In Praise Of Travel Lists

Travel 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]

Brits on traveling to the US: more hassle than it’s worth

Despite the weak dollar, the number of Brits visiting America is down 11% since 9/11. As this blog by The Guardian suggests, traveling to the US is just too much hassle these days.

The author, Ed Vulliamy, who travels frequently between London and the US, sounds quite angry about the whole thing: “And now here comes a new bag of tricks from Washington’s Department of Homeland Security: demanding to be informed of everything about you – by yourself and your government – before you try and buy a ticket, even if you are merely flying over America,” he writes. “Who the hell wants to apply online for permission to visit the US before even buying a ticket? Why should information on a friend or relative pushing a passenger in a wheelchair to the gate at Prestwick be dispatched to the CIA?”

One of his points especially struck me. He says that “the paranoia and war on terror, of which the new travel measures are part – have robbed and abused the emotional power and dignity of New York’s response to al-Qaeda’s murderous visit that morning: the carpets of flowers, the tributes, the missing posters and peace signs. This kind of language, this paranoia and manipulation of what happened has nothing to do with the real best of America. And godammit, that’s why it is still worth braving.”

It is hard to argue with that.

10 best foodie trips

Reading this article before breakfast today made my mouth water.

The Guardian has selected Top 10 foodie destinations in the world for the following culinary delights:

  1. The best sushi in Tokyo
  2. The best pizza in Naples
  3. The best burger in New York
  4. Best steak frîtes in Paris
  5. The best seafood in Sydney
  6. The best pho in Vietnam
  7. The best oysters in Ireland
  8. The best juice in Rio
  9. The best dumplings in Eastern Europe
  10. The best tandoori in Delhi

Read their recommendations here.

I know what you are thinking. The Brits are telling us about good food? Don’t be skeptical. They will be the first to say that in order to eat well, a Brit must leave the UK.