Speaking on a podcast about Coronavirus, Best American Travel Writing series editor Jason Wilson “declared that this was ’the extinction event’ for a certain type of travel publishing.“ In an essay for Guernica, Wilson expounds further, considering the ways travel restrictions and fears about infection will shape the way people write about travel, while acknowledging that all we can do is speculate and wait. And until then, we can read travel books like Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana as Wilson did. We can reminisce about past journeys, and we can see how the stories in future editions of Best American Travel Writing look compared to ones before COVID-19.
In the months that have passed since my pessimistic podcast appearance, I’ve had a change of heart about the future of travel writing. Of course it will survive, as it has before, even if the publishing models radically change. Travel writers, once again, will embrace new forms, experiment, borrow from other genres and find novel approaches. Many people have suggested that, once we’re free from lockdown, more modest domestic or local travel, rather than exotic foreign adventures, will take center stage. They say narratives about home might become significant and popular.
When I think of local travel, I think of Hopkins Pond, a small body of water in the wooded park near my home in Haddonfield, New Jersey. The park is not very well maintained by the county, but on sunny days it’s still beautiful. I often take long walks there around the edge of pond, where I’ll encounter a handful of people fishing, joggers, or families riding bikes. In most ways it’s a completely typical suburban recreational area.