Travel Writing: 7 Tips To Captivate Your Readers
Updated: Jan 19
Ok, I know I’ve lost your trust with several of my previous listicles. You thought you were gonna get real tips on how to be a freelance writer and you got, well, sarcasm and belligerence.
I’ve Shyamalan’ed myself into a corner here with my bait-an’-switches. But I promise you this one’s for realsies. I genuinely want to impart some knowledge. My motivations are selfish (I want everyone reading this to submit your stories to my new travel publication), but the value here is real. And, at a time when “travel blogging” can often mean “taking a picture of your legs on the beach and posting it to Instagram”, these tips will not only help you to write deeper travel stories, they’ll help you travel with more purpose in the first place. Perhaps they’ll even teach you how to live.
And that’s the greatest bait-an’-switch of all.
1. Find the Conflict.
I don’t want to knock listicles (you’re reading one right now) or one-shot review articles because those can take a ton of research and they’re often a travel writer’s best source of income. They’ve always been necessary and will continue to be as long as people are searching “Best stuff to do in Dublin if you don’t like beer”. But when I see a travel writer/blogger exclusively writing snapshots instead of stories, I want to tackle them to the ground and yell this quote from Oriah Mountain Dreamer-
“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for — and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool — for love — for your dreams — for the adventure of being alive.”
…And then I’ll kiss them on their little noses and ask them which gardens I should check out in Marrakech if I only have a couple of days there.
The conflict can be:
Person vs. Self (I can’t climb this mountain because I’m terrified of heights.)
Person vs. Person (I can’t climb this mountain because this angry hermit says I’m not worthy.)
Person vs. Fate/God (I can’t climb this mountain because a prophecy given at my birth said that I would fail.)
Person vs. Nature (I can’t climb this mountain because this angry raccoon says I’m not worthy and that I’m gonna fail.)
Person vs. Society (I can’t climb this mountain because the hermit went and got a bunch of protesters together to form a human wall. Nice that he’s socializing, I guess. The raccoon’s just sitting there all smug now ’cause he’s an asshole.)
Person vs. Unknown/Extraterrestrial (I can’t climb this mountain because I’m currently being beamed up along with a very confused raccoon.)
Person vs. Technology/Machinery (I can’t climb this mountain because the mountain doesn’t actually exist, we’re all in the Matrix.)
Even the most experienced travel writers still have to pitch their “angles” before a publication will send them anywhere. Anytime I travel, I ask myself before-hand— Why am I doing this? What am I hoping to learn? What hidden parts of myself am I hoping to face here? What challenges might I face?
The story often goes in an entirely different direction, but it’s always worth prepping myself to keep my eyes and ears open for something deeper than the kind of “material travel” Dawn Teh talks about in her recent article, Why ‘Buy Experiences, Not Things’ Is Bad Advice.
2. Start With Your Best Stuff and Then Outdo Yourself.
People want to be instantly swept off their feet and taken to another world. Nobody’s got time for: “The plane ride was good, the food sucked, the hotel was pretty nice”, etc.
Think of it like a movie. We’re all sick and tired of the scene where the alarm clock goes off, the protagonist stares blankly at themselves in the mirror while they brush their teeth, blah blah, establishing normalcy, waiting for something enticing to happen.
Don’t you dare build up to the good stuff. Stick us right in the middle of the action like any good action movie would. If you’ve got a scene with a hermit and protesters and a raccoon and aliens, plop us down right in the middle of it and explain later.
I just realized we’re writing the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
3. Light Up Bright Characters.
If that character is you, show us your most exaggerated self. Find a flaw or a strength in your character and show us how that aspect uniquely influenced the course of the story.