cruise La Clappeye

Narratives of travel: Telling it to the self

When does an experience become a story?

Anyone travelling loves to tell stories. During travel, after the journey, whenever resting around a campfire. But these stories are more connected than you might think, although they are told at different points and places within the travel experience, using different voices and stances. Together they form a typical narrative. Pre-tour narratives are carried throughout the journey, shaping and scripting the journey. Whatever happens during the journey, provide material for post-tour narratives, which after a period of time, may change the pre-tour stories altogether.

As a traveller you interact with your environment through all of your senses. Sensory modalities are symbolically structured. They are mediated and go far beyond the mere textual. The larger pre-tour narratives are nowadays for a large part construed through visuals, through the use of social media and internet.

A highly superficial way of doing ones pre-tour research but unavoidable. Also the pre-tour planning is a narrative structure, as people tell peers through social media, exactly in which stage of planning they are.

The master narrative

The object of a photograph on the web, is less that of the narrative or actual biographical or ethnological depiction of the main subject, but a visual that was already predestined to provide commercial imagery for the tourist sector, before it was even taken! When it no longer resides within the personal and private domain of the owner or depicted subject, it has no biographical meaning or relationship to its’ context, in whichever country the photo was taken. For the regular tourist, the photograph meets the expectations he has from the destination in very broad and commodified terms.  Photographs offer a point of departure (Barthes, 1984): a pregnant surface from which narratives can be launched, a fertile social soil for memories, identities, daydreams to grow on. (Noy, 2014)

Imagery

The actual time and occasion of taking the photographs are for the larger part staged and framed, both by the tourist industry and by the tourists themselves. The circulation of the imagery is very much NOT coincidental! The way Europeans look at the third world, is still very colonial. Not withstanding recognition of equality and fairness, the view of the third world is still very much of a grown civilisation, based on big 19th century constructed narratives. Mind you, this says nothing about looking down upon them. The big narratives of the 19th century grew within us, but not neccesarily within the same direction as the actual country in question. These established master narratives are of huge significance and influence. They make meaning, shape action and movement, the form tourist behaviour and direct the infrastructure for foreigners. They are therefore stories of power, aswell as meaning.

The master narrative is a perceptual framework that works as a filter which includes as much as it excludes (Bruner, 2005).

Backpackers are usually somewhat quieter when preparing for the journey. The usage of social media by backpackers, is significantly lower than that of the emerging flashpacker. Figures from 2014 indicated 26% of backpackers and 41% for flashpackers (G. Richards).

On a personal note, I wonder if the quest for “otherness” by backpackers- who are more reflective and internal in orientation -creates affordance for both a lower degree of social media use and more methodological and less visual pre-tour planning?

Backpackers often start their journey alone or as a couple. They frequently end up travelling in a small group. When on the road, the sources of information vary greatly by mode of travel. In groups, local guides and agents are the primary storytellers, with additional material by standard guidebooks. Backpackers use hostels or sites along the route as an additional primary source of information.

An experience- as it happens -is much more laden with rich sensations than any story could begin to approach. An experience turns into a narrative, as soon as you say to yourself what is happening on tour. When transforming a sensory occurrence into a plot structure.

” From the point of view of the experiencing self, the journey consists of a series of sensations, but from the point of view of the remembering self, it becomes a narrative, and a severe selection from reality (Kahneman 2005). “

However, the routes create their own sources for information- outside the tourist-industry – as can be read in the blog on volunteering abroad.

Volunteers and the knowledge created through volunteer-travel and religious travel, supply important modes of information and narration, like well informed non-professional guides, offering services. Some of them are skilled, other less so.

Most of the ones I have listened to over the years want to be entertaining as well as educational, but most do not have an anthropological understanding of culture but rather present unrelated snippets of information, or interesting random stories about the people or locality. Bruner; 2005

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