What’s the difference between a mediocre travel piece and the sort of narrative that makes you want to drop everything and get on a plane tomorrow? While the answer isn’t a simple one, the following five tips might shed some light on to go about improving your travel writing.
1. Read other travel writers
One of the best ways to find your own style is to read what other travellers have written. Reading a wide variety of travel books and articles gives you a better idea of what you like and sometimes even shows you what not to do.
Along with celebrated authors like Bill Bryson or Isabella Tree, try to make a point of reading material by lesser known writers as well. Keep track of what you’ve read and figure out why you enjoyed or hated a particular book or article. Did the author use self-deprecating humour? Were there personal anecdotes? Was it too dry and factual?
2. Don’t be self-absorbed
While it might sound harsh, the truth is that readers don’t really care about you, the writer. They want to get a sense of what a place looks like, smells like and sounds like, not hear about how much you hated the chicken kebabs or how sore your feet were after trekking to Machu Picchu.
Big names like Paul Theroux can get away with being a bit self-absorbed, but most good travel writers will paint a picture of a place without dwelling too much on their personal opinions or experiences.
3. Take detailed notes
Even if you think you’ll remember something later on, taking detailed notes that jog your memory when you’re putting the story together will make your job a lot easier. A simple pen and paper is usually best as it never needs to be charged and getting out a tablet or laptop can ruin the moment.
Note down everything from dates and times to the names of people you meet and locations you visit, along with how you heard the locals pronouncing these names.
If you plan to use quotes, make sure you get people’s full names and quote them accurately, without changing what they said to better fit your story. Quick entries about the emotions and sensations you experience throughout your journey can also help to transport you back there later on.
4. Cut to the chase
Many newbie travel writers think they have to start at the very beginning and include everything that happened in chronological order. But unless something really memorable happened while you were picking up your luggage or getting a taxi to your hotel, readers don’t want to know about it.
If what you really want to talk about is the remote Maasai village where you spent one night or your deep sea fishing adventure on the Indian Ocean then just start there.
5. Always check your facts
It’s great to include interesting facts about the place you’re visiting or a funny story your taxi driver told you, but always do some fact-checking beforehand. Inaccuracies in travel writing can either lead travellers astray or perpetuate myths and misconceptions about a destination or culture.
If you heard a great story from someone on your travels but aren’t able to verify it, be sure present it as something you were told rather than a historical fact.
If you have a passion for travel and enjoy writing, why not turn that passion into a career with Australian College of Journalism's Certificate in Freelance Travel Writing & Photography Course.