Travel Culture: Essays on What Makes Us Go

By Carol Traynor Williams | Go to book overview

Childhood and Travel Literature

DAVID ESPEY

CHILDREN ARE conspicuously absent from travel literature. Literary travel is an adult activity, and travel writers are solitary figures. If they have children, they rarely take them along for the trip. In popular culture, the subject of travel with children yields farces like Chevy Chase's Family Vacation movies--not really about travel, but rather a low form of tourism.

Real travel, as travel writers continually remind us, is no vacation. They constantly defend themselves against the accusation that travel and travel writing, since they traffic in the world of leisure and holidays, are not serious. "Travel is work," Paul Fussell argues in his essay "The Stationary Tourist." "Etymologically a traveler is one who suffers travail" (235).

Children would render impossible the work of serious travel writers like Jonathan Raban, the late Bruce Chatwin, or Paul Theroux. Picture Raban going down the Mississippi in his fragile boat with child in tow, or Chatwin in the wilds of Patagonia or the Australian outback. They could not function as writing travelers without complete freedom and solitude. In The Happy Isles of Oceania ( 1992), Theroux recounts how the family-minded Pacific Islanders call to him, "Where is your wife?" when they see him alone in his one-man kayak.

Most wives of travel writers are at home with the children. Perhaps that is one reason why there are fewer women travel writers than men. Mary Morris, who has written travel books about Mexico and a trans-Siberian rail journey, postponed marriage and childbearing and escaped the fate of her mother. In an essay entitled "Women and Journeys: Inner and Outer," Morris describes how her mother "used to buy globes and maps and plan dream journeys she'd never take while her 'real life' was ensconced in the PTA, the Girl Scouts, suburban lawn parties, and barbecues" (26).

Children are part of that very world of home from which the travel writer must escape--the world of domestic obligation, the routine, the family, and the familiar.

-51-

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