The Ins and Outs of Travel Writing: Popular Misconceptions

Photo from The Writing Bar

Among journalists and writers, travel writing is probably the most desired and enviable job.

It sounds too good to be true – you board a plane, stay in swanky hotels, eat fantastic food, dine with celebrity chefs, go for a round of golf, climb a mountain, see a Picasso – and, you get paid for it?

The truth, of course, is not so simple. How do you tell the story of a place with limited room? And how do you tell it like it’s never been told before? How do you capture the essence of place? How do you illustrate culture and discovery in words?

And who, really, picks up the bill?

What to take with you and what to leave behind are the least of a travel writers’ worries, but luckily you’ll have the chance to hear from two of Edmonton’s finest, Judy Schultz, author and former Edmonton Journal travel editor, and Curtis Gillespie, author and semi-regular contributor to enRoute and WestworldJoin them May 26th at Stanley Milner at 2:30 pm for my next installment of the Writers’ Corner — all about travel writing.

In the meantime, let’s dispel a few misconceptions.

The magazine/newspaper/publisher will pay for all my expenses. It depends on the publisher. Some have the budget and others can only give you an assignment if you’re already headed there on your own to accomplish your personal adventure on your own dime (they should still pay you for the story, of course). Sometimes they cover some expenses, like accommodations and travel, but not others, like food. Many times they allow a third party to pay for your expenses, such as a marketing company working on behalf of the city or province/state you’re visiting (which comes with a host of ethical questions we’ll answer at the Writers’ Corner).

Once I’m there, I get to do what I want and go where I please. Simply not true. Travel assignments are often tightly scheduled and many are done as press junkets with several writers travelling and touring together. The itinerary is firm and often homogeneous for all of them. This can make finding a unique angle for your story very tough, and not to mention become an impediment on your personal space.

I’m going to Vienna, so I’ll just write about it. What about Vienna, exactly? The architecture, the food, the art? If so, what architecture, what food, what art? Vienna is not the story. It’s the destination. No self-respecting editor sends a writer somewhere without so much as a focus, so know your story before you get there.

All you need is curiosity and writing experience to be a travel writer. It’s a good start, but you also need expertise. Editors must be confident that writers will come back with a story as authoritative as it is adventurous, so write about what you know. If you’re a camping aficionado, write about great camping spots. If you’re a foodie, write about the boldest chefs. If you love to fish, then fish and tell us about it.

I have to travel to be a travel writer. Actually, you don’t. A lot of publications in Canada and the world are waiting for you to write about adventures that readers can back in your backyard. If you can write about your own city well, then that broadens your chances of getting sent outside of it, so consider your home a great place to start!

For more tips on travel writing, read these articles I gathered:

  • The Guardian: Tips For Travel Writing – “If you fancy entering this year’s travel writing competition, launching tomorrow in Saturday’s Guardian – or just want to improve your work – check out these handy tips from the Guardian Travel team.”
  • Journeywoman: 10 Terrific Travel Writing Tips – “Lori Beattie is the director of Artistic Adventures a company dedicated to teaching the art of documenting travel. As one journey woman to another, she shares her travel writing know-how…”
  • The Writing Bar – “How I became a travel writer”
  • The Matador Network: “How to become a travel writer (seriously)”
  • You can also complete Matador U, a  popular online education program dedicated to travel journalism.

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  1. Pingback: Travel writing links roundup

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