As I mentioned in my last article about how to hone in your voice as a writer and find your point of view (POV), we have a responsibility as travel influencers to tell our stories in a compelling way. But what KIND of story are you going to tell? For most of us, writing is a lost art and a bit overwhelming to tackle. The good news is that in the internet and social media-crazed world we live in that most people only have the attention span of about 800 words at a time before they click on to something else. For the most part, the days of writing long opinion pieces for online publications are gone, but even still, there are definitely genres of storytelling which we can organize our travel stories into or ways to tell multiple stories about the same locale.
The point, simply, is this: your travel writing should inform while it entertains. Regardless of story length, you should not only fact check your work, but strive for creativity. In a world full of travel journalism choices, anything less sells readers short. Success is achieved when a reader is inspired to book a trip after reading your article.
Find your Personal Style
Develop your voice, express your opinion, but be concrete in how you formed that opinion and distinguish the subjective from the objective. Your writing should display maturity and emphasize substance over attitude. But do personalize your writing; inject your life into your writing as appropriate. Search for a sense of place or a narrative. After all, cultural criticism is not an objective, quantifiable science.
Be thorough. If you are unsure of any facts in your article, google them or remove them from the story. You never want to give false information.
Don’t be Cheesy
Shy away from statements like, “Are you ready to head to the beach?” Our readers are ready to travel, that’s why they are reading. Begin stories with a strong lead that forces travelers to read on.
Stay clear of clichés. Paste Magazine readers are clearly looking for “the perfect getaway” and “a little R&R.” But why are they going to this particular place? We—and you as a reader—want the smells, sights, the energy of the streets, the salt water dripping from the bill of your cap, and the taste of a skewer just off the grill of a curbside kiosk while a tram goes rushing past.
Now that you have found your voice and POV, here are the main descriptions of the types of articles that most travel writing is categorized into:
Travel Writing Categories
Lists or a “Round-up”
Shorter and to the point, these will usually be a “Top ten” list or a “Round-up” or collection or gathering of topics or places. Examples: The best 10 places to hike in Europe; The eight best après-beach bars in San Diego; The 12 best ways to impress your new girl/boyfriend on your first vacation together. Lists are a good catchall for columns to include oddities and subjects that don’t naturally fit into a trip-style rubric.
Each feature needs to involve contact with the locale. These need to be well-researched, well-written pieces from an original angle. These are more than just typical round-up articles about places. They should be explorations into the art of travel. Incorporate local phrases. Use narrative structures. Appeal to a variety of the reader’s senses—place them in setting with you. Make it relevant to the reader’s life—why should they care?
These can be humorous, personal, opinionated, or all three. These tend to be lengthier, and more established writers typically write these.
Galleries are like lists or round-ups, but image-driven. Examples: The 15 best passport stamps; nine weirdest depictions of the flashing-crosswalk man in Asia; 20 worst English translations on menus in Thailand, or 10 photos of the Northern Lights that will make you drool.
These are quick pieces about industry-driven items every traveler needs. Usually these are based on current events, current trends, or viral articles. Examples: New travel apps of merit; airline bankruptcies; year-end travel deals; new airline arrivals to countries and cities. These are typically “day-of” spots.
48 Hours in ______
These stories have a strong intro (about 150 words) and a roundup/list of about 10 activities a traveler will do while in that destination. It should be a good, balanced mix of food (restaurant), drink (lounge/bar), shopping, and entertainment (including theaters, concerts, museums). Businesses included here will have personality and be illustrative. 48 Hours, like all of the stories, can focus on foreign or domestic locales.
Medium-form features about personal discovery. This could be a hiking trail, a new neighborhood in New York, or a trip through the South. No rambling road-trip stories. If a car is involved, there needs to be a purpose to the story.
Town vs Town
Exactly what it sounds like, this story will compare two locales (they don’t have to be cities…they could be ski areas, etc.), and provide solid service info about each. There isn’t a winner here—just a great way to provide travel information to readers.
Great places to escape within a two-hour drive of a prominent location or for some R & R. Example: One of the less-visited Keys (close to Miami); Toledo (close to Madrid); Puget Sound Islands (close to Seattle). Like What’s Hot, these are punchy, authoritative, user-friendly pieces with a sense of narrative.
The next discovery…a place most have yet to hear about. These are short, journey-style features with a strong voice. You have to be the authority here. There should be service information scattered throughout (visited spots) and then listings at the bottom.
Also like a list, but specific to travel-related gear: Suitcases, backpacks, electronics, clothes, sunglasses and anything you would need while on the road….
An informational column about travel with a specific purpose (can be humorous and/or first-person). Should be well researched. Examples: How to travel with a child; What to do when you lose your documents; What to do when you break up with your significant other in the middle of a three-month trip.
Food is important to travel. However, for a food story to work in the travel section, it will have to demonstrate travel-first (not food-first) sensibilities. If you are doing a foodie article it should really be showing off the culture of a place, comparing restaurants, or be a food-centric travel piece with a List sensibility. Examples: Top 10 best places to get Paella, 10 local ingredients for the best progressive meal along the French Riviera: Wine, oysters, wild asparagus, truffles, cheeses, pastries.…
Remember, no matter what story choice you decide to write, keep your personal point of view throughout the story. If your niche is adventure travel, or being a woman or a mother, or a single guy on the road, whatever your specialty is, keep it running as a consistent theme throughout your piece. Have a strong beginning and end to your article and your readers will be hooked and booked on their next trip!