In Praise Of Travel Lists

travel listsTravel lists get a lot of grief. I’ve overheard many fellow travel writers offer the opinion that lists of various sorts are deeply inferior to any and all narrative travel writing. Others have suggested that lists are slowly crowding out real travel writing entirely.

C’mon now.

Let’s agree for a few provisional minutes that the purpose of travel writing is, very generally, to inspire people to think about travel. (Why not? This is a good goal, all things considered.) Few genres of writing are better suited to achieving this goal than travel lists – lists of destinations, hotels, beaches, restaurants and so on. A list written by an expert can feel like an extended secret, like an invitation to experience the world differently.

Lists at their best are efficient. They cover key territory and reduce unnecessary noise. They reveal their writers’ passions directly. Are they the ticket to cross-cultural understanding? Not usually, but then very few traditional travel stories, no matter how drenched they may be in self-importance, ever accomplish this end.

Let’s take this past Saturday’s print edition of Guardian Travel as an example of the value of travel lists. The section was full of inspiring ideas in list form – summer holiday recommendations, adventures in south-west England, and cool accommodations on the Isle of Wight. There’s a more bullet-point-like list of upcoming holiday festivals in the UK as well.

The summer holiday recommendations kick off with some exciting suggestions about corners of France slightly off the beaten path, written by Jacqueline Mirtelli of Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency. Mirtelli suggests Cap Corse, the little-visited peninsula on the northern coast of Corsica, and finishes off her tip list with the inland villages of the Var, a region in Provence. Elsewhere Michael Cullen of i-escape tips the Greek island of Kastellorizo, Simon Wrench of Inntravel suggests the Danish Riviera, and Lucy Kane of Rough Guides lists Tbilisi, Palma and Montenegro as her summer travel recommendations.

In this short round-up piece the excitement of summer travel is infectious and inspiring. There is information here, and more importantly there are multiple jumping-off points for research. Could this sort of generalized excitement be achieved by one longer piece on, say, the Amalfi Coast? I’m doubtful that it could.

Like many absolutist stands that we travel writers get sidetracked into on occasion, the resistance to lists is misplaced. The wholesale replacement of narrative by lists would be a terrible development for sure; shy of that, there’s no need to attack the humble list. There is, however, as always, a need across genres for high-quality versions of all types of writing.

[Image of Cap Corse: Flickr | cremona daniel]

The naughty postcard museum

The British have always been famous for their humor, both dry wit and the naughtier brand. One man who combined the two is being celebrated in a new museum that opened in Ryde in the Isle if Wight yesterday.

Donald McGill, Britain’s “king of vulgarity”, illustrated thousands of postcards over an almost sixty-year career. He was best known for simple double-entedres like the one pictured to the right. He also has the distinction of making it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most sales of an individual postcard–one featuring a bookish man and an attractive young woman sitting under a tree. The guy peers over a volume and asks the girl, “Do you like Kipling?” to which she replies, “I don’t know, you naughty boy, I’ve never kippled!” That sold more than six million copies.

One of his most popular, and most controversial, shows two men admiring an attractive woman as one says to the other, “She’s a nice girl. Doesn’t drink or smoke, and only swears when it slips out!”

In the age of Internet pornography these barely qualify for a PG rating, but in Britain before the Sixties they shocked stogy traditional sensibilities. In 1953 many local jurisdictions raided the shops selling his postcards and burned any they found. The next year at the age of 79, McGill had to face what the museum’s curator called a “show trial” for obscenity. He got off with a fine, but the ruling almost killed the saucy postcard industry.

The Donald McGill Museum website is still under construction but shows some more examples of McGill’s work.


Photo courtesy Donald McGill via Wikimedia Commons.