With such a vast world to explore, how do you decide where to go next? There’s an abundance of travel “media” available today that will tell you everything you could ever want to know about every conceivable destination, in just about every format (books, magazines, television, podcasts, etc). Truly great travel writing and productions will transport you to their destination and make you want to go places you never considered before.
I don’t read (or watch) much travel non-fiction, with the exceptions of any travelogue written by Bill Bryson (In a Sunburned Country, his ode to Australia, is my favorite) and National Geographic’s Traveler magazine. Instead, I often find that the most powerful sources of inspiration for my travels are pieces of fiction that aren’t, technically, travel writing. What makes them a travel muse is that they create a strong “sense of place” that allows me to feel, through their words or images, a place’s true identity and character.
Many years ago I read a mystery novel set in Seville, Spain. I can’t remember the name of the book now – and actually I don’t think I cared for the story much – but the author painted such a vivid portrait of Seville that it’s still at the top of my list of places I want to visit in Europe. Other novels have made me want to jet off to Vienna, Marseilles, Botswana, and Norway. Movies and television shows can be even more potent. I love the movie Midnight in Paris for the way it immerses me in the City of Light. Watching the Harry Potter movies gives me a strong urge to visit Scotland. I even like watching The Bourne Identity and Ocean’s Twelve for their rapid-fire visual tours of the European capitals.
Apparently this isn’t just me: The effect of fiction on tourism is real. New Zealand saw a surge in tourism after the release of the Lord of the Rings movies, which were filmed there. The “real” Downtown Abbey (aka Highclere Castle) is now a top tourist destination. Prince Edward Island, Canada is still on tourists’ maps thanks to Anne of Green Gables. And there are numerous tours of the UK that tout Harry Potter destinations in their itineraries.
Perhaps the lesson here is that you don’t have to look far for inspiration to stir your wanderlust. Powerful artistic creations of any kind can bring the world closer to you, and you closer to it.