What Is an Exploration Narrative?

An exploration narrative, also known as travel literature or travel writing, is an author's description of his experience seeing an unfamiliar place. Unlike travel guides, which tell people about places to visit while on vacation, travel writing is a subjective look at a place through the eyes of the author. While travel guides inform, exploration narratives describe and entertain.


Although travel writing includes authors from a number of times, places and cultures, most scholars reference British books when talking about the first works of travel literature. For example, Laurence Sterne's "A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy" describes the romantic experiences of a young man as he completes his grand tour of Europe, with the main character being a loose representation of Sterne himself. Many scholars focus on the literature that emerged slightly after Sterne, written between 1800 and 1850. Literary scholar Raymond John Howgego said that more travel narratives came out of the first 50 years of the 19th century than all previous years combined.

In Other Cultures

Despite the abundance of British exploration narratives, other scholars study the stories penned by authors from other backgrounds. For example, Matthew Henson was an African American who published an account of his journey to the North Pole with Caucasian explorer Matthew Peary. Although few read his story when it was first published in the early 1900s, modern scholar Pramod K. Nayar describes the works of Henson and his contemporaries as personal declarations of their abilities to think, act and choose independently.

Recent Renaissance

Travel literature isn't a phenomenon of the past. For example, Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom has a Center for Travel Writing Studies, with eight full-time faculty and two postdoctoral researchers. Alasdair Pettinger, an English literature Ph.D. who once had a research fellowship with Nottingham Trent University, compiled a list of of the best books of 2010 in the travel literature genre for the school's Studies in Travel Writing website. Professional and novice writers alike try travel writing, using blogs to broadcast their experiences to international audiences. For a lucky few, travel writing becomes a paying job. For example, Canadian travel writer Julia Dimon scored her own TV show with the Outdoor Life Network in 2008.

Trying Travel Writing

If you want to write a travel narrative of your own, a travel writing class at your local college can help you understand what publishers are looking for, which is particularly important if you want to sell your work. Bring a camera with you, since pictures help jog your memory and add something extra to your story. Focus on writing about how a place makes you feel and why your readers should care about it, not on rote description. Don't expect travel writing to turn into a full-time job. Even if you never make a dime, you'll always have vivid memories of your time away from home.

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