Five quickfire tips for travel writers
What is the purpose of travel writing? To put into words the things you have seen and experienced on a journey from A to B, which can be physical but also mental.
The great travel writer Paul Theroux once put it very bluntly as: “To me [travel writing] is the story of what happened to one person in a particular place, nothing more than that.”
Here are five of our guiding tips for the beginner travel writer:
Keep it real
We don’t only want to know about beauty, splendour and fun, we want to know about the mosquitos, the awful wind; we want to know about hustlers who keep on bugging you; we want to know about how you feel when you can’t explain what you want and instead get stuck. Those are the interesting bits.
Try to balance negative and positive.
Too much positivity is boring, but nobody enjoys too much negativity. If you can, without forcing it, try to make the negative bits funny. Use irony. Be self-deprecating. People like to laugh with you. Of course, as a travel writer you have to be careful of making fun of people and particularly how you make fun of them, especially if you’re travelling among people of a culture.
The tense you choose to write in depends on the kind of travel writing that you do. As in any writing, there are no rules. You must feel what is the most appropriate. As a rule of thumb you can use present tense for brochures etc, and past tense for memoir or long form travel adventures.
Use emotions and senses
The writing can be about you. Some of the most exciting travel writing happens after people have experienced emotional turmoil – a breakup, a death, an illness – and they feel the need to escape to a completely different environment.
Remember it’s all about the story
Tell a story, and allow your story to have a trajectory. A quest generally works well for a proper narrative: you have an aim, a beginning and an end (you either find what you were looking for, or not), and probably some kind of suspense. In between you have the journey with all the experiences on the road, guided by the question ‘will or won’t (s)he find what (s)he’s looking for?’