I was at Gatwick airport recently and I spent some time looking for a bookstore, when I finally found one I was surprised to see just how disproportionately large the travel section was. I was thinking about my favorite travel book and how I don’t really have one. If I was pushed, and here I am pushing myself, then for sheer excitement I think I need to go with Tim Butcher’s “Blood River,” charting his journey through the Congo. This really is everything I feel a travel book should be. It’s hard to believe someone would actually take such a trip but to also have the skill, resources and courage to document it is incredibly fascinating. If you haven’t read it then I urge you to, if nothing else it will give you a marvelous sense of perspective the next time you think you are having travel problems.
So, what makes for good travel writing? Location probably doesn’t matter too much to me, here in Europe we are awash with people’s recollections of time spent in France, Spain or Italy but, if the angle is a good one then there is always plenty to be said. I also long for humor. Never take travel too seriously, it really is something to be relished and I am pretty sure there is humor to be found in almost any situation. Finally, the view of the outsider always seems to work best, there is something about being a stranger in a strange land that allows people to open up and take notice of details you may often be obscure to.
I only have one regret in my 21 years working with EF as a Tour Director and that is, simply, that I didn’t write enough stuff down. Of course, there are the painfully funny moments which can get lost over time, but there are also those moments that seem so compelling as they happen but can disappear as quickly as they arrived.
For anyone taking a trip I suggest you write down as much as possible. Students are always taking photos but I urge them to try and match their photos with words as well. Don’t look for the grand statements (Honestly, it has probably already been said when considering major sites) but look for the small details that make up your travels. It can be as seemingly innocuous as the font used on airport signs or cultural differences such as the way people dress and behave. A colleague visiting Amsterdam once returned from his trip and said, “It’s the little things” and it truly is. It is unfortunate how much we forget about our travels as time passes. Take the time to scribble down your thoughts and record the moments that really made you laugh or stand in amazement.
If you’re looking for examples and advice on making somewhat abstract observations during your tour then you can always follow me on Twitter @paulmattesini.