Travel writing with the power to transport will always endure: From Patrick Leigh Fermor to Robert Macfarlane

Travel writing is not as easily classifiable a genre as its benign title suggests. From Homer to Horatio Clare – recipient of the most recent Dolman Travel Book of the Year award for his study of contemporary life on the world’s container ships – it might convey topics as diverse as political, social, religious, or economic commentary, art, exploration, food or music. 

In the 19th century, pioneering explorer Isabella Bird documented her travels via the written word and photography, journeys prompted by ill health that took her from her modest home in Edinburgh to Hawaii, Tibet, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, India, Persia, Russia and China. Her illuminating writing was a big hit back at home, but primarily sought to convey the fundamental changes rippling through the world at that time, secondary to the portrayal of countries that would have been entirely foreign to her audience. 

More recently, Robert Macfarlane has reinvigorated  the language of the natural world, reminding us of the beauty in the seemingly familiar, from the landscapes of Cumbria to the Cairngorms. 

Then there is travel fiction – the imagination of Jonathan Swift, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Douglas Adams, Jack Kerouac, and many would argue, Patrick Leigh Fermor, that splices the known world with fantasy, taking the reader on a journey that is at once familiar and foreign. 

Even as mass tourism makes the world more familiar and increasingly homogenised, and social media enables us all to disseminate our own interpretation of the world, travel writing is as relevant and important as ever. The travel pages of the Independent on Sunday have demonstrated that fact since 1997 when the late Jeremy Atiyah became the paper’s first travel editor. Whether experiencing Danish design heritage through the eyes of Sir Terence Conran, or the history of Japan’s bullet trains via Stephen Bayley’s delightful and insightful prose, our travel writing, I hope, has transported you to places as yet unvisited, or helped experience the familiar through alternative or veteran eyes. 

Of course, it isn’t restricted to earnest chin-stroking. Our editor Lisa Markwell’s story about taking her family on a cruise could so easily have sneered at the all-singing, all-dancing, mega ship transporting them briskly through the Caribbean, but instead embraced the simplicity of the journey, and the pleasures of their collective enjoyment. Joe Craig’s recollection of a cricket tour in India – a series of mishaps that included falling “nipple deep” into an open sewer and being “dripped on” from an open window in Mumbai – was comically wry, but never cynical.

While the last pages of The Independent on Sunday’s travel writing have now been printed, it isn’t journey’s end. We’ll continue to bring you the best travel writing, news, advice and ideas, here at independent.co.uk/travel and via the digital Daily Edition (independentsubscriptions.co.uk). I hope you’ll join us for the ride.

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