What is a Travelogue?

A travelogue has traditionally been defined as a written account of travel.  By the latter half of the twentieth century, this definition had extended to include movies dealing with travel and travel lectures, complete with projected images.  Things generally included in travelogues include physical descriptions of the buildings, landscape, food, and people being experienced by the traveler.  More inventive authors also add details about less definitive things like culture, literature, art, and gardening techniques.  A travelogue can take on as many different nuances as there are people who write them (“travelogue”; Washington). 

Travelogues have been in existence since at least the days of ancient Greece, when writers like Pausanias and Herodotus wrote in depth accounts of their travels.  Pausanias was responsible for The Description of Greece.  The first of his ten volumes was written between 143 and 161 BCE.  In these works, Pausanias takes his readers on a tour of the Greece of his day, city by city.  He does not just describe the physical appearance of the individual city—although those are included and are valuable to scholars—but also the literature, landscaping, art, and politics.  Herodotus has been known as the “father of history” since the days of the Roman Empire.  His works describe the many battles he either witnessed or participated in, as well as his very extensive travels.  True history books did not yet exist—he was creating the form as he went—and his works actually read more like a travelogue than anything else.  His Histories contain detailed accounts of his travels in Egypt, along with comparisons to his own Greek culture.  He found the Egyptians to be “backward” in comparison to his people.  On a more positive note, he was impressed with the sheer number of monuments they had to offer (Washington; “Pausanias). (fl.c.160 CE): Description of Greece, Book I: Attica”; Bune).

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Photo by David McEachan on Pexels.com

The travelogue is definitely not just an ancient phenomenon.  More modern authors, from the famous like Mary Wollstonecraft, John Steinbeck, and Che Guevara to unknown students writing for class, have tried their hand at the form.  Each of them has given their readers their own individual view of the places they have visited.  Because their content depends almost exclusively on the personality of the traveler himself, each travelogue is unique.  This keeps the form fresh, and keeps people reading and writing them (Washington).

Works Cited

Bune, Matt.  “Herodotus.”   Minnesota State University E-Museum.  Web.  23 October 2010.

“Egypt Through Other Eyes.”  Brooklyn Museum.  Web.  24 October 2010.

“Pausanias (fl.c.160 CE): Description of Greece, Book I: Attica.”  Ancient History Sourcebook.

Web.  23 October 2010.

“Travel to Greece.”  Holiday Destinations Travel Blog.  Web. 22 October 2010.

“travelogue.”  Merriam-Webster.  Web.  22 October 2010.

Washington, Josh.  “The Importance of Connecting With Travel Writing Throughout History.”

Traveler’s Notebook.  Web.  23 October 2010.

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