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Travelogue

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Travelogue

Ever wanted to learn about a different country? Then, a travelogue may be the genre for you! Travelogues follow the protagonist as they embark on a trip either around their own country or somewhere new entirely. They are often humorous, but always informative and are an easy way to learn about far often places. Want to know more? Keep on reading for the exact meaning and a list of the most popular travelogues.

Travelogue: meaning

Travelogues are one of the oldest forms of non-fiction writings, but what are they?

Travelogue - A truthful account given by a traveller of their experiences on a journey.

People have always been fascinated with far off places and travelling. Therefore, travelogues have existed since Ancient Greece, and have remained a popular non-fiction literary genre since then. The first travel writer is widely viewed as being the Greek writer Herodotus. His book, Histories (450BC-420BC) was a record of his travels across Greece, North Africa and East Asia, it is widely regarded as one of the first travelogues.

Travelogues continued to be popular throughout the centuries due to the prominence of explorers such as Marco Polo and Captain James Cook. As travel was widely inaccessible during this period, travelogues allowed people to learn about different countries without leaving their homes. In the 20th and 21st centuries, travelogues continue to be a popular non-fiction genre. The success of travelogue writer, Bill Bryson led to the genre taking on a more humorous tone, with the genre both informing and entertaining the reader.

Writing a travelogue

While there are no set rules for writing a travelogue, there are certain characteristics that are frequently seen in this genre.

First-person narrative

As many travelogues detail the first-hand experience of a traveller, they are written in a first-person narrative. A first-person narrative can be told from the perspective of the protagonist, or of someone retelling another person's story. A key way to spot first-person narratives is to look for words such as 'I' or 'me' when describing the narrator's thoughts. First-person narratives are especially effective in travelogues as they relay the narrator's emotions and thoughts while travelling. This form of storytelling can be seen in travelogues such as Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods (1998). In the extract below, a first-person narrative is used by Bryson to convey his conflicting thoughts about hiking the Appalachian Trail in America.

I wanted to quit and to do this forever, sleep in a bed and in a tent, see what was over the next hill and never see a hill again. All of this all at once, every moment, on the trail or off.

Structure

There is no fixed structure for a travelogue, however many follow the same core pattern in their stories. Most modern travelogues begin with the traveller explaining the events leading up to their trip, as well as their reasons for travelling. The novel will then move on to detail what happened to the narrator on their trip. This section of the novel will be the longest as it will detail the people, food, landscape and cultures that the traveller experienced. Throughout this portion, the traveller will give their opinions and thoughts on what they have seen. These thoughts may be exaggerated and humourous, or heartfelt and sincere. Finally, the novel will end with the traveller reaching their destination, either home or somewhere new. Upon reaching their destination, the traveller may reflect on their journey and the impact it has had on their life.

An example of this is seen in Elizabeth Gilbert's novel, Eat, Pray, Love (2006). The novel follows Gilbert, who decides to embark on a year-long trip around Italy, India and Indonesia. Gilbert decides to travel following a mid-life crisis at 30 years old, the novel concludes with Gilbert finding love and peace and year on, due in part to her journey. The extract below, taken from the end of the novel, shows Gilbert reflecting on how her mindset has changed during her journey.

When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person's body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings

Descriptive language

As travelogues centre around the experiences of a traveller, lots of descriptive language will be used to bring these scenes to life. Much of a travelogue will focus on the narrator describing the people, culture, food and landscapes that they encountered. Therefore, they will use descriptive language such as adjectives, metaphors, similes or personification. These literary devices are especially effective in travelogues, as they can make the setting and experiences of the narrator more vivid in the reader's mind. An example of this can be found in the novel, Dark Star Safari (2002) by Paul Theroux. In this portion of the novel, Theroux uses descriptive language to describe a road he drove during his travels from Cairo to Cape Town.

What I remembered most clearly about this Jinja road was that on portions of it, for reasons no one could explain, butterflies settled in long fluffy tracts. There might be eighty feet of road carpeted by white butterflies, so many of them that if you drove too fast your tires lost their grip, and some people lost their lives, skidding on butterflies.

List of popular travelogues

Below is a list of three popular travelogues that have been written during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Innocents Abroad (1869) by Mark Twain

The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad. I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass.

Mark Twain's 1869 novel is an autobiographical account of his travels around Europe and The Holy Land. Twain is joined on this excursion by other American travellers. The novel was extremely popular and was one of Twain's best selling novels during his lifetime. In part, this is due to how Twain satirised the xenophobia that was often found in the travelogues written by his contemporaries. The Innocents Abroad (1869) focuses on themes of culture and history and looks at how travel can affect your view of both.

Into the Wild (1996) by John Krakauer

I'd like to repeat the advice that I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt.

Into the Wild (1996) differs from other travelogues, as the traveller the novel centres around is not the author himself. Instead, this novel follows Christopher McCandless as he hitch-hikes across North America. McCandless sold all his belongings and gave away his savings before embarking on this trip. He finished his journey in the wilderness of Alaska, where he sadly passed away from exposure and starvation. Into the Wild (1996) tracks McCandless' journey through North America, to Alaska. It explores themes of life, travel, and materialism.

Notes from a Small Island (1995) by Bill Bryson

Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain - which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad - Marmite, village fetes, country lanes, people saying 'mustn't grumble' and 'I'm terribly sorry but'... seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays - every bit of it.

Arguably one of the most popular and famous travelogue writers, Bill Bryson has written multiple books about his travels. One of particular note is Notes from a Small Island (1995). This novel follows Bryson as he attempts to travel around Great Britain using mostly public transport. Bryson uses humour to present his experiences as he compares America to Britain. The novel also uses flashbacks, as Bryson reminisces on his first years in Britain. The novel was met with widespread acclaim due to its presentation of Britain and British culture.

Importance of travelogues

So why are travelogues still popular after all these years? Travelogues are an easy way for readers to learn about a country or culture, without ever having to leave the comfort of their own home. Travelogues are important as they are an easily accessible way of learning about life and developing one's identity. This is principally due to the simple language and structure that is commonly found in travelogues. A first-person narrative means that the reader can easily place themselves in the traveller's shoes and understand their experiences. Travelogues are therefore still important due to their accessible nature.

Travelogue - Key takeaways

  • A travelogue is a truthful account given by a traveller of their experiences on a journey.
  • It is a type of non-fiction novel.
  • Travelogues are typically written as first-person narratives.
  • A famous travelogue writer is Bill Bryson.
  • They are important as travelogues are an accessible way for readers to learn about different countries.

Frequently Asked Questions about Travelogue

A travelogue is a truthful account given by a traveller of their experiences on a journey. 

The purpose of a travelogue is to provide the reader with a true account of a traveller's experience on a journey. 

To make a good travelogue you have to use clear and simple language that describes your trip. A good travelogue should include information about the people, landscape and culture of the place(s) you have visited. It should also include your thoughts and feelings on this. 

A travelogue can be used to inform the reader about a traveller's experiences on a journey. It can be used to provide information about the people, culture, or landscape of the place visited. 

To a write a travelogue you typically need to recall your experiences through a first-person narration. The novel should first feature your thoughts before the trip, then during the trip and then conclude with a reflection on what you have learnt. The language should be clear and concise but also descriptive. 

Final Travelogue Quiz

Question

What is a travelogue? 

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Answer

A travelogue is a truthful account given by a traveller of their experiences on a journey. 

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Question

True or False: A travelogue is a type of fiction novel.

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Answer

False! A travelogue is a type of non-fiction novel. 

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Question

In which country was the first travelogue written?

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Answer

Ancient Greece

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Question

Are there set rules for writing a travelogue?

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Answer

No! There are no set rules for writing a travelogue. 

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Question

What perspective are many travelogues written in?

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Answer

First-person

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Question

What pronouns are used in a first-person narration?

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Answer

I

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Why is a first-person narration useful in a travelogue? 

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Answer

It is useful as it can relay the thoughts and feelings of the author. 

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Is there a fixed structure in a travelogue? 

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Answer

No! there is not a fixed structure in a travelogue. 

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Question

What is typically the longest portion of a travelgoue? 

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Answer

In the middle - when the narrator details the events of their trip. 

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True or False: One of Mark Twain's best selling novels is a travelogue.

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Answer

True! One of Mark Twain's best selling novels is a travelogue. 

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Question

Should travelogues use descriptive language?

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Answer

Yes! Travelogues should use descriptive language.

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Question

Which is not a technique that can create descriptive language? 

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Answer

Commas

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Question

What country does Bill Bryson travel around in Notes from a Small Island (1995)?

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Answer

Great Britain

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Question

Why are travelogues important?

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Answer

They are important as travelogues are an accessible way for readers to learn about different countries.

Show question

Question

True or False: Many travelogues use a humorous tone. 

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Answer

True! Many travelogues use a humorous tone. 

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