Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2019
If most histories of Western travel and exploration tend to be organized around heroic individuals, these were but leaders of expeditions that involved many others, without whom their achievements would not have been possible. Accounts of these ventures acknowledge their presence, but (often merging them in an undifferentiated ‘we’) seldom accord them any individuality. Their authors are ‘largely silent about the rank and file who accompanied them’, and when they do refer to them, their comments are often disparaging (Kennedy 2013, 76). Only recently have historians begun to retrieve their voices and analyze the social relations in which they were embedded (e.g., Maddison 2014).
From the late eighteenth century, solitary travel, for a long time considered dangerous, or at least eccentric (especially for women), became increasingly common as roads were made safer (see solitude). The lone (but still typically male) traveller emerged as the paradigmatic figure of an emerging culture of anti-tourism (Buzard 1993), whose characteristic expression is a first-person narrative recording the unique experiences of a specific individual. Moralistic essays (e.g., Hazlitt 1824) recommended one travel alone, arguing for the benefits of silence, the freedom to make one's own choices and walk at one's own pace, and the ability to attend to one's surroundings (rather than to the needs and opinions of companions). It is a preference that remains common. As Jonathan Raban (2004, 76) remarks: ‘Traveling with a companion, with a wife, with a girlfriend […] You're never going to see anything; you're never going to meet anybody; you're never going to hear anything. Nothing is going to happen to you.’ Even those travel writers who choose not to travel alone often appear to do so, rarely making more than a passing reference to their companions in their accounts. In the preface to The Traveller's Tree, Patrick Leigh Fermor (1984 , 11) is more transparent than most by naming his two companions before noting that while they are ‘constantly present in the following pages’, they are ‘whittled now to shadows’.