There’s a great post today on The Traveler’s Notebook at Matador by Joshywashington that questions what purpose–if any–travel writing serves, especially if you’re simply writing a destination piece without any sort of larger meaning behind it.
I had a revelatory moment once, about two years ago, when I volunteered with KaBOOM!, a non profit that gathers hundreds of volunteers to build a playground in one day. We were building this playground in New Orleans East just two years after Katrina had rendered that part of the city a ghost town. I wondered if spending a whole day building a playground was really a good use of my time when I could be building a house instead.
Playgrounds don’t meet the same basic needs for a person (or a family) that a home does. But playing is so central, so critical to one’s childhood that facilitating that takes on a larger importance, and in that devastated neighborhood, a brightly colored playground takes on a greater meaning.
That’s a long answer to a short question, but building that playground helped me understand the importance of recreation, of play time, for the good life.
Providing entertainment or escape for readers makes a writer relevant, although maybe not the more obvious sense that a more hard-hitting, eye-opening piece does. Travel writers crafting stories about their vacations are certainly not going to crumble anyone’s worldview, but we all need a venue for stepping out of our minds and our daily lives, and art–in its many forms–helps us do that. In that sense, travel writing contributes to an essential service.
I don’t harbor any grand illusions about the redemptive power of my writing. I’m not sure that writing about desserts in New Orleans is going to take away the stresses of someone’s work day, for example. But sometimes I have to write for myself, for my own sanity, because it’s what I love and I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. We all know how draining it can be to be around someone who’s unhappy, so in some tangential way my happiness serves or contributes to the greater good. Right?
When I was reading this post I noticed one of my articles found its way to the four featured posts at the top of every page on Matador’s website. I don’t think that’s happened before, so I was excited: