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Do's and Don'ts of Travel Writing
by Jennifer Stewart

Return to Travel Writing · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

As the baby boomers hit retirement, the travel industry is set to explode. Why not take advantage of this interest by writing about your travels? Here are some of the things to avoid in travel writing and some of the things to include.


  • Use cliches. Tom Brentnall, Editor of the QANTAS inflight magazine The Australian Way, comments: "A pearl is found in an oyster. There is only one Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed, in Saudi Arabia -- it is not some trendy retail strip of designer clothing stores. Paradise is where you go when you die (it is not five minutes from an airport) and a magnet relates to electrical polarity."

  • Overdo the adjectives. Words you wouldn't dream of using in conversation -- "fabled, wondrous, roseate" -- often appear in travel writing.

  • Go silly with personification. Do buildings ever really smile, do ruins beckon at every turn, do chimney tops sing their welcome? Probably not!

  • Use the first person. Fascinating as your reactions might be to your immediate family, the rest of the world frankly doesn't care what you thought as you took your first mouthful of Mexican food.

  • Mention religious or ethnic differences. It's easy to patronise when you wax lyrical about the quaint little customs of the villagers, the interesting way the townspeople behave at funerals etc.

  • Use "reverse-racism". To quote Brentnall again, "It is sad how many articles we get that describe people of non-Caucasian descent as being 'well-trained', 'polite', 'professional', 'well-spoken' and 'hygienic' (seriously)" -- as if one would naturally expect them to be otherwise.

  • State the obvious. Most people who travel are aware that the sun rises in the east, so even if you add something about the skyline, this is old news! If you're at the beach, don't write that "the waves rolled up on the sands..." that's what a beach is.

  • Use journalese. How many places have you read about where "old meets new"; how many places have "twisting alleys", "bustling thoroughfares", "half-forgotten byways"? Too many!

  • Discuss the gory details. Travel writing is meant to accentuate the positive, not the negative aspects of destinations. (Unless, of course, you're doing an expose.)

  • Be a snob. People from all backgrounds travel these days, so don't alienate any of your potential readers by using obscure language or allusions.


  • Use short words in preference to long words (likewise for sentences and paragraphs).

  • Focus on what's interesting and different about the spot. Find details that are significant in some way -- unusual, colourful or humorous. Look for something that makes the place special. Usually this will be a combination of the place and the people. Look around for someone or something that catches your eye and use this as the focus for your piece. Maybe there's an unusual colour scheme in shop windows or buildings, a pedestrian who causes you to stop and look, or an absence of something that you'd expect to find in the area.

  • Give concrete details. Don't tell us that "food was dirt-cheap"; do a bit of math and convert the price of the meal to your own currency. Tell us -- specifically - what was in the meal; elaborate on the service, the setting and so on. Describe not just the big things -- the buildings and bridges, but also the little things -- the street signs, the road surfaces, the seats, the grass and the smells.

  • Keep all your senses open for those little things that evoke atmosphere -- aromas of food cooking, perfumed plants, seaside smells (salt air, seaweed, marine fuel), newly cut timber; bird sounds, night sounds -- frogs, crickets, cars, fog horns... Atmosphere is all around you; you just have to learn how to recognise it.

  • Structure your piece logically -- it doesn't really matter whether you go from the general to the specific or vice versa, as long as there's some method involved.

  • Incorporate interesting information about the history of the place if it's relevant and accurate (but don't rely on what the bus driver told you on the way). Check your facts and make it obvious why you've referred to past events.

  • Make use of the tried and true devices of comparison and contrast -- you may have visited a similar place and can clearly describe why the two are so much alike. Maybe you've been somewhere that is a complete contrast and can offer suggestions about the reasons for the differences (climate, geography, history, economic considerations etc). It doesn't matter how obvious the differences are -- a South Sea Island is naturally going to be very different from a Scandinavian city -- but reading about them is still interesting.

  • Check your spelling, punctuation and expression.

  • Read your work aloud to yourself; this enables you to check for any clumsy constructions, repetition, etc.

  • Check for the interest factor. Once you're happy with your piece, read it again and see if it's interesting. If you hadn't been to this place, would reading your article make you want to go there? Or not?

Find Out More...

Bylines from Near and Far - Myrna Oakley

Travel that Pays - Kayleen Reusser

The Untraveled Travel Writer - Isabel Viana

Writing Opportunities on the Road - Susan Miles

Copyright © 2000 Jennifer Stewart
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Jennifer Stewart left a 20-year teaching career to write a series of home-based writing courses. As a freelance writer, she has written articles for e-zines and the print media, prepared award submissions for business clients, copywritten and proofread nonfiction, edited webpages and e-books, written press releases; and more. Her articles have appeared in such e-zines as Internet Day, AddMe, Leading Edge, Smartage, Website Weekly, Webmaster's Digest, Virtual Promote ezine, Digital Women, and Whispers. Stewart has her own web-based writing business at: http://www.write101.com.


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