The Most Overused Cliché in Travel Writing

By Dave Fox
Singapore (Land of Contrasts)

Travel writing is full of clichés – from “friendly locals” to “must-see sights,” from “exotic flavors” to “unspoiled nature.” But the Mother of All Travel Writing Clichés has got to be the “Land of Contrasts.”

Seriously… find me a “land” that doesn’t have contrasts and you’ve found me a place that’s not worth writing about in the first place

Galle, Sri Lanka: Cars of Contrast. (Photo: Dave Fox)

A few months ago, when I was typing up a lesson for my online travel writing class about the importance of being original, I Googled the phrase, “Land of Contrasts.” Here are the first ten listings that came up:

  • “Africa: A Land of Contrasts”
  • “Indonesia: Land of Contrasts” (From the PBS NewsHour. Shame on you, PBS!)
  • “Guinea: The Switzerland of Africa is a Land of Contrasts” (Yes! “The Switzerland of Africa!” Not to be confused with the “Venice of the North,” the “Singapore of Oslo,” or the “Tuscaloosa of Uzbekistan!”)
  • “Land of Contrasts… Oregon rancher Wannie Mackenzie talks about his family’s deep-rooted connection to the land.”
  • “Terra Australis Incognita: The Land of Contrasts” (Ummm… why are we talking about Australia in Latin?)
  • “Mozambique: Land of Contrasts”
  • “Oman: Land of Contrasts and Magic”
  • “Iceland: A Land of Contrasts”
  • “Mozambique: A Land of Contrasts” (Again.)
  • …and coming in at number ten, a book entitled The Land of Contrasts, about the United States, by a British guy who died in 1934. Maybe he’s the one who coined the term. I don’t know.

Galle, Sri Lanka: Toilets of Contrast. (Photo: Dave Fox)

Google’s top ten “land of contrasts” articles included locales on five different continents. Chile was representing South America for continent number six at position 20.

Like I said, it was several months ago when I first Googled the phrase, and search engine rankings are always changing. I just checked again. Now, as I write this article, Guinea, Australia, Oman, and one of the two Mozambiques have dropped out of the top ten to be replaced by Israel, the Indian Himalayas, Scotland, and Oklahoma. Also, the PBS NewsHour’s Indonesia listing is gone, but the NewsHour now says Pakistan is a land of contrasts.

Everywhere, it seems, is a “land of contrasts.” Welcome to the most dreadfully stale cliché in travel writing.


Are there other travel writing clichés that get on your nerves? Share them in the comments section below!

Published on Thursday, August 23, 2012

4 Responses to “The Most Overused Cliché in Travel Writing”

  1. August 25, 2012 at 12:25 AM

    :) Great post! I’ve never wondered which are the most famous travel writing cliches, but now that you mentioned it, I totally agree. “Land of contrasts” sounds pretty familiar:).

  2. November 8, 2016 at 9:48 PM

    I lived for five years in India, another ‘land of contrasts’.
    Your photo of the toilets is one of the internet’s ‘hidden gems’. I enjoyed your post.

  3. July 18, 2020 at 11:56 AM

    Hey, Dave! I was just browsing through Globejotting and found this article, so I Googled “land of contrasts,” and this article came up in thd #2 spot!

    Hope you are well. We have just canceled our second trip since the covid shutdown started. Nothing planned now until next May, so I’m hoping Americans get their shit together and start wearing their damn masks!

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