Travel and Escape (2013): Are Travel Writers Obsolete?


Not too long ago, travellers communicated with home via letters and the beloved blue-paper aerogram. Nowadays we text, email and update social media from even some of the farthest reaches of the world. It’s easy to tell our stories and the internet is flooded with blogs, Facebook updates and reviews from travellers worldwide. With this new information-sharing culture, are traditional travel writers and their stories going to become obsolete?This was the question asked of travel writing experts—Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet, Don George, editor of National Geographic Traveller, and Agustinus Wibowo, a leading Indonesian travel writer—at the 2013 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali. Here are their responses:131127-travel-and-escape-are-travel-writers-obsolete-2Credit: Victoria Watts 

Tony Wheeler:

I don’t think travel writers will become obsolete. People are still going to want information in a trusted fashion. However, the way we get that information is changing. We read as many words as we ever did, we just don’t always read them on paper—we read them on screen, on our phones and through the internet. But we still read those words, so the demand for information is still there.

Agustinus Wibowo:

The world is constantly changing, the way we travel is changing and the travel writers are changing too. We look back at travel writing in the 19th century, and it’s more about the destinations and people’s experiences in undiscovered lands. Nowadays, nearly everyone can travel. There are so many budget airlines and it’s easier to get a passport. If a travel writer wants to insist on being the first person to visit a place, they won’t survive. Nowhere is untouched.

Travel writing has become more about connection with your readers. Readers don’t just want information about the place—they can get that for free on the internet. They want to buy your book to see behind the place. The point of connection is getting more and more important and travel writing is getting more and more personal. We share emotion between the writers and the readers. The reader is proud to share what the writer has experienced, and they consider the writer’s journey to be their journey too.

Don George:

I think there is the kind of travel writing that Lonely Planet writers do, which is great and won’t go away because they are experts at what they do, and then there is another branch of travel writing, which is storytelling.

Storytelling is this incredibly ancient and abiding art. It’s one of the things that distinguishes us as human beings. We like to share our stories. The travel writer connects with the world outside and then connects his experience with the readers’ lives and worlds. That’s what’s so hopeful and inspiring about travel writing for me. It brings the world closer together on a foundation of understanding, respect, community, and wonder. If we, as travel writers, can communicate that to our readers, we infuse the world with this sense of dignity and respect, appreciation and understanding. That makes the world a better place. For me, that’s the heart of what travel writing is all about. It’s incredibly important so it’s not going to go away.

What do you think? Are things like social media, blogging and TripAdvisor taking over from the traditional travel writers?

Victoria Watts

Victoria is a writer, yoga teacher, nomad and lover of cakes. In her previous life, she worked for international NGOs and as a journalist in London. Nowadays, she and her filmmaker boyfriend travel the world discovering new places to call home. She writes about the ups and downs of digital nomad life at Bridges and Balloons, and about traveling as a vegetarian at The Vegetarian Guidebook. Her memoir is in the pipeline.

Follow: @bridge_balloon


You may want to listen to the full audio recording of this panel, provided by Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2013:

About Agustinus Wibowo

Agustinus is an Indonesian travel writer and travel photographer. Agustinus started a “Grand Overland Journey” in 2005 from Beijing and dreamed to reach South Africa totally by land with an optimistic budget of US$2000. His journey has taken him across Himalaya, South Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and ex-Soviet Central Asian republics. He was stranded and stayed three years in Afghanistan until 2009. He is now a full-time writer and based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Contact: Website | More Posts

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