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What is a Travelogue?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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A travelogue is usually a single person’s account of a trip, journey or otherwise. We have numerous famous travelogues written by some of the European explorers. Marco Polo’s work stands as a good example of his journey to and his subsequent experience of China during the Mongol Ascendancy.

Naturally the early travelogue would have been handwritten on either paper or in blank books to chronicle the adventures of the traveler. Such writing is highly individualized, and is an experience of a journey seen through the eyes of the traveler. It can include virtually anything encountered on a trip: what a person ate, what a person saw, conversations, or notable features of a culture. A personal travelogue is most frequently written in first person.

It’s not a bad idea to keep a travelogue, since it can later help you remember significant details of a trip. Your personal impressions might be for your eyes alone, but the trend in chronicling a trip is now toward sharing this information, via book publication, or more commonly on travel shows or the Internet. Some people keep a video journal instead of writing down their thoughts in a book. Others use laptops and cameras to record interesting aspects of a vacation or journey. They may then publish information about a trip in a travel blog on the Internet, or use their writings to review some of the places they’ve seen and make recommendations to others who might visit the same places.

The travel journal style is not exclusively nonfiction. Many famous written works are travelogues of fictional places. Dante’sDivine Comedy is essentially the record of a journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, and like much travel writing, is told in first person narration. Gulliver’s Travels is another early fictional travelogue.

In modern times, numerous novels fit into the travelogue genre. If you’d like children to get a sense of what a good one might contain, consider the novel Dinotopia by James Gurney, written as a journal, with information about a mystical land in which dinosaurs and humans live in relative harmony with each other. The story itself is fascinating, and the narrator not only records his journey, but also uses illustrations (actually created by Gurney) to emphasize different aspects of the culture.

Some of the most interesting works of the 20th century are travelogues, like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or the 1974 Robert Pirsig book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. A fascinating 1998 work that has captured the imagination of many is Bill Bryson’s, A Walk in the Woods, a description of Bryson’s walk along the Appalachian Trail, with supplemental historical details, and hysterical or odd stories about this trail.

Perhaps one of the most eclectic fictional travelogues in modern times has been A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This is not written in the traditional sense with first person narration. Yet it does give you useful tips on how to make your way through Adams’ imaginative rendering of the galaxy, should the Earth happen to be destroyed to make room for a new highway.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseTour contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

By bythewell — On Oct 10, 2013

You've got to be careful when you're reading some of those older travelogues. It was very much in vogue to make things up or copy other people rather than having your own adventures, and in fact that is where a lot of misinformation about other countries comes from.

People even do it today, although they are much more likely to be caught out if they try to put their travel book across as the truth and it is really just a bit of fiction.

By Mor — On Oct 10, 2013

@irontoenail - I'd also suggest that people take regular notes, even if they think they will remember everything. I've been on quite a few trips and they can tend to blur together. Especially if they are very busy trips, which, unfortunately, is all most people have time for these days.

I don't really keep a proper travelogue, but I try to make sure I record what I did and when so that it will jog my memory later on. I still like looking back on my Egypt travelogue and marveling that I did so much stuff!

By irontoenail — On Oct 09, 2013

If you're going somewhere different to live and you want to record the experience, it's my advice to start recording early, rather than putting it off for later, especially if you're planning on sharing the travelogue with others.

When you've been somewhere for a while, you get used to all the strange things and stop seeing them as strange and exotic. You start taking arty photos, rather than photos of the bizarre buildings and strange trees. The same thing with writing stuff down. Eventually you get used to everything and you forget to write down that you hung out with nomads or that you drank water out of a well, because those things seem pretty normal. But the folks back home want to hear about that stuff, because it's the differences that make things interesting.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseTour contributor, Tricia...
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