The internet is littered with travel articles written by real and imaginary travelers, each more generic than the last. While I enjoy regurgitated travel advice and thinly veiled travel insurance ads as much as the next guy, there is a lot more to good travel writing than your average wanna-be blogger lets on, and it boils down to two things: Having something new and interesting to say, and saying it in the best way possible. Of course that’s easier said than done, so let’s break it down further.
Having Something To Say
A lot of travel writing essentially boils down to “I went here, it was super neat!”, without telling a story or providing any useful new information. This is partly because we don’t think about why people are reading our stuff, and partly because we just can’t remember everything at any given moment when we’re sitting back at home in front of a computer. Because of this it’s important to grab a notebook and camera and take notes about everything while you’re there. Write down everything, even what you ate, what that tasted like, how locals react to tourists, who was or wasn’t willing to talk to you, and what hidden travel treasures you found. Don’t leave anything out, because anything could become a great story in the greater context of your trip.
Next, we need to think about what you’re writing about. The things you see when you’re traveling are normal everyday life for a lot of other people, and if they were to write about their day, no one would really care to read it. For example, nobody wants to read what a local Italian thinks about the Colosseum, because he doesn’t get excited about it. What makes travel writing interesting is the reaction that happens when someone with a specific background is confronted with something new. Keep that in mind when you’re taking down your notes, and make sure that you write down what you thought about new things that you were confronted with before you have a chance to get too used to them.
Writing With Style
We tend to think that “good style” somehow means that we should use big words, fancy grammar, and as little personality as possible. I think that might be because of our natural fear of rejection and a hesitancy to share our feelings, but if you’re writing about your life you’ll need to deal with it and put your heart on your sleeve.
Writing engaging stories is impossible without a good helping of feelings, and making those feelings sound real and interesting means breaking out of the mold and writing the way that you talk. Feel free to include graphic imagery of your hand-and-foot communication styles, the quick flash of terror when you realize you’re on a train going the wrong direction, and the way that you forgot how to keep walking when you first saw just how big that cathedral in Cologne was.
Style is what really makes the difference to a reader on determining whether you were really there and really experience the things that you saw. Just rattling off a report of what you saw and where you stayed doesn’t give your reader anything more than they themselves could have come up with with 10 minutes of less than intense Google-searching. Your writing needs to give the reader a taste of what it’s actually like to be there and actually do the things that you did, so that they’ll really feel the message for your piece.