Tunisia Through a Travelogue

When traveling someplace new, sometimes it’s better to read a travelogue than a guidebook. Writer for worldhum.com, E. Casey Kittrell, comments upon a travelogue he read before venturing to Tunisia in his article; A Direct Impression.

“Like many people, I try to read more than guidebooks when traveling. Guidebooks are important, but they are geared to a traveler’s needs, not his wants—that is, his understanding and experience of a new place. Travelogues and works by local authors (including fiction) have opened my eyes to the subtle shades of local life that make a place memorable. Where a guidebook draws a map, literature paints a picture.

Choosing a book for a short trip to Tunisia last year was harder than I imagined. A host of legendary figures had traversed and commented on the country, from Hannibal and Homer to Ibn Battuta to Atlantic correspondent Robert Kaplan. In the end, I chose Fountains in the Sand, a 1912 account of the Tunisian Sahara by the British writer Norman Douglas.

I wanted to leave my copy of “Fountains in the Sand” in Tunisia, partly because I wanted someone else to enjoy it in the place it was meant to be read. (Unfortunately, it was a library copy and I brought it home.) But mostly I wanted to leave Douglas behind because he was, even at his best, one of those “encumbrances” the wise traveler discards in favor of the French painter’s “direct impression.” Travel literature can be informative, even inspirational, but sometimes its authors are best treated as companions—ones we can eventually part from—in the journey, not as guides.”