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First edition of Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)

Travel literature is travel writing of literary value. Travel literature typically records the experiences of an author touring a place for the pleasure of travel. An individual work is sometimes called a travelogue or itinerary. Travel literature may be cross-cultural or transnational in focus, or may involve travel to different regions within the same country. Accounts of spaceflight may also be considered travel literature.

Literary travelogues generally exhibit a coherent narrative or aesthetic beyond the logging of dates and events as found in travel journals or a ship's log. Travel literature is closely associated with outdoor literature and the genres often overlap with no definite boundaries. Another sub-genre, invented in the 19th century, is the guide book.



The Americans, Paul Theroux, Bill Bryson and William Least Heat-Moon, Welsh author Jan Morris and Englishman Eric Newby are or were widely acclaimed as travel writers although Morris is also a historian and Theroux a novelist.

Travel literature often intersects with essay writing, as in V. S. Naipaul's India: A Wounded Civilization, where a trip becomes the occasion for extended observations on a nation and people. This is similarly the case in Rebecca West's work on Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.

Sometimes a writer will settle into a locality for an extended period, absorbing a sense of place while continuing to observe with a travel writer's sensibility. Examples of such writings include Lawrence Durrell's Bitter Lemons, Deborah Tall's The Island of the White Cow and Peter Mayle's best-selling A Year in Provence and its sequels.

Travel and nature writing merge in many of the works by Sally Carrighar, Ivan T. Sanderson and Gerald Durrell. These authors are naturalists, who write in support of their fields of study. Charles Darwin wrote his famous account of the journey of HMS Beagle at the intersection of science, natural history and travel.

Literary travel writing also occurs when an author, famous in another field, travels and writes about his or her experiences. Examples of such writers are Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hilaire Belloc, D. H. Lawrence, Rebecca West and John Steinbeck.


Fictional travelogues make up a large proportion of travel literature. Although it may be desirable in some contexts to distinguish fictional from non-fictional works, such distinctions have proved notoriously difficult to make in practice, as in the famous instance of the travel writings of Marco Polo or John Mandeville. Many "fictional" works of travel literature are based on factual journeys – Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and presumably, Homer's Odyssey (c. 8th cent. BCE) – while other works, though based on imaginary and even highly fantastic journeys – Dante's Divine Comedy, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Voltaire's Candide or Samuel Johnson's The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia – nevertheless contain factual elements.

Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957) and The Dharma Bums (1958) are fictionalized accounts of his travels across the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

One contemporary example of a real life journey transformed into a work of fiction is travel writer Kira Salak's novel, The White Mary, which takes place in Papua New Guinea and the Congo and is largely based on her own experiences in those countries.[1][2][3]

Travel literature in criticism

The systematic study of travel literature emerged as a legitimate field of scholarly inquiry in the mid-1990s, with its own conferences, organizations, journals, monographs, anthologies, and encyclopedias. Among the most important, pre-1995 monographs are: Abroad (1980) by Paul Fussell, an exploration of British interwar travel writing as escapism; Gone Primitive: Modern Intellects, Savage Minds (1990) by Marianna Torgovnick, an inquiry into the primitivist presentation of foreign cultures; Haunted Journeys: Desire and Transgression in European Travel Writing (1991) by Dennis Porter, a close look at the psychological correlatives of travel; Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women’s Travel Writing by Sara Mills, an inquiry into the intersection of gender and colonialism during the nineteenth century; Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (1992), Mary Louise Pratt's influential study of Victorian travel writing’s dissemination of a colonial mind-set; and Belated Travelers (1994), an analysis of colonial anxiety by Ali Behdad.

The study of travel writing developed most extensively in the late 1990s, encouraged by the currency of Foucauldian criticism and Edward Said's postcolonial landmark study Orientalism. This growing interdisciplinary preoccupation with cultural diversity, globalization, and migration is expressed in other fields of literary study, most notably Comparative Literature. The first international travel writing conference, “Snapshots from Abroad”, organized by Donald Ross at the University of Minnesota in 1997, attracted over one hundred scholars and led to the foundation of the International Society for Travel Writing (ISTW).[4] The first issue of Studies in Travel Writing was published the same year, edited by Tim Youngs. Annual scholarly conferences about travel writing, held in the USA, Europe and Asia, saw an unprecedented upswing in the number of published travel literature monographs and essay collections, as well as a proliferation of travel writing anthologies.

Major directions in recent travel writing scholarship include: studies about the role of gender in travel and travel writing (e.g. Women Travelers in Colonial India: The Power of the Female Gaze [1998] by Indira Ghose); explorations of the political functions of travel (e.g. Radicals on the Road: The Politics of English Travel Writing in the 1930s [2001] by Bernard Schweizer); postcolonial perspectives on travel (e.g. English Travel Writing: From Pilgrimages to Postcolonial Explorations (2000) by Barbara Korte); and studies about the function of language in travel and travel writing (e.g. Across the Lines: Travel, Language, and Translation [2000] by Michael Cronin). Tim Youngs is a driving force behind the growth of the field, notably through the journal Studies in Travel Writing, through his two co-edited volumes of essays on travel writing, Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing (2002), co-edited with T. Hulme, and Perspectives in Travel Writing (2004), co-edited with G. Hooper. Youngs also co-organized the 2005 travel writing conference, “Mobilis in Mobile”, in Hong Kong. Kristi Siegel is another prolific editor of travel writing scholarship, having edited Issues in Travel Writing: Empire, Spectacle and Displacement (2002), as well as Gender, Genre, and Identity in Women’s Travel Writing (2004).

Notable travel writers and travel literature

Note: listed by year of birth


8th century BC

  • Homer (fl. 8th century BC)
    Odyssey epic poem accounting the travels of the Greek hero, Odysseus, on his voyage home from Troy.

2nd century

4th century

  • Decimus Magnus Ausonius (c. 310 – 395)
    Mosella (The Moselle, c. 370) — describes the poet's trip to the banks of the river Moselle, then in Gaul.
  • Faxian (c. 337 – c. 422), Chinese traveler to India
    A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms: Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fâ-Hien of His Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414) in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline

5th century

  • Rutilius Claudius Namatianus (fl. 5th century)
    De reditu suo (Concerning His Return, c. 416) — the poet describes his voyage along the Mediterranean seacoast from Rome to Gaul.

7th century

8th century

  • Ennin (c. 793 or 794 – 864), Japanese Buddhist monk who chronicled his travels in Tang China
    The Record of a Pilgrimage to China in Search of the Law (838-847)

10th century

11th century

12th century

13th century

  • Marco Polo (1254 – 1324 or 1325), Venetian traveller to China and the Mongol Empire
    Il Milione (1298)

14th century

  • Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1368 or 1369), Moroccan world traveler
    Rihla (1355) — literally entitled: "A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling".

16th century

  • Fernão Mendes Pinto (1509-1583), Portuguese explorer and writer
    Pilgrimage (published posthumously in 1614) — memoir of his travels in the Middle and Far East, Ethiopia, Arabian Sea, India and Japan, as one of the first Europeans to reach it in 1542.
  • Richard Hakluyt (c. 1552–1616)
    The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589) — a foundational text of the travel literature genre.

17th century

  • Evliya Çelebi, (1610-1683)
  • François de La Boullaye-Le Gouz (1623–1668)
    Les voyages et observations du sieur de La Boullaye Le gouz (1653 & 1657) — one of the very first true travel books.
  • Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694)
    Kashima Kikō (A Visit to Kashima Shrine) (1687)
    Oi no Kobumi, or Utatsu Kikō (Record of a Travel-Worn Satchel) (1688)
    Sarashina Kikō (A Visit to Sarashina Village) (1688)
    The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (trans. 1967)
  • Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
    Gulliver's Travels (1726, amended 1735)

18th century

19th century

20th century

See also



  • Batten, Charles Lynn (1978). Pleasurable Instruction: Form and Convention in Eighteenth-Century Travel Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520032606. OCLC 4419780. 
  • Chaney, Edward (1998). The Evolution of the Grand Tour: Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations Since the Renaissance. London: Frank Cass. ISBN 9780714645773. OCLC 38304358. 
  • Chatzipanagioti-Sangmeister, Julia (2006) (in German). Griechenland, Zypern, Balkan und Levante: eine kommentierte Bibliographie der Reiseliteratur des 18. Jahrhunderts. Eutin: Lumpeter and Lasel. ISBN 9783981067422. OCLC 470750661. 
  • Fussell, Paul (1963). "Patrick Brydone: The Eighteenth-Century Traveler As Representative Man". Literature As a Mode of Travel. New York: New York Public Library. pp. 53-67. OCLC 83683507. 
  • Speake, Jennifer (2003). Literature of Travel and Exploration: An Encyclopedia. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn. ISBN 1579582478. OCLC 55631133. 
  • Stolley, Karen (1992) (in Spanish). El lazarillo de ciegos caminantes: un itinerario crítico. Hanover, NH: Ediciones del Norte. ISBN 9780910061490. OCLC 29205545. 

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