkward

Where does travel writing live in a locked down world?

Everything changes, it turns out, during a pandemic. As the world faces unprecedented behavioural changes, it feels inappropriate to talk about the travelling adventures you just left behind. Is it like yelling how alive you feel at a funeral, or is it an optimistic ray of daylight for people who are already sick of living in the same few rooms?

We recently had to abandon our long-term travel plans and head back to our home country of Scotland. It was a whirlwind of decisions, of counting blessings and crash-landing back in the shadow of a life we didn’t expect to see for a few months.

There are so many stories about time abroad which I haven’t told, and so many photos which I haven’t shared. Conversation is, obviously and understandably, dominated by talk of Coronavirus, of healthcare and avoiding poverty while finding pasta. The news cycle is brutal and the lack of personal contact with friends means that distractions are few and far between. As soon as we’ve fulfilled our quarantine destinies of finishing both Netflix and Disney+, will it be time to tentatively show people the picture of a cute monkey I met?

I need to remind myself constantly that things are still new and fresh and we’re learning how to cope with this new way of being for now. While people are still struggling to get home, or panicking about their relatives being trapped without medical aid, it’s maybe not the time to recommend airlines or promote affiliate links to package deals in Bali.

But it might be the time to remember that the world is big and beautiful. We are interlinked: we’re currently getting reminders that our economies are laced together in inexorable ways, so it could be the perfect opportunity to celebrate positive international cultural and social links. Life might feel limited, but there are millions of people still out there with stories and history and experience which we need to stay connected to.

There’s no easy answer. As always, people will read what they want to, ignore what they want to and get angry about what they want to. Re-examining how we write about travel in the age of the Coronavirus (and climate change) could revolutionise the artform for many writers, in terms of accessibility and inclusion. How do we write in a positive and interesting way about places which people might never go to? How do we extol the benefits of travel while acknowledging it can’t be done right now?

I have been looking again at my notes and diaries from while we were away. I need to take a minute to think about how to write about what we did, and what we learnt, in a more abstract way — what did we do which applies to anyone, anywhere? What do I do with the specific anecdotes I have from adventuring? Can I change how I write about them? I know, I know: this is something I should have thought about earlier, but placing broader inclusivity within travel writing will be an interesting challenge.

It’ll take some time to work out what I want to say, and when I should say it. So, in the meantime, here’s that super cute monkey I met with her even cuter baby. I’m not sure how that helps but — if nothing else — it could be an optimistic ray of daylight for people who are already sick of living in the same few rooms.

Stay safe. x

Exploring where data and young audiences meet || sometimes funny, always curious

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