10 important travel writing tips

There are many forms of travel writing in the modern media. Online travel blogs, print magazines, newspaper columns and travel TV shows are all examples of channels for travel content. Travel writing gives detailed and authentic information about a place. In this way, travel articles keep readers informed and often inspire them to plan a trip of their own. So, here are some of the most important travel writing tips to keep in mind. These will help you in your pursuit to produce well-written and inspiring travel stories.

1. Have a goal

Before starting on a story, you need to set a goal for your article. What is your motivation or inspiration for writing it? Which angle or focus will you take in your article? What element(s) of the destination do you want to include/exclude, and why? Also, which publication do I want to have this published in? Remember that the angle, style and focus of the story should fit your personal brand as a writer. For this reason, it’s best to write about places and topics that interest you. You will have more knowledge on that subject. What’s more, you’re guaranteed to enjoy writing it. 

2. Tell a story

One of the most important travel writing tips is to always keep in mind that you’re writing a story. A storyline running through your article will captivate your reader much more than a factual report. Therefore, include characters, action, pace and suspense in your story. Keep it accurate and authentic by including anecdotes and real-life events that made your trip interesting. Relaying information in this way will appeal to your audience directly and make them want a travel experience of their own. 

3. Use authentic sources

Oftentimes, people think that the lighter, personal and more informal style of travel writing means that it’s not as important to attribute info to sources. This is far from true! In fact, you need authentic sources in travel writing in order to give your reader the feeling of being there. Quoting locals, owners of coffee shops or bar attendants make your article come to life and, of course, gives it credibility. In addition, sources provide a different voice and viewpoint to your story and become characters in your storyline. Make sure your sources are reliable, and that you mention where you found each fact you mention in your article. 

4. Showing and telling

In short, “telling” is simply giving information on a place. “Showing” is describing the place in a way that will make the reader see a picture in their minds. When you’re showing, you’ll include more details about the place, more sensory information (like smells, sights and sounds) to make the reader experience the full atmosphere of the scene. While showing is one of the most effective travel writing tips, it’s good to incorporate both of these aspects when it’s needed in the article. You need to know when to apply each efficiently. For example, you will “show” the most important aspects that your article focuses on. Other, less important elements can simply be “told”.

5. Include details

This links with tip number 4. Describe the place, its people, its culture and its food in detail. Include sensory details. What do you see/hear/smell/feel? By doing this, you’ll give a more authentic feeling and tone to your article that draws your reader in. Details make them feel part of the experience they’re reading about. Avoid general or iconic words such as “amazing” or “awesome”. These are vague concepts that don’t portray a place or element accurately. Instead, use concrete and detailed descriptions.

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6. Use less words

Ever heard of using words and sentences “economically”? In short, it means describing a concept in a short, simple and succinct way. Don’t aim to impress your reader with big words that you wouldn’t normally use in a conversation. Instead, aim to entertain by using simple words that make it easier to read. Use clear descriptions and action words. Action words are words that represent a certain feeling or meaning. By using them, you can cut several other descriptive words out of a sentence that are unnecessary because they drag your article out. For example, you could say “strolling” instead of “walking at a relaxed pace.” Keep this in mind while you’re writing, but also while editing. In fact, you can always let the writing flow freely for your first draft and then cut out words afterwards. 

7. Write in the active voice

The active voice reads easier and oftentimes requires less words than the passive voice. In the active voice, the object is placed before the subject. For example, “The bar owner locks the door and places the ‘Closed’ sign in the window.” On the other hand, in the passive voice, the sentence would be something like “The bar door gets locked and the ‘Closed’ sign gets placed in the window.” This sentence excludes the subject of the sentence: the bar owner. Therefore, you’re taking out a possible character in your story. Furthermore, the sentence itself also doesn’t read as smoothly as the first one.

8. Use your original voice

Every writer perceives an experience differently. Similarly, you have a unique way of putting your experience into words. Develop your own travel writing style by incorporating your personality in your writing. Write your travel articles in the first person and in the past tense, as if you’re telling a friend about a place you visited. Then, combine this personal story with facts and helpful information about the place. The more articles you write, the more your original voice will develop and become recognizable in your writing.

9. Use visual signposts

This is one of those travel writing tips that might be difficult to apply initially. Visual signposts are concrete, visual descriptions that help the reader follow the different locations and developments in your story. In other words, it’s almost like showing (see tip number 4). Instead of saying, “After lunch, we drove from Cape Town to Robertson,” use a visual description to show the reader where you are. For example:  “After lunch, we left the hustle and bustle of Cape Town’s city centre and drove to the heart of the picturesque Cape winelands: Robertson.” This makes the reader “see” exactly where you’re going, and makes them want to come along.

10. Spend a lot of time on your lead and conclusion

Your introductory paragraph should be intriguing, exciting or contain an unanswered question that makes your reader want to keep reading. This is called a “hook” – you want to draw them in so that they can’t resist finishing the article. Also, you need to get to the focus point of your article fairly early, so as not to lose your reader. 

Likewise, your conclusion should have the reader feel something or take something away that will stay in their minds long after reading the article. Summarise the main points of interest in the article. End off in a way that slows down the adventurous pace of the text and brings the story to a satisfying, fulfilling end. This could be a quote from one of your characters, returning to the scene you started your lead with, or the answer to a question stated in the lead. Spend a lot of time finding the perfect wording and structuring for both your intro and conclusion. 

Finally, and most importantly, a last travel writing tip: manage your time well. In short, give yourself enough time to finish your article. Take the time you’ll need for research, writing, editing and rewriting into account. It takes an enormous amount of self-motivation and commitment to become a prosperous travel writer. 

As a freelancer, you will be responsible for the income you earn from your articles. However, once you establish your brand and reputation as a travel writer, chasing stories and pitching them to different editors will become second nature for you. With these travel writing tips, the writing process also won’t seem like such a daunting task. Join us for a month in the Garden Route of South Africa to learn all about the art of travel writer, and explore the numerous travel destinations in the region. 

Rouzne van der westhuizen

Blogger Profile - Rouxne van der Westhuizen

Rouxne has an Honours degree in journalism and media studies. She specialises in wildlife conservation writing, travel journalism and blogging.

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