Bad Trips

In travel writing, what is there to tell if everything goes according to plan? Shouldn’t we grant that travel writing is to some extent dependent upon the frustrated expectations of the writing traveller, because they simultaneously reveal the distinctiveness of the visited place as well as the writer’s preconceptions and as often misconceptions? That is, don’t the worst trips, or the worst experiences of good trips, make for the best travel writing?

Missed connections. Closed shops. Bad food. Swarming insects. Breakdowns. Thwarted plans. Staggering theft. Catastrophic or merely unpleasant weather. Interpersonal frictions. Disorienting detours. Impassable roads. Surprising conflicts. Disastrous losses. Debilitating illness. Eminent danger. When trips go wrong, what do we learn? About ourselves? Our expectations? Our personal limitations? About the characteristics of a place?

Bad trips can throw into new and illuminating relief particularities of place. They can expose the ways that people living elsewhere do things differently and, to some degree, why. They also reveal why we may find home places more comfortable as well as the way that our sense of comfort shapes our perception of the “outside” world. Likewise, bad trips can serve to reveal the way that relative variation comes to seem “foreign.”

The Society for the Study of American Travel Writing seeks paper proposals for the  American Literature Association annual conference in San Francisco, May 26-29, 2016.

Please email a brief CV and 300-word abstract by 15 December 2015 to Susan Roberson ( using “SATW Bad Trips” as the subject line.  Scholars of American travel writing and practicing travel writers are particularly encouraged to submit proposals.

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