The Trouble with Travel Writing

The attraction of travel writing is that, like travel, it offers us the chance to see something different. A different climate, different topology, different food ways, different language, different culture.

Traveling oneself, or reading the record of someone else’s travel, like this blog, pulls us out of the everyday. It takes us away from the things we’ve gotten used to, from our everyday responsibilities, and  substitutes the new, the unknown, the other. Those of us who cannot leave home for reasons of cost or physical ability can glimpse places we will never see.

At their best, travel and travel writing create connections across the boundaries of difference. They can show us that the  differences we’re aware of overlay shared human desires for belonging and for purpose.

Travel and travel writing also have a dark side. At their worst, they fetishize difference and emphasize the other as exotic and strange. The traveler fails to recognize that what feels exotic to them is the normal everyday life of the people who live in that space. When (writing about) our travel does this, it becomes a tool for dehumanizing the other instead of a means of forging connections. And this kind of travel writing has historically supported some of the worst sins of humanity—armed conflict, colonization, exploitation, and enslavement. In the present, it reinforces the white savior narrative.

As a person from the United States, especially as a white person from the United States, it’s on me to tread carefully as I move through this space that is foreign and sometimes confounding to me but perfectly normal to my colleagues, students, and neighbors. It’s also on me to write carefully. I could just not write, or not post my writing to a public blog, but I do think that travel writing, when done well and thoughtfully, has value.

So, to my readers outside the Russian Federation, I promise to give you a glimpse of this place as I experience it, and I hope that it will offer you ways to connect across the boundaries of difference.

To my Russian readers, colleagues, neighbors, and friends. I promise to try not to exoticize you or fetishize the differences between us. And I hope you’ll call me out when I invariably fall short of the goal.


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  1. I’m glad to hear you will keep writing. You have one of the brightest and most compassionate minds I’ve ever known. To silence that would darken the world.

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