Travel in the Western world used to be for well-to-do members of society whose incomes didn’t come from the daily toil and drudgery—at least, not by their own hands.
Those who wanted a change of scenery to invigorate their creativity and gain fame for their heroism would pay for lodging on a great ship to sail abroad for inspiration. Those who imagined a world of riches beyond their own borders would raise the funds and broker deals to spark expeditions to “new” lands.
Nowadays, more people have the luxury and logistical prowess to wield travel as a tool to relieve boredom or get attention and celebrity online. To satiate curiosity of foreign places or find economic success outside of the place we’re local to. Same motives, wider demographic.
We know these stories because we have clickbait-y vlogs and Instagram stories detailing every moment of the travelers’ journey.
For those who want to experience travel through the eyes of folks whose standpoints differ from the European aristocratic well-to-do and merchant classes of centuries past, here’s a quick list of books and readings you might enjoy.
I Choose Exile by Richard Wright
As the about page of The Art of Sunday can testify, I value freedom. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that I greatly appreciated an essay from a man who said: “freedom, to me, is equated to concrete reality, to life; it is not something abstract, something to be won or hoped for; it is life itself, each day, each hour, each moment….”
A prolific writer whose thoughts helped shape the 50’s era Civil Rights, Wright’s essay “I Choose Exile” was submitted to Ebony Magazine in 1951 and went unpublished for more than a half century. For the purposes of distributing a little-known historical piece, I’ve formatted and unofficially published it here on the blog.
Go Girl: The Black Woman’s Book of Travel and Adventure by Elaine Lee
This collection of 52 travel talks by and for African American woman travelers will have gems of insight for anyone who needs them. In addition to riveting tales featuring writers you may have heard of like Maya Angelou and Audre Lourde, Go Girl adds a host of new voices at the table. They add to the dialogue by sharing lived experiences, and also acting as resources for those who need insight in the planning process of travel.
Inscribed Landscapes: Travel Writing from Imperial China by Richard E. Strassberg
Inscribed Landscapes presents an abundance of tales from 50 different writers over the course of nearly 2,000 years. Giving academic analyses of Chinese travel writing between 56 A.D. and 1841, this collection gives us a different standpoint from which to understand the world. Which leads to…
Chinese domestic tourism, the blogosphere, and travel writing: Assessing the literary and political status of Chinese travelogues in print and online by Stefano Calzati
Drawing from Inscribed Landscapes and writer Michel Hockx’s finding about contemporary Chinese Internet culture, Calzati brings the reader on a journey that potentially likens Chinese travel blogs as literary and political texts that, when compared with print travelogues, have more in common with classical texts than their printed counterparts.
Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African American Travel Writing by Cheryl Fish and Farah Griffin
Dispatches, diaries, memoirs, letters from African American travelers in search of home, justice and adventure. Exactly as it says. Check it out!
On Holiday: A History of Vacationing by Orvar Löfgren
Löfgren takes us on a tour of the Western holiday world and shows how two centuries of "learning to be a tourist" have shaped our own ways of vacationing. We see how fashions in destinations have changed through the years, with popular images (written, drawn, painted, and later photographed) teaching the tourist what to look for and how to experience it.
This one is next on my list. Read it with me?