Travel writing allows a lot of play. Unlike drier material like email marketing copywriting, travel writing affords you the ability to tell stories, to use a lot of colorful language and to revisit what are hopefully some good or at least amusing memories. You are writing not only to guide readers, but to entertain them, as well.
Some travel writing is dreadfully boring. This is because it reads like a paid advertisement as opposed to the relation of an experience. When you’re writing about traveling, you’re not only giving advice about where to go and what to do; you’re also selling the idea of traveling, of liberation, of life without routine. Whether recounting a Greyhound trip from San Diego to St. Louis (while sitting next to a flatulent halfwit who told me the same four stories roughly one hundred times) or describing the nightlife in a Chicago neighborhood, there is an element of escapism to travel writing that you need to keep in mind. The content should be engrossing and entertaining, not merely informative.
The First Question You Should Ask Yourself
Why would someone want to visit the destination in question? Once you’ve answered this, it will allow you to know your audience. Furthermore, you will understand what tone to take and what facets of the destination to focus on. For instance, if you’re writing about a state or national park, you should be using words like tranquil, serene, majestic, etc. to describe much of it. This is because you’re usually writing for people who want to get away from the cacophony of civilization. If you’re writing about a big city like New York, you should be using language that captures the energy of its streets. This is because people visit New York for its culture, its nightlife and the fact that a toothless lunatic may wave an erect part of his body at you as your cab pulls up to your hotel (“Welcome to New York!”).
Establishing an understanding of what people want to escape from and what they want to escape to is a fundamental aspect of travel writing. If readers like the cut of your jib, the way in which you perceive the destination about which you are writing and to which they are traveling, then they are going to want you as their guide. They trust you.
Being a Good Guide
This is where the substance of travel writing comes into play. You, serving as the readers’ guide, need to limit their options. For example, if you’re writing about Detroit, specifically about food in Detroit, then you need to talk about Coney Islands (these are essentially diners). This is because they are unique to Detroit and ubiquitous throughout most of southeastern Michigan. If you simply list all of them, you’re not guiding. It’s too much information. You need to actually have specific Coney Islands to recommend, and you should probably be able to include more information than what is on each restaurant’s menu.
Good travel writing is engrossing for reasons that go beyond wittiness. It demands a love for traveling and storytelling, but it also requires a good deal of knowledge about the area to which the readers plan to travel. A talented travel writer will understand not only what readers hope to see, but what they want to experience.
Jay F is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.