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Monday, March 17, 2008

Romanticism versus reality: what do travellers really want?

So why is it that guidebooks romanticize destinations and that we’re much more likely to read the unpleasant truths about a place in poetry than we are in a travel guide? A travel editor’s argument might go, do readers really want to read about ugly places and the social problems of a destination they are dreaming about visiting? Who wants to destroy their dreams? (Because to destroy dreams is to destroy book sales.) But, the author might argue, how many travellers wants to arrive at a place only to be disappointed because it’s not as pretty as it appears in the portrait that the book has been painted? How many travellers want to get robbed because they’re ill-prepared and have let down their guard? Take Buenos Aires, a city that’s been flavour-of-the-month for a few years now, a city that the travel press frequently runs features on. Rarely is Buenos Aires’ high incidence of gun crime mentioned, nor the fact that not everyone has recovered from the 2001 economic crisis, nor that parts of the city are crawling with pickpockets preying on tourists, nor that travellers will see the cartoneros criss-crossing the city, trawling through people’s trash to collect cardboard to sell for recycling. Don't get me wrong, I love the city and I've written about it a lot. But do travellers really only want to read about tango and red wine? As travellers, do we not prefer to know the truth, to get a balanced perspective, and to be prepared? And then be pleasantly surprised?


Prêt à Voyager said...

I've never really considered the romance vs. the reality of guide books, but it's so true! I mean I often find myself picking out the odd, quirky things to see in guidebooks. Lara, I think you'd be the perfect person to start a whole new series of travel books that isn't afraid to point out the realities of a place. It almost feels like it could be a fun scavanger hunt inside a culture/place!


Lara Dunston said...

Hi Anne, Thanks! Terry and I have been developing ideas for a new kind of guidebook series actually... fingers-crossed we can get it off the ground.