Why travel writing fails and archeologists are frustrated

Brussels Travel Blog

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Travel is a form of education - as Mohammed wrote "don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you travelled." Scholars from Mark Twain ("travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness") to Thomas Jefferson (“travelling makes a man wiser, but less happy”) to St Augustine ("The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page") have agreed. Yet clearly travel is not necessary for wisdom, and likewise "they say that travelling broadens your mind, but first you must have a mind."

So what does travel add to an education more easily than, for example, reading a book about a country? Perhaps one aspect is that travel spurs the interest, encouraging people to pick up books that they would rarely read otherwise. Some people will be keen to read even without travel, and others will blithely ignore the history of their holiday destination, but for many of us I would wager that travel sparks the desire to pick up that book and educate ourselves through the words of others. Then there are aspects of travel education that communicate very poorly through the written word. With our primate brain, evolved to take short-cuts, an abstract intellectual lesson on ethics can have far less impact than face-to-face contact with others. "Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends" (Maya Angelou). And of course there is the primary failure of the travel author - the written word is almost never explicit about universalities. Any aspect of a culture, a place, a time, that is considered to be universal by the inhabitants is never explicitly referred to. This is, of course, the bane of archaeology - even with cultures that left extensive written records, such as the Romans, the mundane day-to-day life is almost completely missing.
Adrian_Liston says:
I'd say it is much harder to learn from reading books, but not impossible :)
Posted on: May 28, 2010
seraphimkarlien says:
If travel has taught me one thing, it is that people may have a completely different culture and live in completely different circomstances, in the end they are all the same all over the world (and that is good as well as bad). I don't think you could ever learn that from reading a book, because it will stress what's different rather than what's the same.

Congrats on the featured blog!
Posted on: May 28, 2010
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