I’ll admit that in the past, I’ve rolled my eyes at blog posts that my Facebook friends have written about their travels. More often than not, I just keep scrolling. But who knows how many times that’s been my loss? There may have been some genuine insights and captivating stories in there.
The problem is that the concept of the travel blog has simply become stale. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to document and share your experiences abroad, but in a world where almost everyone is able to do so, it often feels like shouting into a void, especially if you don’t have that one “thing” that makes you stand out. You absolutely should write about your travels, if that’s what you want to do, but running over the same old ground is only going to frustrate you and fail to attract interest from others.
That said, there’s no need to feel like you have to reinvent the wheel with your travel writing. People enjoy hearing stories about things they haven’t experienced, and I’m confident that will always be true. As with all manners of storytelling, it’s not the content of the tale alone that matters; much of the dramatic effect comes from how a story is told. Some of the greatest novels and films have simple plots, elevated to loftier heights by other mechanics of design and presentation. In general, all writers (and creatives, by extension) should be intentional with their work — aware of what they want to say, and working diligently to communicate it effectively. The pitfall of the travel blog is that no matter how much work you might put into it, it’s such a common platform that it often seems lazy.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a few tips and tricks to move your writing beyond the typical travel blog.
Write within the context of your (or someone else’s) life
Maybe it seems odd to recommend that writing be more personal. After all, it’s a personal act by its nature. Every choice that goes into a piece of writing, from the topic to the words and the order they go in, is personal. But in travel writing, the subject matter can become rather impersonal, because it’s so natural to want to focus on aspects of the destination as it exists separate from us.
In other words, my advice is to not get so caught up in the new that you forget what’s familiar. You’ll quickly realize that your writing is running out of steam if you discuss only things about which you have the fairly limited knowledge that a trip provides.
The common element in every destination is, of course, the human element. Think about some of the best travel storytellers from the past few years, from platforms like Humans of New York to people like Anthony Bourdain. They have finely crafted the lenses through which they see people and places, bringing each to life in tandem. HONY’s most compelling stories are personally moving and have something to say about their environment, whether that’s a city or an entire country. For his part, Bourdain used local food and drink to facilitate conversations about local societies and politics.
Always begin by asking what a place means to you, right now. Whether you have an answer right away or not, you can always move on to asking other people what that place means to them while you continue to form your own thoughts, or at the least watch them go about their lives there.
Focus on the details
On that note, conveying the details of day-to-day life in a different place will give your fire a lot more fuel. I know I just said to not get carried away with the new stuff, but that’s only because the big picture can be a little overwhelming. Decrease the sample size, and bit by bit, you’ll build a more substantial understanding of a place over time. There are plenty of simple things that can tell you a lot about a place, if you pay attention. What time do people wake up? What time do they go to bed? Do they have coffee after their meals, or tea? What kind, and how do they take it? What’s their alcohol of choice? What music plays on the radio? What does “hello” sound like?
Detail is the secret spice to almost every kind of writing, in the sense that you want to use just the right amount. Too few details, and people will have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about; too many, and your writing will feel overwhelming, like quicksand. The perfect amount will transport your readers, giving them just enough that is familiar so that they’ll want to keep reading to discover the unknown parts (or “Parts Unknown,” if you will…). The relationship between writer and reader should always be interactive in that the audience has to work to get to the “truth” of a piece. You, the writer, are just guiding them.
Write in the moment, later on, and all the time
This is a common piece of advice from prominent writers, and even though it always deserves restating, I think it requires a few additional nuances in the context of travel writing. As someone with a degree in writing, I can tell you that people massively overthink the words they put on paper. Sure, some people have neat little tricks and tips for the practice, but nothing works for everyone. Some of us are incredibly regimented, and others write in streaks. The only universally applicable rules for getting better at writing are 1) read more and 2) write more.
Of course, if you’re trying your hand at travel writing, you might need to narrow the scope of what you read for a while. Get some recommendations from friends or fellow travelers of some great travel books, blogs, or websites (wink, wink). If you need a place to start, look at the ones I’ve pointed out above, and then simply take note of any aspect of their style that stands out to you. The key thing here is that you don’t have to like it — learning from a writer means emulating what they do well, and avoiding what you think they don’t.
Then comes the act of writing itself. Even if you don’t typically keep a journal, try to take one along on your travels. Don’t be so concerned with writing down every little detail that you end up missing things, but reflect on events as soon as you can, while they are still fresh in your mind. These types of musings will probably be more detail-oriented, and that’s good. Otherwise, you might lose your grip on those specifics as time goes by. Write when you get back to your lodging for the night, or over your coffee in the morning. Later on, you can reference these field notes and have the power of memory and nostalgia at your disposal. Together, they make for a winning combination.
Don’t try to be profound
In the same vein as overthinking how we write is overthinking what we write, an inherent temptation in travel writing. Naturally, when we carve out the time in our lives to have these unique experiences, we want to feel that they’re… well, unique. The artist in everyone will want to say something, because the world truly is amazing in how it speaks to us. That said, you should never force it. Writing that imagines its own importance can be spotted from a mile away, and it doesn’t engage the reader. An adage I constantly hear about quality writing is that it takes the specific and elevates it to the universal. You don’t need to come to mystifying conclusions with your work; you simply need to tell the reader what happened. If the story is relatable and piques the reader’s curiosity, they can draw their own conclusions and apply those to their own lives?
In the end, that means that some things won’t work out. Many times, the essence of the places we go will remain nebulous, enigmatic, and undecipherable. I can’t imagine that we should want it any other way. If we could know and describe exactly what it is that makes the world so magical, we would no longer feel the need to go out there, to try and find out. You should always try to write about the things that move you, but if the meaning escapes you, let it go. Clearing your head of what hasn’t worked is the only way to make space for what will and to attune your senses to the coming truths.
Practice other art forms
My affinity for writing is equally rooted in what it can and cannot do — it can’t bring mesmerizing visuals to life like film, or arouse intangible emotions like music, but it can inspire us to explore the limits of our imaginations by making us do that kind of work ourselves. If someone’s writing paints a vivid picture in your mind, it’s safe to say that they’ve done well, but the beauty of writing is really how that scene will differ in the imaginations of every single reader. This is the reason that travel, writing, and travel writing remain necessary — everyone sees everything differently. In my experience, figuring out exactly how you see something is not straightforward, and that constitutes just as much of the creative process as the act of creating does itself.
The best way to find what works for you is to search as widely as possible and discard everything that doesn’t fit. It might sound tedious, but you’re a lot more likely to find inspiration by looking for it than waiting for it to come to you. As Maya Angelou said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” Try your hand at writing poetry or fiction if you’ve only ever blogged, get creative with your travel photos, or make a video about your trip. The things that stand out to you are the most important for your writing, and your work will improve once you open your eyes, ears, and other senses through different mediums.
Submit your work!
Lastly, and as a bit of a shameless plug, consider moving away from self-publishing your writing on your personal blog. Many editorial platforms, from traditional newspapers and magazines to sites like Passion Passport, accept submissions from their communities. If you truly feel like your travel story is worth sharing with the world, don’t be afraid to put it (and yourself) out there — it’s crucial to find confidence in your voice, and you never know what opportunities could be waiting for you.
If you choose to share your work with a professional publication, work on refining your writing a bit more than you might otherwise, and seek out feedback from people you know and trust before hitting “submit.” Just remember: try to vary your sentence length and structure, make sure the audience knows everything they need to and nothing more, and strive to elevate the personal to the universal. It may not be as simple as it sounds, but you won’t know until you try.
Looking for more writing advice? Check out the following articles: 4 Ways to Improve Your Travel Writing, How to Craft a Memorable Story, Travel Writing Tips: How To Deal With Your Inner Critic. Or, if you have a specific question, leave us a comment below!