Travel Writing Tip: The Question You Must Answer Before Writing Your Story

By Dave Fox

India Question

(I took this photo of a wall in Thanjavur, India, but I have no idea what question it is asking. If anyone out there can read Hindu, I’d love to find out what it says!)

If you’ve studied journalism, you’ve probably heard before of the “five Ws”: Who?, What?, When?, Where? and Why?  Then, there’s the awkward cousin, hoW?, which insists on putting its “W” at the end.

When writing a travel tale, these are good questions to ponder, but there’s a much more important question you must be able to answer before you begin writing:

“Who cares?”

Many rookie travel writers fail to see the difference between what was a cool experience for them, versus what will make for an interesting story for readers. When we travel, lots of things happen that are special for us, but that aren’t things a wide audience will care about.

You saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time, or splurged on a five-star resort in Bali, or went fly-fishing in rural Alaska? Because I’m a pretty nice guy and I like to see people excited about their travel adventures, I can sincerely tell you that as a human being, I think that’s great. But as a reader (and an editor), I don’t care.

Thousands of travelers before you have done those things. They might have been profound experiences for you, but they’re not unique enough to intrigue an audience of strangers.

“I went here! Look what I did!” is a common theme that people who are just getting started in travel writing try to publish — and it’s not a story. Readers don’t read to gratify your ego. They read to satisfy themselves. That might sound harsh, but you must understand this if you want to get published.

How to Wow Your Readers

Stories must inform, inspire, or entertain. If you don’t fulfill at least one of those criteria, the masses won’t be interested.

So how do you satisfy that need? Dig deeper and come up with a more in-depth spin.

French artists of many ilks protested the construction of the Eiffel Tower. Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built it, deflected their criticism, comparing the structure to the Egyptian pyramids: "My tower will be the tallest edifice ever erected by man. Will it not also be grandiose in its way? And why would something admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in Paris?"

Gustave Eiffel deflected criticism from Parisian artists, comparing his tower to the Egyptian pyramids: “My tower will be the tallest edifice ever erected by man. Will it not also be grandiose in its way? And why would something admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in Paris?”

Can you give us some quirky details about the Eiffel Tower? (The French writer, Guy de Maupassant, thought the iconic landmark looked hideous. But … he is said to have eaten lunch every night at the restaurant near the top. Why? He said it was the only place in Paris where he could look out over the city without seeing the Eiffel Tower.)

Your lavish resort in Bali? How about commenting on whether or not luxury travel can be eco-friendly? What have you observed to support or refute that idea? Have you talked with any of the people who work there? The hard-working men and women who serve your meals, shake your cocktails, fluff your pillows, and scrub your toilet? Start a conversation with them and learn about their lives.

Rural Alaska? Ha! That’s a goldmine for quirky tales from the characters who live there. Chat up everyone you meet. Find out how they ended up out in the wilderness. Were they born in Alaska? Or have they escaped more urban settings — and why?

The more people you talk to, the more inquisitive you get, the more stories you will discover.

So as you travel, think like a writer. Always be on the lookout for stories that satisfy the reader’s need to be informedinspired, or entertained. As ideas enter your brain, ask yourself, “Who cares?”

If your initial tale doesn’t offer a solid answer to that question, scrounge for more details or a different spin on your topic, and you’ll be on your way to writing travel tales readers will love.

Want to learn more about how to become a travel writer?

My online video course, Travel Writing: Explore the World and Publish Your Stories, teaches all you need to know to write scintillating, publishable travel tales.

And, hey, if you were reading this, thinking, “I’m a shy person. I don’t like talking to strangers,” you can watch a free, seven-minute, sneak-preview lesson entitled, Storyfinding: How to Talk to Anyone and Have Richer Travel Adventures.

To watch this free video and learn how to meet fascinating people when you travel, just click on over to my travel writing course and scroll down the page to the green “Preview” button at lesson 17. Then, if you want to join us for the rest of the workshop, you’ll get a special discount.

Published on Thursday, February 12, 2015

One Response to “Travel Writing Tip: The Question You Must Answer Before Writing Your Story”

  1. March 25, 2015 at 6:41 AM

    Great post, Dave! This is the big roadblock for me in feeling confident about sharing my writing. I am quite comfortable just journaling in order to keep the memories of our travels, (and I do work on making the posts enjoyable to read) so my family and good friends may enjoy reading the online journal… but “Travels With Robby” is just a journal, not a real blog. I plan to go through it to glean the stories that have a “who cares” factor. We are in LAX this very minute waiting to board for our first trip to Turkey, so I hope to get lots of good ideas there!

Leave a Reply