Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Travel writers can be a conflicted lot - and in different ways

In A Sense of Place, Michael Shapiro's landmark collection of interviews with some of the world's most prolific, widely-read and best-loved travel writers, he talks with Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. Toward the end of the piece, she expresses a conundrum she always feels as a travel writer.

She says, "I always feel the split between the desire to stay, the desire for home, the desire for the nest, the desire to gather people around in the home, and that equal passion to shut the door and go, to leave it all behind and seek what's out there."

A must-read for travel writers

It's like she tapped into my brain with a vacuum, sucked out my emotions and translated them into words.

Every time I get ready to leave for a trip, I always feel a sense of loss, a longing to stay, a sadness as I go off and leave my loved ones behind while heading off to adventure in another part of the world. Of course, because my group of loved ones includes three parrots, the part about "the nest" hits particularly close to home.

Whether I'm going on a three-day paddling trip in Georgia, a two-week tour through the jungle lodges of Borneo or a 10-day tour somewhere around Europe, I always have this feeling of not wanting to leave - knowing full well that I will enjoy immensely whatever adventures come my way in my journeys.

It's funny, I hadn't stopped to think that maybe other travel writers - not all, but some - shared similar kinds of feelings.

But it makes sense that we would. We all have families that we leave for various periods of time to go off gallivanting around the world without them (at least, most of them time) to seek stories to tell on our return, and, hopefully, earn some kind of living at it.

Neither had I really stopped to think about something else Mayes said in the story, Yearning for the Sun. She said, "...for me, the writing partly comes from the tension between those two things. And it's odd, because they both involve a sense of place..." - in this case, the place left behind and the place that's just ahead.

When you think about it, some of the world's best writing comes as the result of some kind of conflict; often, it's some type of external conflict, like a war, a crime, or similar struggle involving two or more parties. In the case of Mayes - and perhaps other travel writers - it's an internal conflict, like the one she describes between the urges to stay and go.

I wonder, if there was not that conflict, that tension - would there be travel writing? If so, how good would it be? Surely not all good stories come from a place of conflict...or do they?

That's one of those questions that could be debated ad nauseum, and one that may be best debated over a flagon of ale or keg of rum (or urn of coffee, for those who don't imbibe).

For me, these days, another conflict arises.

Because I have a real interest in trying to conserve what is left of our planet - its air, its water, its forests, and all the creatures and plants that live there - I often wonder if my desire to travel and tell stories means I do not always travel as lightly as possible.

I do want to travel in a manner that is easiest on the environment; however, like most humans in our western society, convenience is important to me, too.
Salkantay Lodge, Peruvian Andes: a good eco-lodge

Often, travel writers have limited choices in terms of these many of these factors,as the transportation and accommodations are often pre-arranged without their input. I know I have stayed at some of the best eco-lodges in the world. I've also stayed at some others that I can almost guess with a certainty that the environment was not a top priority.

However, just the fact that we try to be aware of this, and try to write stories about those places and means of getting there that are the the best eco-friendly options, has an impact on the positive side. At least, that is my hope.

Time will tell if that is the case, or not.

As for my own internal conflict...that may be an unending struggle that may never quite subside. And I don't know that I would want it to...not completely, anyway.

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