So you want to know how to be a travel writer? Want travel writing tips to shout about your backpacking adventure with the world?
Well, you’re in the right place. Sharing your travel experiences with the world is ace, and gapyear.com is full of informative and inspiring features, articles and guides written by backpackers, for backpackers.
But before you get started on your article or feature check out these guiding principles for how to be a travel writer, with some video tips from Wanderlust editor Lynn Hughes. These will help you get the best out of your content – and avoid classic mistakes.
How to Be a Travel Writer
1. Choose the right subject
What do you want to write about? Think about it. If you hadn’t personally done it would you be interested in reading about it?
If you want to know how to be a travel writer, try and make good choices when it comes to your subject matter. Be original; pick a place, a journey or experience that hasn’t been written about before. At the very least try and come up with a cool, alternative or quirky angle that’s fresh.
Avoid writing about places you’ve never been to or know nothing about. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But the world is full of people pretending to be travel experts about stuff they know zip about. Don’t be one of them.
2. Do your research
Whether it’s trekking the Inca Trail or shark-diving in South Africa, when writing a travel piece about anything it’s a good idea to be well informed. You don’t have to be the world’s leading expert, but if you don’t know what you’re talking about why should anyone read what you’re writing?
The first part of knowing what you’re talking about is to experience it yourself. But the second part is to actually research it. Read stuff that’s relevant to your trip: backpacking guidebooks, travel websites, news archives, art or novels. Don’t just rely on the Wikipedia as the basis of your background knowledge.
3. Include the essentials
Precisely what you need to include in your article will depend on the subject – but a good rule of thumb for how to be a travel writer is to ask yourself whether your piece answers the big six questions: What? Where? When? How? Why? Who?
For example, an article about a place might tell the reader where it is, why it is worth visiting, what it costs, how to get there, when is the best time to go and who you’ll meet if you do.
4. Nail the opening
The beginning of your travel piece is easy, right? You just talk about what happened first? No. Start with something interesting, maybe a strong, but brief, anecdote of something that happened; something that sums up the whole piece – this is a tried and tested way of opening all kinds of writing.
Oh, and get to the point of your content as early as possible. Flowery descriptive paragraphs of dreamlike experiences are great, but if the reader doesn’t know what the purpose of the article is they’ll switch off. Don’t rely on an editor to shoehorn a hook into the intro!
5. Keep it simple
There is nothing more off-putting than lots and lots of fluffy prose. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short, cut out unnecessary adjectives and try not to use long, clever-sounding words when a simple one will do.
When you want to explain how amazing places and people are try to show what they’re like, as opposed to telling; describe them rather than just saying, “It was amazeballs.” Be vivid. Capture the interesting details.
Avoid phrases that you wouldn’t use in everyday speech. “Eateries” sounds fine in a brochure or TripAdvisor review, but that’s not how to be a travel writer.
6. Use the right tone
The correct way to write varies from publication to publication. Everyone has their own in-house style. Their own rules.
Try and get the tone of your travel piece spot on for gapyear.com; it should be individual, youthful, engaging and relatable. It should natural, in your own voice. The tone shouldn’t be as dry and authoritative as an article in The Times, as hipster-edgy as a feature in Vice Magazine or as trashy as a story on The Huffington Post.
7. Make it personal
Write in the first person, past tense. We want to know how you experienced places, people and events. Our readers want to know how it felt to be you, there in that moment. They want to imagine themselves in your shoes and find out how they can do it themselves.
Think of all gapyear.com travel writing as personal journeys, interwoven with cool facts, interesting description and engaging observations. It’s like learning through experience and sharing, which is awesome. That’s how to be a travel writer.
Assume the reader has never been to the place you’re writing about. Maybe they’ve never heard of it. On the basis of your article they might want to book a flight there or never hear about it again. Your words have power.
8. Tell the story through people
When you travel, you meet people – fellow backpackers, customs officials, taxi drivers, bartenders, other random locals. Talk to them. What do they have to say?
Quotes and stories from real people add a ton of authenticity to your travel piece and gives it a whole different flavour. Writing about beaches in Australia? Talk to the guys sunbathing. Writing about volunteering in a school in Ecuador? Talk to the teachers and students.
In short, adding the voices from people you meet on your travels will suddenly add a whole other dimension to your content. Do it whenever you can.
9. Avoid clichés
Try to be fresh and original in your writing. Is referring to somewhere as an ‘unspoiled gem’ a ‘bustling market’ or ‘off the beaten track’ the only way to describe it? Are ‘tucked away’ and ‘nestled between’ the best you can do? If you want to convince people that you know how to be a travel writer, cut this stuff out.
The problem with clichés is that they can turn readers off. They roll their eyes. Zone out. You lose them. And why not? They’ve read it all before. So come on, think outside that box. What’s the most interesting way you can describe something?
10. Don’t get the facts wrong
Accuracy is pretty important. If you get key facts wrong not only do you look like an idiot but, even worse, so does gapyear.com. Don’t just leave all the fact-checking to an editor.
Be careful with prices, journey times and names of places. If you are repeating hearsay from a random local or another backpacker that’s fine, but make it clear that’s what’s happening.
Check as much as you can with reliable sources – don’t just report the first search result on Google.