You’ve taken the initiative to follow your dreams. You’re about to try your hand at travel writing, see where it leads you, and ?nd pleasure in the path, even if the destination can’t be foreseen. Writing takes discipline, curiosity, and humor. Travel writing, as you might imagine, can demand a bit more—a yen for adventure, cross-cultural awareness, a grounding in history and geography, a facility for languages, and a healthy dose of humility.
In every discipline there are standards and rules. Although travel writing can be whimsical and personal, there are certain structural conventions. Travel articles can be loosely categorized into several different types, which we’ll now examine.
Shaping the narrative to a speci?c type of travel article helps the writer stay on topic and ?nd appropriate markets for an article. A writer who composes travel articles that ?t contemporary article categories signals professionalism and familiarity with the travel genre. Knowing the various types of travel articles serves you during the writing and marketing phases.
Once you’ve decided what kind of travel article you are working on you can develop the theme, selecting salient details and anecdotes to tell the story.
Let’s say you’ve decided to write a travel article about a weekend excursion to a new recreation area, a state park or waterway. The piece has an outdoor recreation focus. As you write the article, the colorful details that engage the reader will be different from the scenes you would show if you were writing about the excursion using a family travel story focus.
In the outdoor recreation story, you would narrate the experience in the park and include factual information about sports options for other active travelers who will read your piece. In the family travel story, you would tell how a family enjoys the recreation area, explaining how the park facilities met or did not meet the needs or expectations of children, elderly relatives, and visiting kin.
To help you understand the varieties of travel journalism, this chapter contains explanations of several types of travel articles. They are guidelines, not fossils embedded in canyon walls. The types of published travel articles may change over time—stories about sweaty adventure trekking may go out of fashion, replaced by articles on luxury do-nothing splurge travel. As you become more familiar with the travel writing genre, you’ll notice that many travel stories overlap several categories. Nor is this list comprehensive, because writing is always growing and changing. Travel writing evolves as its practitioners broaden their interests and hone their skills.
While you read my descriptions of the types of travel articles, make your own evaluations. Let the descriptions be absorbed in your thinking process so that the next time you read a travel article, you can identify the characteristics. If you have written an unpublished travel article, reread it to determine where it might ?t in one of the categories. Consider minor changes to the article that might place it in a de?ned category.
This chapter should stimulate your marketing sense, too. Knowing the categories of travel articles will make conversations and e-mails with editors ?ow more smoothly. When editorial guidelines state that the publication wants family-oriented destination articles, regional weekend getaways, and humorous ?rst-person essays, you will know what is expected. Should you need to call or e-mail the publication to clarify the length or deadline, it will enhance your professionalism to understand the various editorial de?nitions for articles. Staying tuned, as you write, to the conventions of speci?c articles will improve your focus and writing skill because you have de?ned the parameters for a given story. Knowing the type of article you will be producing should encourage you to stay on point and cut excess material.
Each type of travel article has loosely de?ned conventions of style and tone. A ?rst step in re?ning your skills to match a publication’s editorial posture is to be aware of the various types of articles that come under the rather large heading of travel writing. As you read travel articles, be sensitive to which category the piece matches and notice the word choice, style, and voice used by the writer. You’ll see that within the travel article is a particular way of getting the reader’s attention and presenting the material, known as the style and tone of the writing.
Notice whether the article is in present or past tense. Is the narrative expressed in ?rst person (I, we), second person (you), or third person (the traveler, the visitor)? As you read, you’ll hear the individual character and personality in the writer’s voice. You may even start to picture the face behind this voice and in your imagination develop a connection to the author. This focus on the writer’s voice may only last for the duration of your reading, but for those minutes (or hours if a book), that voice becomes real to you. Analyze whether the voice is appropriate to the content of that type of travel piece. In your own writing, you’ll be striving to achieve a distinct voice appropriate to the material you are sharing with readers. Thus the travel writer who wants to publish an article in a hunting magazine will use language and diction that resonates with readers who are bow and gun enthusiasts. The travel article destined for a country living magazine will have a completely different tone. We’ll focus on structure, style, voice, and pace of the article in later chapters; for the moment, simply be aware of the differences in various types of publications.
Accepting the utility of knowing the types of travel articles, each with their own set of rules, was the ?rst lesson I learned about travel writing. Years ago, I asked the travel editor at The Washington Post how to publish travel articles. At the time, I had worked on my university daily newspaper, sold a few freelance pieces, and successfully completed several business writing contracts. About to embark on a year’s travel in Europe and North Africa, I had the idea that travel writing would suit my penchant for travel. The editor told me to “study other travel articles, well-crafted pieces in the best newspapers and magazines.” I took the advice seriously and devoured the travel sections of The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune, as well as smaller papers like The Baltimore Sun, The Star Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, and St. Petersburg Times. Casting farther a?eld, to England, I read travel articles in the Manchester Guardian, The Independent, and Financial Times. Of course, I also studied the pages of The Washington Post.
After analyzing quite a few newspaper travel articles paragraph by paragraph, I noted whether a piece was told in ?rst or third person; whether it was a personal experience essay or an objective description of a speci?c place; or if it was a collection of short informational paragraphs about a related topic without a narrative. Reading so many different stories, I began to internalize my analysis of the skeleton of the travel story. I ?gured the words would ?ow much easier if I knew where I was headed in my writing.
From newspaper travel articles, I branched out and studied travel-themed narratives in magazines and literary journals. In any article related to travel, I analyzed structure, pace, and the writer’s voice. If an article pleased me, I combed the article for the author’s tricks: how the writer conveyed humor, how facts were deftly slipped into paragraphs, how characters came alive with just a few sentences of dialogue. The travel articles I couldn’t ?nish because the writing sagged were nonetheless instructive. I went back and marked the point where my attention stumbled and tried to determine why the narrative lost momentum. Of course, I also continued to read travel books and articles for pleasure, but analyzing articles to expose structure and technique became a habit.
Dip into the animated pages of respected travel authors like Freya Stark, Peter Fleming, Robert Byron, Delva Murphy, Norman Lewis, Pico Iyer, Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, Jan Morris—and you’ll ?nd that their narratives usually contain far more than personal experiences. Necessary information is carried within the prose seamlessly so the reader learns many of the practical facts through the author’s personal experiences. The writing is tightly trimmed and polished. Their experience permits them the luxury of digression, dialogue, reminiscence, and musing.
Expand your personal library and include travel narratives from great writers—Henry James, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Gustave Flaubert, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf. Oh, you didn’t know they wrote travel pieces? Just about every author you can name wrote travel narratives at one point in their careers.
You’ll probably want to begin collecting travel magazines and the travel sections of newspapers. Look beyond magazines speci?cally dedicated to travel. Ask friends and colleagues to share their magazines with you. Use the Internet to scout new publications and visit the periodicals department of the public library. Browse out-of-date travel magazines at yard sales for ideas. I usually ?nd travel books at used bookstores and ?ea markets. Read them to develop your sensitivity to discern lively writing and pedantic writing. We’re not talking about guidebooks here—look for travel literature.
I know you’ve been waiting to read about the types of travel articles. Let’s dive in and see what types of travel narratives are popular. I’ve heard writers criticize travel writing because it employs a formula. True, novices need to practice travel writing within the structure in order to have the skills to crack the shell. Like ?gure skaters, beginning writers must do their “school ?gures,” retracing the same form time and time again. Writers vary the subject and choice of words, but writing to ?t the rules of length and cover the expected content without letting the structure overpower the writing does take skill. Mystery novels, romances, and thrillers have their own formulas, but after lots of practice, a writer internalizes the structure and the story ?ows following the appropriate outline.
Destination articles are designed to hook readers’ interest and send them to a travel-booking Web site or travel agent. Taking the broad view, hitting all the worthwhile tourist spots, a writer working on a destination piece pays attention to telling an attractive story spiced with useful facts. The writer’s presence is muted but perceivable. Usually, some of the piece is written in the ?rst person. The writer con?des why the trip was taken so the reader can identify the purpose. For example, consider an opening like “Determined to subvert a looming midlife crisis that provokes usually sensible men to purchase expensive red sports cars, I booked a week of racetrack driving lessons at the Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy.”
The lead explains why the writer is taking the trip, where he’s going, and injects a dose of humor. In such a destination piece, the writer would narrate what happened during the driving course, sketch some of the characters such as instructors and other students, explore the region and its history within the scope of the story theme, and perhaps include a couple of other related activities. The story is told by occasionally using the writer’s voice, the mighty I, but most of the information in conveyed in narrative form. The story guides readers to decide whether they want to go to this place and should also serve as an armchair tour.
Destination articles explore the place within the structure of the story themes—in this case themes include car racing, driving lessons, Italy’s race car industry—within the geographical region of northern Italy, which offers historical landmarks, natural charm, social history, and more. Typically, destination articles for the reading public in the United States and Canada focus on reliable tourist routes like Florida, California, Hawaii, Prince Edward Island, New York City, Great Britain, Europe, the Caribbean. But articles about lesser-known destinations such as the Yukon, Tasmania, Patagonia, or Madagascar are just as worthy. In fact, travel editors need a certain number of articles each year that focus on regions or activities overlooked by mainstream travel writers. Still, you’ll need to write about the well-trodden places as well as fresh travel destinations.
Let’s analyze a popular destination, Florida. Newspaper travel sections routinely devote a section to travel in Florida every year. Magazines feature Florida regularly, as a family destination, an outdoor wonderland for ?shing and boating, or as a honeymoon destination. Consider this question: Why is Florida such a popular destination? It can’t be the weather, because from May to October, Florida is hell’s vestibule. There must be something else attracting so many visitors. The Disney expo-parks near Orlando? The space shuttle launching complex at Cape Canaveral? The Everglades’ alligators and palm trees? Fast-paced Miami? The climate has a lot to do with Florida’s winter appeal, but I think the real reason is the state’s diversity. In addition to its growing population, Florida has been home to a variety of cultures for centuries. Your job, as a travel writer, is to discover a new destination story about Florida, a unique approach to a multifaceted place.
The special interest travel article deals with speci?c activities as they relate to travel. Food, shopping, golf, gardens, art, antiques, and baseball—any topic set in a speci?c location. The purpose of the piece is to inform readers how they can learn more about their hobby or personal avocation or pursue it while on vacation. The railroad buff, doll collector, vintage car restorer, orchid grower, and many more have magazines devoted to their hobby. Usually people who are passionate about a leisure-time pursuit are eager to learn more about it, even if they’re already semi-experts. A travel story focused on these interests should ?nd a berth in the respective magazine that focuses on each leisure pursuit.
Writers of special interest articles need to be familiar with the subject—credibility suffers if a writer discusses golf courses and has never swung an iron. There, you see, I could be making a gol?ng gaffe by writing “swung an iron.” Be wary of inventing phrases unless you know the subject. Perhaps, with tenacious research, a credible piece could be written with only a passing acquaintance of the subject, but I’ll bet the article would sound stiff and lack a personal touch. One way to write a special interest piece if you aren’t versed in the topic is to take the novice’s point of view. For example, the lead might go: “I don’t know a thing about golf; so how did I come to be swatting balls across the clipped green grass of St. Andrew’s?”
Different from destination pieces, journey articles emphasize the way you get there. Scenic drives, vintage railroad, tramp steamer, bicycle, courier ?ight, footpath—the story focus is on the mode of travel. Think of times past when the going was good, the grand age of travel when steamships were standard, airplane seats were comfortable, attentive service the norm. The journey travel article attempts to recreate that mood, unwinding a story as the journey progresses so the destination is less important to the story focus than the means of travel. Advice will creep into the piece, but the romance of the journey is the main attraction, the focus of the prose and description. History will likely ?gure in several paragraphs, and there is always room for humor.
Stories about particular types of transportation are important to armchair travelers who are fascinated by trains, planes, boats, etc. and may never actually travel. The writer’s impressions and feelings serve as the reader-writer bonding point. Travel articles that focus on the journey are also attractive to the general traveling public who use these articles for speci?c trip planning.
The journey article needs a strong personal narrative story line and useful facts. In the November 2004 issue of Smithsonian magazine, an article by Andrew Curry details photographer Aaron Huey’s 152-day walk from California to New York. It’s not a very long article; excerpts from Huey’s journal and his photographs comprise the essence. When the journey involves doing the same thing every day, crafting a compelling article is more about editing than including everything.
Perhaps you are a devoted railway rider and yearn to take a cross-country train trip. In this era of air travel, long-distance rail travel is somewhat unusual. Paul Theroux’s 1970s train ride from Boston to Patagonia, which he chronicled in The Old Patagonian Express, probably isn’t possible in 2006. If you undertook such a story, you would discuss the history of long-distance rail travel in North America, the amenities past and present, the scenery along the way, and perhaps include comments or anecdotes from railway employees and other riders. Narrative about points of interest along the journey and thumbnail sketches of people encountered make the journey come alive. The start and ?nish of the trip bracket the narrative on the act of travel.
No, it’s not a preview of rodeos or a story about dude ranches or farm stays. In the roundup travel article, the writer collects information on a half dozen or so different places with a common thread drawing them together. A paragraph or two introduces the theme that binds the elements together. Ideally, the lead sets the tone and hints at two or three of the individual items.
Some newspaper travel sections publish roundups of brief stories by many travel writers about bad journeys. The roundups sport cute summary titles like “Holidays From Hell,” “Turkey Trips,” “Vicious Vacations.” Other publications publish travel vignettes with a romantic theme around Valentine’s Day. Bear this in mind if you have a story about a rotten travel experience or a travel anecdote steeped in romance. When you make marketing inquiries, ask about contributing to the annual roundup features. Here are a few topics for roundup articles:
- museums and churches in Rome that are open to the public all day
- modestly priced family restaurants (not fast-food chains) in New York City that are open on Sunday Colorado microbreweries offering tours and samples
- Las Vegas hotels that welcome pets
- Irish country house hotels with facilities for wedding parties
HISTORICAL OR HOLIDAY PEG
Tied to an anniversary, holiday, or historical event, the holiday peg story depends on a date. But beware—many editors avoid holiday peg stories because they see it as a hackneyed method of structuring a travel or lifestyle section. Other editors follow the predictable cycle and accept holiday peg stories as soon as they can get them. For the writer, this means approaching an editor with a holiday story well in advance. In fact, a few months after the event is a good time to pitch a story for the following year. Such a conversation might go something like this: “I just read your President’s Day travel feature on ‘Ford’s Theater and the House Where Abe Lincoln Died.’ For next President’s Day, would you be interested in a travel story about tracing Lincoln’s visits to Civil War battle?elds? I had in mind a ‘footsteps of the President’ story line. Perhaps we could illustrate the piece with historic photographs that are in the public domain.” Obviously, you would have prepared your phone script and be ready to answer speci?c questions.
Periodic events such as the Olympics, World Cup, World Expos, or the annual naming of the European City of Culture are natural pegs for travel stories. Major travel magnets such as these will draw lots of tourists, and travel editors know to provide a range of stories to satisfy this market. Many publications assign their staff writers to handle travel stories in conjunction with news-related coverage. If the staff writers are swamped with work, however, the freelancer has a potential opportunity. So, even if you are turned down early because a staff writer may be doing travel stories related to the major event, as long as the editor has expressed an interest in your work, try again closer to the event. If the editor has ?atly rejected your ideas and previously published work, don’t annoy the editor by calling or e-mailing again and again. Try another publication. Research will pay off here. You need to know where these events will be held for the next several years so you can sell stories pegged to the events, destination and side trip pieces. Search the Web or visit a reference library to determine future sites for Olympics or other international events.
Instead of writing a destination piece about where the Olympic Games will be held next—a story that most publications will assign to their staff writers—you could construct a side trip travel piece or a travel service article related to the Olympic Games site.
The holiday peg story can overlap other types of travel stories. Think of a New Year’s holiday food and travel story or an outdoor recreation story focused on Thanksgiving. Indeed, it’s possible to write travel stories focused on an important world cultural or recreational event in every one of the categories summarized in this chapter.
Hook the winter year-end holidays by writing about traveling in a sleigh, or consider playing with opposites. I sold a story about “Christmas in a Muslim Land” to the St. Petersburg Times travel section. Later, this story of cultural contrasts netted a positive response from an online editor at National Geographic.
Its name clues you in: a side trip from a major destination. The side trip travel story spins off the well-traveled route, revealing a new facet of a popular attraction. Smart travel writers know that there are some destinations that are always going to be featured: European capitals, major U.S. tourist centers like California, Florida, and New England, the Caribbean, and the Paci?c Rim. Side trip stories enable an editor to create a focused issue with several stories about the same general area. Side trip articles serve the leisure and business visitor who is pressed for time. Usually, side trip excursions can be done in a day or less. Details about transportation, days of closure, hours of opening, admission fees, etc. are signi?cant. Readers don’t want to take the time to travel away from their primary destination only to ?nd out the nearby attraction is closed for the day.
Here are a few samples of side trip stories: “Woodlawn and Oatlands: Historic Plantations Near the Nation’s Capital”; “Tibetan Buddhist Retreat on Staten Island”; “Chartes: Day Trip From Paris”; “Escape Los Angeles on Catalina Island.”
OUTDOORS OR RECREATION
The outdoors and recreation travel story is much like a special interest story except it takes place outdoors. It resembles a destination piece and could be a side trip, but it always takes place outdoors. The outdoors travel story overlaps with the other categories in terms of structure but usually involves physical challenge and an element of adventure.
The market for travel stories about outdoor activities is growing and covers all demographic groups. Guided biking adventures, water and mountain sports, recreation for handicapped people, family sport, retirement camping, ecotourism, luxury walking tours where participants stay in chateau hotels, the list goes on. If there is one area to pay attention to in addition to food and travel, it is soft adventure and sport-related travel. Soft adventure usually refers to a packaged adventure tour involving physical activity—hiking, mountain bike riding, horseback riding, rafting—led by an experienced guide. A travel writer with an interest in an outdoor activity can specialize and corner a niche. Paragliding, rock climbing, snowboarding, windsur?ng, scuba diving, sea-kayaking, walking, hunting, ?shing, bird-watching—whatever level of outdoor challenge you choose to write about, the criteria are that you know the vocabulary, do it yourself at least once, and it be outdoors.
The great thing about being a travel writer is that even if you have never done an activity before, you can try it out at an interesting location and write about the experience! Readers will understand; they are often ?rst-timers, too. Your going out in advance and writing about how to tackle a new outdoor activity helps them take that long-awaited bicycle tour in Provence, that ?rst scuba plunge in the Cayman Islands, that ?rst family camping trip in the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.
During recent years, “ecotourism” and “ethnic tourism” have entered the travel lexicon. The concept of sustainable tourism embraces a range of principles that include leaving minimal impact on natural areas, supporting indigenous businesses and travel services rather than European or U.S.-based tour operators, participating in local conservation or cultural efforts, learning about the people and ?nding ways to share experiences with them. In practice, many tour operators label travel products “ecotours” that aren’t. Before using the phrase, a travel writer should become familiar with the principles that guide environmentally responsible tourism.
Similarly, ethnic or heritage tourism purports to lead people to places historically associated with certain ethnic groups—Native American ?rst peoples, the Amish, Shakers, African-Americans, Creoles, and others. Investigate whether the tourism promoters or tour operators are exploiting the ethnic groups or whether revenues ?ow back into the community.
Two sobering aspects of the modern world—civil con?ict and terrorism—usually mean that if a place is in the news, it should be avoided. Travel editors know that people don’t want to spend their vacations in war zones and advertisers don’t want their message to appear next to grim stories. Writers, on the other hand, seem to ?ock to troubled areas in search of award-winning stories about refugees and the fortitude of human character. I’ll bet some of those writers are stashing away notes for travel pieces they’ll write in the future. I guess they ?gure that just because a place is torn up and terrorized doesn’t mean a travel story won’t sell, eventually—they just need to wait a few years. Change is inevitable.
Consider Vietnam, barren and bombed, a pawn of raging political forces. Once a battle?eld, it has been reopened to tourism and commerce. Getting there ?rst when a country resumes normalcy will enhance a travel piece. Writers who pioneered contemporary writing about Eastern European countries created a rewarding niche for themselves.
When peace accords ?ourish in the Middle East once again, savvy travel writers will book ?ights to Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, fascinating countries long off the tourist route. Read the news with an eye for forthcoming political shuf?es and economic shifts. You don’t have to be a fortune-teller, just an attentive observer of the world scene. Which country is angling to trade with whom? Are hostilities between political factions shifting from combat to the peace table? Where are infrastructure investments ?owing?
The journalism aspect of this kind of story means that the writer will have to be diligent about balanced sources. If the tourist board of a nation-state just emerging from a war/racial disturbance/health crisis waxes long that all is well, send in the visitors, you better also talk to people who don’t have a vested interest in the resumption of the tourist trade. Of course, your own observations, what you see and experience in the newly opened area, go the longest way in telling a vibrant travel story.
Can you envision these sample titles in print? “Down a Lazy River: Rafting the Tigris to Baghdad,” “Traces of Ancient Greece in Libya: A Tour of the Mediterranean Coast,” or “Red Sea Resorts.”
Could there ever be too much humor in the world? Editors are hard-pressed to ?nd funny material. Travel writers with a ?air for humor are rare and are particularly prized by travel editors. Like a stand-up comic, the writer of a humorous travel article uses personal experiences for the story line. Inevitably, the butt of the joke will be the writer. We all know that elements of humor depend on the audience and the skill of the storyteller. The anecdote that sends one person into gales of laughter might not amuse the next time it is told. What sparks the reading public’s funny bone changes over time, but there are some universal witticisms—misadventure, simple human error, things or people that are out of place. We tend to see humor in a situation when a person’s response, actions, or words are inappropriate but still achieve a satisfactory outcome—the inadvertent success of a befuddled adult, a child’s unintended wise phrases, animal behavior that seems almost human, misspelled words in signs.
The humorous travel article might be about a single event or a collection of lighthearted incidents. Examples could be an essay about a writer’s penchant for mispronouncing foreign words or misadventures related to faulty map reading that led to more intriguing experiences than the original destination offered.
Readers will recognize their own foibles and create an identity bond. They’ll absorb the author’s travel-related mistakes and learn what not to do, perhaps even feel a tad smug at the hapless writer’s errors. Confronting prejudices and misunderstandings can be funny, if we the writers are willing to be honest and humble about our mistakes and illuminate the larger issues through humor.
Humorous pieces with a light touch are always welcome on an editor’s desk. Strive for the giggle; avoid clichés. The shopworn joke isn’t really funny. Before the spell check and proofread, the piece should be scrutinized for offensive language and bigotry of all varieties. If you don’t know your prejudices, ?nd a neutral person to read your manuscript. We all have our blind spots and what might seem funny to one person may outrage another. One person’s view of a normal joke may be taken as arrogant or racist by another person. Maintain standards of good taste in your writing; editors tend to stay on the careful side.
TRAVEL ADVICE OR SERVICE ARTICLE
Saving money, packing lightly, staying healthy, shopping in crafts markets, international business etiquette, overcoming language barriers. Travel tips for wheelchair users, what to do if your rental car is broken into, the best computer equipment for working while on the road. All these topics and dozens like them form the basis for travel advice articles. Basic research for these pieces can be done online and by e-mail. Add a few quotes from telephone or e-mail interviews with appropriate experts, salt well with personal anecdotes to introduce the topic at the beginning of the article, and voila, you have a travel advice story ready to sell. Well, not quite. You’d better be sure that the experts really are quali?ed, the source material is fresh, and your anecdotes are startlingly unique. If you’re relying on Web-based research, use Web sites that are updated daily or weekly. A travel advice piece about lost luggage, for example, had better be extremely funny, because the theme is commonplace, “done to death,” as editors say. Remember that travel advice articles or columns that cover transportation and hotel discounts or Internet travel bargains are staff-written. Editors rarely rely on freelance writers for this type of intense, detail-oriented reporting.
Look for anecdotes and quotes from other travelers to communicate the scene. Using quotes shifts the focus from you while conveying information and ambience. Don’t take anything for granted. Lessons you learn in your travels can become the nucleus for travel advice articles. Your chagrin becomes the genesis of a story. Experiences like running out of gas in the desert, missing transport connections, or being stopped by a traf?c cop in another country are part of real travel and the sort of anecdotes to include. The trip where nothing goes wrong isn’t a learning experience.
Students often ask whether tedious travel experiences could generate a travel story about a journey that’s all about poor ?ight service, delays, luggage gone missing, and so forth. The answer is probably not. These events are commonplace. Even if all possible negative experiences happen to you on a particular trip, who cares except you, your loved ones and, if you’re lucky, the customer relations departments of the transportation companies involved in the debacle. What would make a salable story is a travel advice report on how to avoid problems during journeys or how to resolve dif?culties in the traveler’s favor.
Travel advice pieces can usually be resold to different markets, especially outside of the traditional travel publications. For example, an advice piece on “sandwich generation travel”—families who travel with young children and grandparents—could be pitched to magazines for parents, senior citizen’s publications, and the general travel market.
FOOD AND TRAVEL
Articles combining culinary pursuits and travel are strong contenders in today’s travel writing market. The food-related article is evergreen because human interest in food is timeless. Food and travel articles aren’t restaurant reviews, generally speaking. Usually, this type of culinary travel story explores the cultural traditions attached to eating, cooking, and celebrating with food in a particular region or country.
Lucky the travel writer who goes to a region knowing about prized local ingredients or has an introduction to the local bread baker. This writer already has a path to follow and contacts to call. But one of the pleasures of food and travel writing is that you can start with no information; just follow your nose. Aromas will lead you to an innovative kitchen and the chef within just might share the names of a local olive oil press, chili grower, curry blender, or wine cellar. Ask questions that provoke more detailed stories. Ask for recipes if the opportunity arises. Note the chef’s name, where he or she trained and has worked before—perhaps you’ll construct an interview for one of the restaurant trade magazines.
If you plan to write about food, you better learn the basics of cooking. Experience will equip you to tell a good meal from a bad one and pinpoint where in the preparation the chef went wrong. Read Larousse Gastronomique, the massive French encyclopedia of food, and culinary historians on the world’s cuisines. No one can ever know everything about food or cease to learn more. Constantly evolving, reinventing, and resurrecting itself, the world of food offers great opportunity for travel writers. Story ideas for food oriented travel articles include: “Wild Rice Harvesting in Minnesota,” “Hawaii’s Coffee Plantations,” “Cuban Food Zones in Florida,” “Where Do Chefs Eat in Rome?”
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE ESSAY
Classic travel writing that endures as literature often is in the form of the personal essay. Told in the ?rst person, the personal travel essay is the one article that only you can write. Even if the travel subject has been examined hundreds of times, the writer’s sensibility applied to the topic makes it unique. Told against the backdrop of memory, the writer’s perceptions and experiences are the basis of the essay. Delve into universal themes told through speci?c examples that support or debunk the premise.
Far and away the most dif?cult genre to compose, this type of travel writing demands supple facility with the ?ow of words and an ability to use comparisons, allusions, metaphors, and irony with skill. The writer draws on all experience rather than impressions rooted solely in a particular location. Skilled essay writers usually have something to say beyond simple description. A strong point of view forms the track along which all the descriptive elements ride.
A personal experience travel essay is a collection of personal truths or evolving discoveries about events experienced in a place or during a journey. It is not meant as a psychological investigation of your inner motives and reactions, although touches of personal insight are useful and help the reader ?nd a human connection. One of the strongest appeals of a personal experience essay lies in that identi?cation with the writer, the sense that yes, the reader could have had the same experiences, felt the same way. How you care about the things that happen to you needs to be expressed in the essay; your opinion matters.
Here’s what it isn’t: The travel essay is not a series of diary entries about how you felt about your travel. You don’t want to be like that eager student who thought that travel writing was just stringing together events related to a particular trip. All strong travel writing requires insight and perspective, but especially in the essay, you need to have thought and read about the theme in order to develop content worth writing.
For example, in a personal experience travel essay, you may be revisiting alone a romantic island where you once spent an idyllic week with a loved one. You’ll notice differences—perhaps the gilded lens through which you viewed the place during a previous visit has chipped and faded—or maybe the palm-shaded one-hammock beach is now obscured by walled villas or high-rise hotels. Whatever you notice will be affected by time and your feelings. There is an edge between soppy personal reminiscences and clever, self-aware comparisons that have broad appeal. Guess which one sells to editors?
In travel articles that explore personal experiences, readers won’t be able to check whether or not the set of anecdotes really happened or not, so establish reader trust early in the narrative. If the experiences were so surprising and fabulous that the essay reads like ?ction, it may be wise to explain circumstances more fully in your narrative. A litany of nasty complaints isn’t quite believable, either. Ideal essay writing strives for balance and uses fact grounding from neutral sources to support your thesis or prove your point.
The quality of a deft personal experience travel article, and thus a publishable one, lies in the selection of details, the authority of the voice, and the elegance of the prose. You may want to postpone an attempt at writing a personal travel essay until you have successfully handled fundamental travel writing assignments such as service articles, destination pieces, a few interviews, and weekend getaway stories. How you proceed depends on your goals. If you want to publish your travel writing, stick to the other types of travel articles that are discussed in this chapter and work toward writing personal essays after your writing facility has matured. If you just want to write and aren’t aiming for immediate publication, there is no harm in striving to write the most dif?cult type of travel piece from the start. However, as with learning any complex skill, steadily increasing the dif?culty while you progress produces enduring bene?t.
Find out more about Travel Writing.