I still have a dream for telling the story of a place without ever having visited. I tired to do this with the long piece Lagos where I mashed a bunch of stories together in (what I hoped) a way that made sense.
Why read a guidebook from a person who’s never been there? What’s the difference between someone who doesn’t go - and admits it - and some who parachutes in and doesn’t tell you they don’t know a lotI am not criticizing most travel writers here. Of course they know the place. What I am trying to look at is the parachute type writer, who drops in and gives us their impressions.
I think a travel piece from an uninitiated visitor may have something as much to say as those writers. It’s how you put the piece together. The creator would have to find the right things to say. And that’s about mining information, not traveling.
This is where the grey/gray literature comes in handy. Tell the story through documents. If you could find interesting reports, interviews , recollections, oral histories about a place. Then you’d try to put those together, mix and mash them up and try to create a narrative about the place. (I didn’t quite do it with Lagos, but I tried to.)
Is this travel writing? Not in the slightest. But it may tell a story about a place — a different kind of story from, say, Lagos all bad because of poverty and crime or Lagos scary but has cool artists and writers and musicians.
Reading about other countries suffers when the writers only produce a few narratives: poor, hungry, lazy locals/hard working foreigners, gun crazy. Every place has a million layers, and if a writer can add to another layer, so be it. Should it matter if she has never been there before?