Friday, November 22, 2013

Seeing the World and Writing About It

When you say you’re a travel writer, everyone thinks you live a glamorous life, jetting to exotic locations, working on your tan, staying in posh digs. Let’s face it, that may be okay for Ruddy Maxa, but for the rest of us, travel writing is hard work and probably the worst paying of all the writing genres.

Sure, you’re dying to get an article published about your last vacation. But travel writing isn’t about writing about the fun you had on your first cruise or the grand shopping experience you had in a foreign market. It’s writing about the life and culture in other countries—educating your readers so they can make the most of a trip there if they choose.

Let’s look at the wrong way to do it. A woman took her younger children with her to London. She had a rotten time with them. When she returned , she wrote about all the bad experiences she had with her kids. Instead, she should have planned her trip better and even if things went badly, she should have put a positive spin on her article by writing about what a visitor can do with children in London. She wrote this article for a Sunday newspaper travel section. Unfortunately, most newspaper travel editors rather publish pieces that find fault with a destination than show how to really enjoy it.

But writing travel articles for newspapers is different than those written for magazines. The latter’s purpose is to entertain. Take inflight magazines for instance. You won’t find a negative article in them, nor will you find an article about flying unless it’s about how to make the experience a good one—effective ways to deal with jet lag, for example.

To be a good travel writer, you have to be a good traveler, not a tourist. Going on vacation is one thing, but traveling to a place to write about it is quite another. As a tourist, though you may plan your trip in detail, you go, enjoy yourself, and come home to tell your friends about it. After that, your memories may linger, but eventually you move on to another place. Not so for a travel writer.

You’ll need to learn to travel for research.  You’ll need to research the place before your trip, do on-the-ground research while there, and more research after returning home. Only then will you be able to write well about it.

Also, a professional travel writer doesn’t do just one article from a trip. Instead, the true professional does lots of research so that he or she may write many articles for different publications, all about different facets of traveling to that destination. How many articles can you think of to write about London. If you said lots, you’re correct. The list is almost endless.

But travel writing doesn’t have to be about exotic places. You can write great pieces about destinations closer to home, within driving distance, for instance. You can also take less expensive forms of transportation like trains.

So if you’re serious about travel writing, start writing about places you know well already. Whether they’re destinations close to home or on the other side of the globe, make it your business to learn everything you can about them, then write articles that will make anyone want to go there.

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