3 Ways To Improve Your Travel Writing

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Being a professional travel writer is probably up there with astronaut and food taster as dream jobs that are highly difficult to obtain. Yet, I stress the word “difficult” — not impossible.

In the small world that is the travel writing community, I’ve met more than a few people who’ve managed to pull this off, and are “living the dream.” How, you might ask? Sleeping the way to the top? Large inheritances? Better than average geography skills? Surprisingly, none of those things, but one thing they do share is that they are all very talented at their crafts, and know what makes good travel writing.

Lonely Planet recently wrote about 10 ways not to be a travel writer, pointing out various traps aspiring travel writers fall into when starting out. Some are points that any freelancer should know, such as not acting like a jerk, whether it be to the editors who are publishing your work, or to your commenters, who took the time to read your piece but may have some points they disagree with.

Other points are good advice specific for travel writing, such as avoiding treating your piece as a personal journey — journals work well for blogs and Facebook updates, not for travel publications — or acting without integrity by inserting questionably-obtained links or not disclosing promoted content.

And because I can, I’d like to throw a few suggestions into the ring myself (on top of the tip to avoid mixing your metaphors — see: “throwing a few suggestions into the ring”).

1) Be An Expert

Anybody can write about traveling someplace, but only a few people can populate their writing with facts, history and information gleamed from research. Make your piece stick out by showing you did some research. Yes, Argentina is cheap, but what in its recent history made it cheap? What year was the financial crisis? How have things changed in the years since? Pepper a few of these facts into that paragraph about your cheap steak dinner and you’ve got yourself the workings of an interesting article.

2) Include Quotes

Read a random article from the New York Times. What do you notice in almost every one of these pieces, whether it be in the Travel or the business section? They almost always include quotes: Quotes from experts, quotes from locals, quotes from insiders. I understand that you think that eco-resort in Nicaragua is interesting, but why not let someone staying there tell the audience in their own words why they enjoyed it. We are a fast-paced reading population, and only getting faster, and dialogue is a visual clue that something interesting is being written.

3) Write Like A Novelist

The dirty secret in the travel industry is that the best travel writers are not journalists, but rather are storytellers. There is a big difference between the two. One adheres to the goals of journalism: unbiased, third-party accounts of facts. The other seeks to draw you in and excite you with their writing. Which would be more interesting: Reading the newspaper accounts of the Watergate scandal, or reading All the President’s Men? They both contain the same information, but the book makes you want to turn the page to find out more. Treat your travel writing like a novel and see how much more interesting it becomes.

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