As you read travel books, you should be able to see the people and places, to hear them, to smell them. Some of it is painful, but travel - its very motion - ought to suggest hope. Despair is the armchair; its indifference and glazed, incurious eyes. I think travellers are essentially optimists, or else they would never go anywhere. A travel book ought to reflect that optimism.I'm a little slow posting a link to Paul Theroux's excellent piece on reinventing travel writing in the Guardian the other day (so thanks Uma for the nudge). Some of Theroux's best books have been based on long train journeys, and two of them The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express, have just been reissued in the Penguin Modern Classics series.
I've read almost all of Theroux's travel writing over the years (the exception being Dark Star Safari which is on my to-be-read shelf).
He is, though, something of a grouchy travel companion at times. I did get a bit cross with him in The Great Railway Bazaar which describes a journey across Asia. When he got to the part of the trip I was most anticipating, the Trans-Siberian leg, the author was so pissed off with travelling that he offered really jaundiced descriptions of the great snowy wastes of Russia. It's still a journey I'd love to make one day.
And I've never forgiven him for his rather negative descriptions of Britain in Kingdom by the Sea. perhaps he sees us Brits as we really are, but that's not an excuse to tell the whole world.