‘Motivation’ is closely aligned with the semantics of travel, coming from the Latin root motus, a moving, before acquiring in the mid-fourteenth century a link with human spirit in the Old French motif. In travel writing studies motivation has had a relatively short inculcation and yet as a concept it has always been present; the journey cannot take place without a reason to disembark. Motivation can be understood in two complementary and interrelated ways; first in terms of the will or prompt to travel and second, the desire or impulse to create a textual representation of the journey. The purpose of travel is central to the form, content and publication of its textual representation.
Motivations for travel are, of course, numerous: encompassing those journeys made in search of land, water and food; for religious pilgrimage; trade; exploration and science; those journeys with imperial or expansionist aims; education and leisure. However, if we understand that, as Tim Youngs (2006, 2) has asserted, ‘[travel writing] is ideological’, these motivations can be seen according to larger, culturally dictated patterns of behaviour. Constituted socially and culturally, travel is imbued with the priorities and preferences of its agents. Dominant ideologies of the eighteenth century inflected travel as a pivotal resource to the acquisition of knowledge. For Enlightenment philosophy with its concomitant emphasis on empiricism, travel was an invaluable mode of scientific exploration of the world. As Alexander Humboldt (1814, 2) noted, ‘[T] he urge to travel to distant regions is the characteristic of the period of our existence.’ In the nineteenth century, part of the ideology of Imperial travel was to map and explore the areas of the globe which were as yet ‘blank’ for Western societies (Youngs 2006, 2).
The individual is however induced to travel by what they perceive as a combination of external and internal prompts. For example, pilgrimage, while organized by external convention, is prompted by personal belief and desire. Faith, of whatever kind, leads the sick traveller to travel south to the sun or to the clean air of the mountains. Since the Romantic Movement the motivation of self-discovery has prompted many writers to travel in order to experience enlightenment through the experience of alterity. In her account of travels to Antarctica, Sara Wheeler (1997, 114) admits that ‘I, too, often ask myself why […] fidgeting over the unanswerable question about escape or pursuit’.