Travel Writing Tips for Beginners: Get Specific
Part one in a three part series: Polish your “rough draft” travel diaries into stories you can publish
By Dave Fox
Tioman Island, Malaysia
When it comes to on-the-spot travel journaling, it’s often best to write fast. There’s not enough time during a busy trip to labor over every word and craft stunning prose. But if you want to share your travel tales with others – whether that means sending them to a few friends, putting them on a blog, or publishing them professionally – you’ll have a more captive audience if you polish up those words once you’re home.
In a three-part series this week, I’m sharing tips to help you transform your travel diaries into publishable stories. Today’s tips explore how and why a published travel tale should be different from a journal entry:
Get specific and dive deep. Travel journals, by nature, tend to skim the surface of a journey. That’s okay; we use these diaries as tools to remember our adventures after a trip is finished. But travel stories we share with others are more compelling when they hone in on a specific moment, event, or topic.
Instead of telling us in one article about your entire week in Paris, write with lots of detail and emotion about getting lost on the Métro, or tangling with the chaotic crowds around the Mona Lisa, or haggling at a flea market, or… the possibilities are endless! Encounters with individual people can also make great stories. Maybe you had a whimsical chat with a Las Vegas card dealer, or you detoured down a Bangkok side street into a neighborhood where tourists don’t go. Focus on something specific in each story.
A little post-trip research can help flesh things out. You ate some orgasmic flan in Mexico? Read up on the history of the desert and sweeten your story with those details. You tangoed with a romantic stranger in Buenos Aires? Lucky you! But hey, did you know the dance derived from the ceremonies of former slaves, or that it’s especially popular in Finland, or that UNESCO has declared the tango part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage?” Detour into those details, keep us in suspense for a few paragraphs before telling us how your evening wrapped up, and you’re not just sharing a personal anecdote, you’re teaching us something too!
Think like a writer as you travel. Be on the lookout for stories you can write later. Take notes as you travel that will jar your memory when you’re home and have time to expand on those ideas. Once you start actively searching for topics, you’ll be amazed how many come to you. Keep a list so you don’t forget them. And don’t feel overwhelmed if your list contains more stories than you have time to write. Too many ideas is better than too few … so pick one of your favorites, and get writing!
Want to Learn More?
I offer two fun and super-informative online workshops to help you become a travel writer. Once you sign up, you can watch the video lessons and do the writing exercises whenever you have time. You get lifetime membership in the course and each workshop comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. Follow the links below for discount coupons, free sample lessons, and all the details!
- Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals offers creative and effective techniques to capture the most exciting details of your trips. You’ll discover how to splash lots of bold detail into your travel diary – quickly – so that journaling enhances your journeys rather than gobbling up precious vacation time. Includes 75 minutes of lessons plus fun writing exercises and access to our online classroom. Usual price: US $25. Sign up here for just $18.
- Travel Writing: Explore the World and Publish Your Stories picks up where the above course leaves off. Learn how to turn your “rough draft” journals into polished travel tales that readers (and editors) will love! Share your adventures with friends and family, post them on a blog, or publish them professionally in newspapers, magazines, and anthology books. This comprehensive travel writing course includes three-and-a-half hours of video lessons plus hands-on writing exercises and access to our online forums. Usual price: US $65. Sign up here for just $35.
- Part 1: Travel Writing Tips for Beginners: Get Specific
- Part 2: How to Structure Your Travel Tales
- Part 3: Putting the Final Sparkle in Your Stories
If you’ve got questions about travel writing, I’m happy to answer them! You can send them to me on the Ask Dave page and I’ll try to cover them in a future online column.