Monday, April 23, 2018

Travel Writing: How to Hook the Adventurer

Looking to break into travel writing? Here are some tips to make sure you're bringing the reader along with you.  ♦ 
Rick Steves drank scotch with local pub-goers in Scotland the other night on a PBS special while, nearby, I browsed flight prices to anywhere and everywhere in Europe. Last time I followed his travels, he was exploring the Tuscan countryside with a friend guiding him to the magnificent places tourists never visit, prompting my curiosity over an article about buying dilapidated villas in Tuscany for €1. The next day, I stared for hours at travel bloggers’ photos of their adventures, praying for the day that my own travel would resume.

Travel is a passion, a longing to experience new places, cultures, and customs beyond those of everyday life. Travel gives a feeling of freedom, a sure-fire cure for curiosity and the exploration itch. The only thing is, travel breeds craving for more travel, and continuous globe-trotting is neither practical nor inexpensive.

Enter travel writing. This type of writing has grown vastly thanks to magazines, shows, and, more recently, travel blogging, giving audiences a sense of adventure at a fraction of the cost of real travel. But, what separates the great travel pieces that draw in readers’ attention and keep them hooked from those that show up in news feeds for a day just to vanish the next? What makes for a travel writing (and reading) experience that transports the reader to a fantastic new locale? For those writers hoping to break into the travel writing market, you might consider the following key elements of outstanding travel writing that’ll help take your reader there.

Create a Sensory Experience

When you arrive at the destination you plan to write about, explore it not just with your feet but with all five senses open to the environment. Walk everywhere and take notes on how every one of your senses is engulfed in the place. What do you see? What do you smell? What are the people around you discussing? How are they talking? With their hands? Loudly? Bluntly? All of these factors add into the overall aura of the place that is necessary for you to understand so that you can adequately represent it in your writing.

Have you ever seen Under the Tuscan Sun? In the film, the main character, Frances, writes a letter describing the little Tuscan town she is visiting. She notes the bustle of the marketplace, the distinct sound of the church bells, how a warm grape breaks open in her mouth, how it “even tastes purple.” If your reader can’t taste that grape, your job is not complete.

Make It Unique

Obviously, research must be done on your intended place of adventure before you get there, scouring sources for the best local pubs or secluded seaside villas. But you also want to explore the place in a unique way, not simply hitting those attractions that everyone would visit. With knowing how to travel comes the ability to create your own unique experiences—you build up a curiosity, a need to explore more than just the outer layer of the tourist facade the place enlists at first glance. It is this kind of experience that makes one piece distinctly different from another written about the same geographical place.

Also, don’t forget that the travel writer practices discernment in terms of making a narrative experience—no one wants to read the boring parts that you experienced, such as waiting in line for two hours at a restaurant or getting sick on the bus on the side of the mountain. People want to know what stuck out to you, the ultimate reason you recommend this place. When you go out to dinner, ask the server what their favorite part of living there is, or what is a must-see before you leave? And while you’re there, don’t order your regular hamburger and fries, try the most true-to-the-place item on the menu, be it fried octopus or homemade limoncello. Afterwards, experience the nightlife. Find yourself in a bar dancing with the locals to songs in a language you don’t quite understand. Mingle with people around the place that will bring you more in tune with everything you experience so that when you write, your curiosity has been quenched and you write learnedly.

Reflect Your Personal Experience

The last essential key to travel writing is to let your opinions reflect in your work. You are not there to sell the place you visited to readers but to inform them of, and evoke in them the sense of, your own experiences there. It is easy to confuse the two sometimes, but remember, you are not being paid by the place to write a review for their website; you’re there seeking the truth of the place. Form your opinions throughout your trip and figure out an angle you want to take for writing your piece. If you stick with the mindset you kept throughout the trip, your writing will reflect your true feelings. If it was overrated, say so. If some parts were great and some not so great, tell your reader why. Travel writing is not only for those who dream of travel but also an incentive to make those dreams reality. Don’t lead your readers astray and send them to places for which you felt no passion. In a time when the line between real and fake is wafer-thin, always side with the truth.

Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” A travel writer’s job is to plant the seeds of travel to open the narrow minds. Do this instinctively as soon as your pen lands on your paper. Think of this as you gaze down the cobblestone streets of your next adventure. Keep in mind the reader who has never experienced anything like you have and explain it to them as best you can in ways they will understand, and you will bring the thrill and curiosity of travel to the masses.

  • About the Author
    Hannah Blackwell is a senior Professional Writing major, Political Science minor, and Pre Law focus at Miami University. She is from Huron, Ohio, but continually finds new places to call home in the various corners of the world she has traveled. After graduation in 2018 she hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in immigration law. She is excited to use all that she has learned through her travels and her writing to assist her future clients.

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