Travel writing in 2020

Image Credit: Anna Blackburn, Laoise Tarrant

Anna Blackburn looks at how the travel writing industry has adapted to this year of health warnings and travel restrictions.

The world is constantly in motion, changing and developing with each passing moment, and yet right now it can feel as though the entire world has come to a stop. People travel to expand their comfort zones, free their minds, learn new things, and take a break from their mundane routines. In the current state of the pandemic, however, travelling is extremely unsafe, no matter where you go.

This is an especially disheartening situation for writers and journalists who make their living from travel writing. These writers have had to adjust to the new circumstances, with some branching out into new topics, and others choosing to continue to write about travel and travel-based news, making sure to include the safety restrictions of each destination.

The Condé Nast Traveller has been focusing their latest articles on safe travel and inspiration for future trips. One article published in July 2020, “5 Trends That Will Change the Way We Travel After Coronavirus,” speculates how travel will change in the coming post-pandemic years. Jenny Southan’s article focuses on the new likelihood of a “staycation surge” and “isolation holidays”, both of which are ideas meant to promote travel in the safest way possible. The term “staycation”, which was coined prior to the pandemic, used to mean staying at home on a relaxing break from work or school. However, this term has become synonymous with travelling within your home country. We all know that the best way to protect yourself from Covid-19 is to stay at home, but with restrictions not likely to lighten up anytime soon, domestic travel may be the best option for you and your travelling companions.

Staycations can be a steep fall for travel writers who set their sights on seeing the world though. While domestic travel is the safest option, many people don’t see it as ‘exciting.’ A staycation can sometimes feel like a poor excuse for a holiday. But after staying at home for months at a time, now people are looking for new experiences. Considering this, it is not hard to see the appeal of isolation holidays.

Isolation holidays may be the key to helping the travel writing industry keep its head above water. As a writer, I find that when I’m on holiday I try to see everything while I’m there and write afterwards, but being out of busy cities and enjoying nature gives you more time to write. Vacationing in a secluded cabin somewhere deep in the mountains would be a dream. It provides time to take in everything around you and write while enjoying the serenity. With less access to Wi-Fi and more opportunities to explore the untouched earth, an isolation holiday gives you the perfect opportunity to take a step back from your busy life. Writing about the clean air on the side of a mountain, a field of hundreds of flowers, or a vigorous hike through the woods can encourage people to leave their homes and experience the world around them, rather than just seeing it. Such a method could be the perfect solace for travel writers in these times.

Another approach for travel writers is to pivot their content. One travel writer has chosen to transition her writing to how the pandemic is affecting animals around the world. Animal-lover Lavanya Sunkara, a writer whose work has appeared in Forbes magazine, the New York Times, USA Today, and Architectural Digest, educates us on how the Safaris are taking action. This includes how new restrictions are continuing to endanger species like the Sea Turtle, and how you can help save the world from your couch. Another writer for Forbes and The New York Times, Geoffrey Morrison, has taken his travel writing to the digital age. This year, Morrison focuses his articles on camera and film equipment reviews and the newly created Digital Nomad Visa. 

Both of these travel writers have been forced to transition their normal writing into travel or pandemic based news, but each one is working to keep the theme of travel in what they do. Travel-based writing can be a very difficult task because authors must rely on secondary sources for information, as opposed to using their gained knowledge from an experience. This is an important distinction between travel writing and travel-based writing. These secondary sources can be unreliable, and when reporting on world news rather than sharing your experiences, similar work may appear multiple times, as many people take interest in the same topics.

The National Geographic Society, a world leader in journalism, has continued their important work, and while they are also releasing articles relating to the pandemic, the organisation has had its sights on climate change for a while now. Before the pandemic, climate change was arguably the biggest global concern. Many student protests in 2019 and press releases about the topic have brought the issue of climate change into the spotlight. This will change how people view travel, and in turn, how they write about it.

It is likely that there will be an incredible increase in tourism the day after restrictions let up. While positive for tourists, this can be detrimental to the people who have rediscovered the peace and beauty of their cities without tourists. 

Recently, Edinburgh City Council voted to barre motorised vehicles on Victoria and Cockburn Street as one of the first steps to enacting the new “City Centre Transformation Plan.” Bhakti Mathew reports in The National Geographic how the “pedestrianization” of these streets in Edinburgh was meant to promote social distancing and allowed restaurants to have more outdoor dining in response to the pandemic. This decision not only benefits the ambience of Old Town Edinburgh but also helps the environment. This is a result of Edinburgh’s plan to return to tourism while keeping the feeling of history and magic alive in its streets.

Travel, and travel writing, will be forever affected by this pandemic.

Travelling and travel writing are popular industries in the world we live in today, but most people either fear the virus or live in countries where restrictions are too strict to travel. It is unclear how long this pandemic will last and how long the virus will continue to remain a major part of our lives. Travel, and travel writing, will be forever affected by this pandemic. It is likely that almost every article written about travel will include a warning regarding safety precautions and restrictions for the foreseeable future. There are hundreds of thousands of travel writing articles, stories and more you can read today, but never again will we be able to travel in exactly the same way. For years to come people will remember the pandemic and the effects it has had on everyone.

So while not exactly the travel-writing many are used to, world news and new inspiration based articles are keeping the travel writing industry afloat by reporting on how countries are coping with the pandemic, and what is happening all around the world. This information is vital to aspiring travellers, so they can feel safe about a destination before their first post-pandemic getaway, make their trip safer for both themselves and the Earth and ensure it is their most memorable one yet.