When travel literature is being discussed, there are talks about guide books, travel memoirs, nature writing and outdoor literature. Travel literature is a genre of literature that is almost as old as literature itself. From the 2nd century AD, when a travel memoirist from Greece, Pausanias, who was also a geographer, to the early modern period when James Boswell's Journal of a Tour to Hebrides helped to set aside travel memoir as a genre in literature, travel literature has always been around.

Most notable early examples of this genre of literature include are Pausanias' description of Greece written in the 2nd century CE. There is also The Journey Through Wales by Gerald from Wales written as far back as 1191. Ibn Jubayr wrote his journal from 1145 to 1214 and also Ibn Batutta from 1304-1377.

Travel literature was very common as a genre in Arabic literature in mediaeval times. However, it became popular from 960 to 1279 at the time of the Song Dynasty in China where it was referred to as 'youji wenxue'—travel record literature.

It was either written as a narrative prose diary or as an essay. Travel literature was filled with a lot of geographical and topographical information especially by authors like Fan Chengda and Xu Xiaxe. While the prominent poet Su Shi took a moral and philosophical approach in his Daytrip Essay..

Petrarch brought about another approach to travel literature, which is travelling just for the sake of travelling. His book Accent of Mount Ventoux written from 1304 to 1377 showed a man taking pleasure in his travelling.

In his book, he narrates that he went to the top of the mountain to satisfy his curiosity and for pleasure after viewing it from below. He described his companions who refused to climb with him as having a lack of curiosity.

His narration about the climb made comparisons allegorically between the climb itself and his own moral growth. This showed that travel literature was not just about the record or the description or even the philosophy, it can actually be savoured and enjoyed even while the writer is at it. Fast forward to the 18th century where everyone referred to Travel Literature as 'the book of travels' because it had too many maritime diaries in the front line of its recognition. In Britain, many famous writers opted for writings in the Travel Literature form.

There was Captain James Cook Diaries, Alexander Von Humboldt's narration of his sojourns to the regions of America from 1799 to 1804 which originally appeared in French before it was translated into other languages. It is thought that many naturalists, Charles Darwin included, were influenced by it. Other accounts of travel literature come from aristocrats, the clergy, and wealthy people with money to spare who travelled round the world to discover the past and art and architecture of other places in the world. These people may not be scholars or poets but they wrote about it.

One of the earliest of such people was Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote from 1850 to 1894. He wrote An Inland Voyage in 1878 before Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes in 1879. His books about his travel in France was among the first that presented hiking and camping as recreational activities. From Robert's narration which spoke of the use of one of the first sleeping bags, a new subgenre of Travel Literature began to germinate. It was about exploration and writing about it. It had been not been explored before so travel writers delved into it with enthusiasm.



Different travel writers use different approaches to write their travel journals, from the humorous to the serious; from the documentary style to the literary, as well as the journalistic approach. Travel books encompass guide books and is often associated with tourism.

Travel writing can be found almost anywhere, on websites and in books. They have been written and published by people from different walks of life: the military, the merchant, the working class, scientists, scholars, missionaries, migrants and educators among others.

American travel writer Bill Bryson, who is popular with this genre of literature won an award in 2011, The Golden Eagle Award, which was presented by the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild for his outstanding work in  Travel Literature.


Bill Bryson also has the Durham University's library named after him for his inputs as the university's 11th chancellor from 2005 to 2011. Other notable and popular travel writers include Welsh author Jan Morris and American Paul Theroux.

Paul Theroux receives the 1981 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Mosquito Coast, his novel that was later made into a movie with the same name. In 1989, Paul was also awarded with the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award for his book Riding The Iron Rooster.

The Welshman, Jan Morris was crowned with the Golden PEN Award which was run by English PEN because of his contribution to literature which they referred to as "a Lifetime's Distinguished Service To Literature. Travel Literature often dabbles into essay writing as shown by V. S. Naipaul's A Wounded Civilization about India in 1976.

Naiman's book showed his observations on a nation and her people, plus it also presented the occasion for such. Travel writing is merged with many such things as adventures, nature, pleasure, study, philosophy.

It is a very vast genre of literature and discoveries continue to be made day by day. Not only is travel writing educative, it also widens the scope of people's understanding of other cultures.

These days, travel writing is often mixed up in recreational activities like hiking and tourism.

Many writers are also delving into the genre. In this century, many writers and people are taking up travel writing as a hobby, others are taking it up as a career.