Travel writing has always been in a state of flux. During the inter-war period of the 20th century, writers like Graham Greene acquired the funds to indulge in expeditions to wherever took their fancy, at a time when the majority of people had never travelled outside their own countries.
In the 70s, the place to visit for young, adventurous travellers and whole lot of hippies, was Afghanistan. In 2020, and for the last decade, few people have visited the country with tourism as their primary reason. Tour companies that appeal to more adventurous souls have found a niche here but it’s clear that the Afghanistan tourism industry is effectively in cold storage.
After the First World War and the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, those with a literary bent and some cash bolted for the exits and travelled far and wide. Truth be told, it was mostly well-to-do British and American writers but there’s no denying that this was the golden age of travel writing.
With the current pandemic, sales of travel guidebooks have plummeted. And this industry was already in a precarious state. Will Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Bradt, Moon Handbooks, and the other popular guidebook series survive the guidebook apocalypse?
Local travel has seen a resurgence. Narrative travel is more popular than it’s heyday in the 30s and peak of popularity in the 80s.
The landscape is shifting but as with most major shifts, even after the forces that caused the shift to go away, the previous version is not quite the same. The internet put the physical guidebook companies in a chokehold but opened up the world to solo travel bloggers.
The “best of” and “top 10” travel articles that feature in almost every Google search related to travel have seen massive drops in traffic numbers. The fact is that few people are interested in reading about the best restaurants in a city in lockdown. This kind of writing is certainly not trending now.
However, people still need to dream, people want escapism. If you’ve got a narrative book idea just waiting to be written, now is the time. Will the travel writing industry recover from the serious blow it received in the first half of 2020? Who knows?. But one thing is certain, the writers who continue to create are those best able to adapt and thrive in uncertainty.