December 5, 2021

The Literary Travelogue, Reinvented

No two industries have been more disrupted by the internet than travel and publishing. We travel more independently now, but no more wisely. We read more widely, but no more deeply, because most of what is published online is shallow or inherited from print. There are exceptions, of course, but what could have been a high point for travel writing has instead been a sore disappointment.

Old World Wandering is an experiment. It is a literary travelogue reinvented for the internet. Over the past year, we have travelled across Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, looking for connections: connections between past and present, between communities, and – most of all – between places. We believe that travel writing is about journeys, not destinations, about people, not a list of sites, and – at its heart – about the connections that bind us all together.

We have a long road still ahead of us, and we want to pave it with stories. Over the next 18 months – or longer – the Claire and I will travel from Shanghai to Cape Town overland. Our journey will take us across the length of the Silk Road, from Xi’an to Istanbul, where we’ll turn south and make our way along Africa’s east coast to our homes near the continent’s southern tip.

This is a journey we will make, one way or another, but with your help it can be much more. Old World Wandering has already published long-form non-fiction recognised for its quality and depth. We’ve documented the world’s largest gathering of women in India, for instance, and discussed development and identity with the Chinese fortune seekers transforming Southeast Asia’s sleepiest capital. We’ve done this without payment, because we love travel writing and we want to be a part of its transition to the internet, but our attention has also been divided. Like everyone, we need to earn money, and for us that means regularly stopping en route to write for financial magazines.

Quality writing takes time. The Chinese of Vientiane is 9,576 words long and took 71 hours to write, not to mention edit, post – with photos – and promote. Daisann McLane, National Geographic Traveller’s Editor at Large, called it “the best writing I’ve read lately on the most under-reported Southeast Asian country.” It has been translated into Chinese – twice – as well as Lao.

We’ll be travelling through China with a longlist of stories while this campaign is running its course. It includes a portrait of the 100,000-strong African community in Guangzhou, profiles of two young women whose lives have been transformed utterly by moving to Shanghai, and an exploration of Chinese creativity in Jingdezhen, the world’s oldest industrial town. Travel writing is separated from journalism by its accidents and we hope the ideas on this longlist are only a start. With your support, they will be.

Over the last two months, Claire and I have put together a Kickstarter campaign. It includes a range of well-priced rewards for backers: a set of professionally printed photographs, for instance, or a limited edition hardback book of our writing, or a long weekend in Istanbul. You can pledge as little as $1 or as much as $2,000, or you can help us by spreading the word. Either way, thank you! You’re helping us to reinvent the literary travelogue for our time.

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