There is a deep affinity between travelling and telling a story. Put in the simplest of terms, both activities require a starting-point, move through a sequence, and, as conclusion of the activity, aim at an ending, a destination. Travel is a lived experience; telling a story is an expression of lived experience. Both activities are intricate, unpredictable, sometimes dangerous, and ambiguous because they entail change, be it to the traveller, the teller or the audience. The process of narrating an account of a voyage is therefore a natural, though not a necessary, consequence of the voyage itself. Such travel accounts are informed by an instability produced by how they intersect fictively with what the traveller’s society took to be (often wanted to be) factual – like the traveller on a journey, travel narratives are neither here (at home) nor there (at the destination) but somewhere in-between, engaged in movement towards or from.
Travel and story-telling both require optimism (that the conclusion-destination can and will be reached) and both have at their centre a concern with the self (and how that self relates to the world around the self). Empiricism is foundational to both, irrespective of whether the traveller belongs to a culture and society that assigns greater epistemological weight to auditory knowledge (i.e. things we have been told by others) than it does to visual knowledge (things we have seen for ourselves). It might at first blush appear that travel narratives are essentially parasitic on the activity of travel – the journey I am going to tell the story of must surely take place before I produce my account of it, but then we realise that there are accounts of imaginary journeys, accounts that mimic and replicate the narratives of actual journeys undertaken – in other words, narratives of journeys that have not (or not yet) occurred. It is the fate of many a traveller, upon returning home and telling the tale of the journey, not to be believed. For the story of the voyage to work, we have to believe that the story-teller did not make everything up, and yet at the same time we are unwilling (or unable) to believe unquestioningly in the veracity of the story-teller.