There are two kinds of travelers – those who carry a journal and pen, and those who don’t. For the former, the old-fashioned travel journal is an old habit, a companion while drinking solo in a London pub, a place to jot down a mind-bending sunset in Palawan, a delicious meal in Colombo, a bout of Delhi belly or getting scammed in Barcelona. These travelers relive and reflect as they record, often recalling their travels through the journal many weeks, months or years later.
The travel diary has a long and well-documented history, and has been the catalyst that allowed many writers to make a name for themselves. For instance, The Travels of Marco Polo delighted medieval European readers in the 1300s, and was cobbled together from the Venetian traveler’s extensive diaries. More recent works like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar (1975) and Alex Garland’s The Beach (1996) are all great pieces of literature produced from notes scribbled in far-flung locales.
But examining the travel journal’s storied past makes me a little worried for its future, having been all but replaced on the modern traveler’s journey by digital devices that demand constant attention, fingering and thumbing, resulting in so much sharing, so many posts, but not a whole lot of reflection.