12 Top Travel Writing Tips…

15th December 2016
Pól Ó Conghaile

I get lots of emails from readers who love travelling, and are seeking advice on how to write or blog about their trips, or make some money to fund their travels. Like any other craft travel writing needs practise, but hopefully these pointers can help set you on your way.

1) Put yourself out there.

Travel writing involves a) travel and b) writing. Travel is not something you can do at a desk. Book your ticket, get on the boat or plane, and start putting yourself in positions where you not only see new things, but that challenge you to think on your feet. The ideas will come.

2) Make notes.

Writers write. That’s the best piece of advice I ever got. When travelling, you’ll get exhausted. You won’t always feel like sitting down after your latest encounter and making notes. But you absolutely must. Trust me, the next day is a whole other adventure, and time sucks the detail out of everything.

3) Take pictures.

Lots of travel writers take notes this way. Although a photo can’t capture what you’re feeling when you dive headfirst over that cliff in Mexico, or plunge into that wet market in Kuala Lumpur, it can record exactly what the cliff or market looked like. And that’s useful to draw description from later.

4) First the heart, then the head.

The first draft of a good feature, chapter or blog post always comes from the heart. That’s the draft that pours out of you, unleashing all of your unbridled enthusiasm for (or passionate hatred of) a destination. That’s a good thing, but it needs an edit. That’s the second draft.

5) Start strong.

Don’t start with the airplane. Don’t give a long-winded intro. Dive straight in (Think of George Orwell – “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”) It is imperative that you hook the reader immediately – if you don’t, someone else will.

6) Know your story.

Are you writing about New York? Or are you writing about the best food trucks in Brooklyn? Make the point of your story clear, and keep it in focus. Good writers add to our knowledge of a destination by working angles or niches rather than generalities we’re all familiar with.

7) Kill the clichés.

You know the ones. The “city of contrasts”. The “bustling eatery”. Please – nobody needs to hear those phrases EVER AGAIN. Use expressions you would in real-life, and the minute you find yourself describing an ocean as “azure” or a market as “an assault on the senses”, take a coffee break.

9) The devil is in the detail.

Write personally, and remember that no detail is too small. Don’t say “the city is full of crumbling ruins”. Describe those ruins. What do they look and feel like? What do they remind you of? What is the light like inside? Who is in there? What are they doing? Detail is one of my top travel writing tips.

9) Be disciplined.

“Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat,” as Dorothy Parker said.

10) Re-write.

So many travel blogs fail because their authors publish first drafts. A good editor or second opinion almost invariably improves a piece, so seek one out. Most writing is re-writing – you can almost always say something better, more imaginatively and more crisply than you did first time round.

11) Include the info.

So a reader loves your piece. She is inspired. She wants to act. She scans your page for contact information and… it’s there, right? Unfortunately, not always. Always include websites and contact details with a post, and double-check them before you click ‘publish’.

12) Be realistic.

Very few people ever make a living from travel writing. With the sheer volume of travel blogs out there, that’s truer than ever today. Offline, editorial pages, ads and budgets are down, and there is a small pool of writers competing to place material. Don’t expect to be paid or published overnight.

Good luck!