Tom Lutz advocates for eschewing tourist traps and sightseeing tours to embrace the full breadth of the experience, wherever you roam, in his collection of travel essays, The Kindness of Strangers.
From karaoke bars in Bhutan to weddings in Ethiopia, Lutz’s essays focus on the intimate connections that it is possible to form across languages and cultures, and in very little time. His vignettes typically open with his arrival to a location, where he offers first impressions of sights, sounds, and smells, before moving on to his encounters with people in each locale. Though the title references strangers, it comes to seem as if Lutz has never met one: he strikes up conversations with everyone from taxi drivers to compatriots at the local watering hole. The unexpected vulnerability of some of these exchanges is a testament to Lutz’s heartfelt engagement with those he meets along his travels.
While rooted in advocating for a more by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to traveling, Lutz also acknowledges the limitations of this approach. He touches on his privilege, both ethnically—as a white, American man—and financially, and is careful not to shame those for whom this style of travel is inaccessible or unsafe; the essays are most concerned with converting those of a similar ilk.
Lutz also admits that a travelogue can be a tricky thing, and is wary of the potential to be condescending toward, or to appropriate, the cultures about which he writes. Despite his anxieties, or perhaps because of them, Lutz’s essays remain focused on the people and places he visits. He avoids centering himself and his perceptions, asking authentic questions and allowing the people he meets to answer for themselves.
Encouraging tourists to take the road less traveled, The Kindness of Strangers is a warm collection of travel essays.
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