A while ago, I came across an article that touted the differences between how men and women approach travel writing. Before reading this article, it had never occurred to me that there was any difference between the Bill Brysons and Elizabeth Gilberts of the world. For me, travel writing always seems to fall into three categories:
- There are the sort of stories that are aimed at helping you, the reader, plan a trip, build a travel blog, find a cheap flight, etc.
- There are the stories that are of a more personal nature; in my case solo traveling in Bali, deciding to call off my wedding while in Argentina, grappling with fear in Borneo – emotionally inspiring stories set to an exotic backdrop.
- Then, there are the stories that are more investigative journalism; the sort of stories that go and cover issues in places most people avoid, the sort of stories that leave you wanting to donate your time and money to impact change.
In reading this article, the author argued that when it comes to travel writing, men tend to report the facts, to focus on the destination; whereas women will focus on emotions – giving less concern to the destination and more to their personal development. I found this interesting – could it be true? When I look back on my own travel writing, it’s undeniable that I grew substantially during my adventures. I grappled with anxiety in Mexico, I made a life choice in Buenos Aires, I rediscovered my love of writing in Indonesia; and all of these stories have one thing in common: I am at the center of them.
It’s true, that perhaps those stories didn’t touch on the local culture, perhaps they didn’t dive into the societal or political issues facing the Balinese or Argentines. Those personal stories of mine were written as a form of therapy, a life raft during a dark storm in my life where all I had was words and a place to push me forward. Does this make me less of a writer? I don’t think so.
Perhaps there are some variations between how men and women travel write, but I have read pieces from men that are seeping with emotion, just as I have read brilliant reports from women that focus solely on an issue abroad. As both a writer and journalist, I feel that it is emotion – that genuine personal connection in a story – that brings the words on a page (or screen) to life. In reading novels like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, as beautiful the Pacific Crest Trail sounded, it was her story that kept me turning the pages.
When I first read the article about men’s travel writing vs. women’s, I felt intimidated as though my own writing somehow fell short of what constituted proper travel writing. Then I realized that writing, like travel, is an immensely personal thing and that there is no right or wrong way to go about it. This reminds of that silly argument of travelers vs. tourists, of how some people will jump on their high horse and look down upon others because of how they choose to vacation. At the end of the day, a good trip is measured in the experiences a person has and no one can pass judgement. The same goes for travel writing – whether you’re a man or woman – I don’t think anyone is in the place to pass judgement on what constitutes a powerful story.
I am currently in the throes of researching a big story for Culture Trip, of which I am Travel Editor. My story will cover Borneo and how the palm oil industry is threatening both Borneo, orangutans and the world’s atmosphere. The story will cover the facts, will be researched, will focus on the destination, but having recently traveled to Borneo myself, you better believe it will also have emotion – the decision to add my feelings into my story isn’t by virtue of my gender, it’s mine.
What do you think about the differences between how men and women travel write? Share your thoughts below!