— What the Heck is a Travelogue?

On January 24, 2016 by travelogueblog

I couldn’t believe my luck when I started The Travelogue Blog in 2013.

With the .com domain going for over $2,000, how could it be that no one had scooped up the only slightly inferior www.travelogueblog.net? Such a clever rhyme couldn’t still be ripe for the plucking! (Yes, dear reader, it rhymes). But there it was, waiting for just the right person to come along, and soon, it was mine for a very reasonable rate. Why, if just a few people would click on the site’s would-be advertisers, well then, maybe this thing could start to pay for itself one day!


Our beautiful banner is by Philadelphia artist Mara Henao

Our beautiful banner is by Philadelphia artist Mara Henao

As a teacher of English, I was more than pleased with the title of my blog. I was about to enter a rich and varied pantheon of travelogue writers who had traversed the world, and shared their experiences & knowledge with an eager reading public, a well-read and ever more curious bunch dying to know about the farthest reaches of the globe. Travelogue had already been established as a genre for well over a hundred years, and it has always remained a wildly popular form of writing, but it was high time, in my opinion, that someone brought it into the twenty-first century. And it looked like it was up to me.

I typed up my first entry, clicked publish, and waited for the site’s hit counter to start spinning like a slot machine. After a while, though, I wondered if I might have to nudge the reading public along.

I started with a word of mouth campaign.

“Travel tips and stories. Travelogue Blog dot Net,” I’d say to anyone who’d listen.

“Come again?” was one reply.

“How do you spell that?” was another.

“Did you mean dot com?” was fairly common.

“Can you write that down?” was the final straw. Apparently the reading public was less familiar with the spelling of the form than the content of the form itself. Time for business cards.

business card 2

It’s been three years now since that first entry, with irregular content yielding modest growth. I’ve built a following on Twitter (though posting anything on Twitter feels like I’m losing a shouting match with an empty void), and traffic to the website has slowly doubled each year (if doubling next to nothing at first still counts for something these days). I’ve dwindled my first 2,000 business cards down to approximately 1,900, and though I’ve yet to collect my first $100 in advertising revenue, I’ll probably make it to that minimum threshold someday. Ahem. In the meantime, I’m firmly entrenching myself into that well-loved and modestly consumed writing tradition: the travelogue.

With that said, dear reading public, I’d like to share a few of my favorites, for anyone who might still be wondering just where the heck this blog gets its name.

Mark Twain

As I type this sentence, I have finished reading about 20% of Mark Twain’s classic 1897 travelogue, Following the Equator. The book — one of his last published works — follows Twain through the ups and downs of a westward jaunt, boating to Hawaii, through the Fiji islands, on to Australasia and beyond. I’ve only made it as far as Australia, so I can’t comment on where he goes after that, but this excellent summary (#SpoilerAlert) on bookrags will fill you in on the details if you don’t plan on reading a book from the turn of the last century yourself.

I’ll simply comment on Twain’s style, which I’ve always admired. Those who know me will attest that I try (to varying degrees of success) to say what I mean, and that I’m usually confounded by the sarcasm of others. But Twain’s irony is wonderful. He is able to humorously self-deprecate while always maintaining his dignity, and to skillfully criticize injustice while always remaining funny, never preaching. And he does all this without confusing a very literal reader like me. If you haven’t picked up Twain since middle school, you might want to try some of his travel writing. It holds up.

Bill Bryson

An American born expat who has bounced between the US and England for over 40 years, Bryson has devoted his career to writing travelogue that is laugh out loud funny. I’ve gone through a lot of his books, from A Walk in the Woods, his memoir about hiking the Appalachian Trail, to Neither Here Nor There, which is essential reading before backpacking across Europe, and The Lost Continent, a book that I’m sure has inspired many a good, old-fashioned cross-country American roadtrip. After I finish Twain, I’m going to pick up his latest book, on shelves now: The Road to Little Dribbling. It’s about the nooks and crannies of his adopted U.K., and I’m sure it will be worth every penny I spend on a new copy.

History & Memoir

Riding into the Sunset
The best part of travelogue writing is that not only does it share with a reader the experience of an author who is traveling someplace specific, it may also be instructive about how and when or why to travel to that location, or even teach the reader some relevant (or irrelevant) history. All good travel writers do this, seamlessly blending their personal story within the history of the location and the context of their travels. Before I left for Europe for the first time, I was on a reading kick. Each of these books taught me something about what to expect, or something to look out for, or something about the writer, or about myself. First hand experience is the best teacher, but reading is a close second. These books do a great job of blending history, memoir, and travelogue.

Rachel Shukert, Everything is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour

Tony Perrottet, The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe

Eloisa James, Paris in Love: A Memoir

Ivanka di Felice, A Zany Slice of Italy

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

In the end…

It has been a long, slow climb to the point that I have reached, and yet there are miles to go before I sleep. Standing on the shoulders of giants provides a great vantage of the path that lies ahead. And other assorted clichés. After you’ve finished reading all that The Travelogue Blog has to offer, I hope you enjoy one of my recommendations. Using these links will help me get one step closer to paying off this domain!

Happy reading.

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