Before my first trip to China in 1990, I bought a copy of Lonely Planet for its off-the-beaten-path approach. But I was taken aback when I got to the part in which the writer explained how travelers should expect lots of attention from locals, who are fascinated with our light hair, eyes and skin. At that point, I realized that as an Asian-American, I wasn’t the kind of traveler the writers had in mind.
Western travel writing reflects a particular bias around who travels and has the authority to report on other cultures. Look at the contributor photos for any of the biggest travel magazines and best travel writing anthologies, and you’ll find that the writers are overwhelmingly white. People of color show up only as subjects or exotic background characters who are “discovered.”