Research: A Key to Great Travel Writing
Finding a research approach that allows you to deliver fresh, unique, and thoughtful content is one of the greatest hurdles for travel writers.
Whether you only have a few days in one location or are embarking on an extended RTW trip, conducting some preliminary research on your destination will enhance your travel experience and your travel writing.
While writing the content that would eventually become Approach Guides, we spent 75% of our time “on location” and 25% researching our upcoming destinations at our home base in Milan, Italy. To accommodate this extreme travel schedule, we developed a streamlined research process that allowed us to create unique content.
Step One: Plan Your Itinerary
To help us form a preliminary itinerary, we consult a few sources that highlight the key cultural sites (our niche) in a given destination:
- A traditional travel guidebook, such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guides
- An online travel guidebook, although there are many choices, wikitravel.org is a good place to start.
- Tour company itineraries. For our purposes, we look to tour companies that target our niche, such as Archaeological Tours;
Step Two: Focus Your Research
Once we outline our itinerary, we begin a deep dive into the cultural, architectural and religious history of each place. Often, this helps shape our final itinerary as it highlights off-the-beaten path sites that are must-sees from a cultural perspective.
Given our focus on cultural travel, here are a few searches that form the foundation of our research:
- UNESCO – In addition to learning what UNESCO sites are in a given location, we look for names of researchers or archaeologists working at a site and for articles that those experts may have published.
- Amazon.com – We always buy a history book that gives a good overview of ancient and modern history and books targeted to our specific interests.
- Site:.edu and .pdf searches – When looking for expert resources we enter in our search terms followed by either ‘site:.edu’, which limits results to universities and ‘.pdf’, which limits results to PDF documents. These often provide highly reliable sources and information.
Step Three: Hotels/Food/Shopping
With an itinerary finalized, our next step was to research logistics, hotels, restaurants and stores to visit. When we travel, we try to stay in small hotels that offer a unique experience or have a distinctive local feel, eat at restaurants that serve local foods and purchase locally made handicrafts.
To build this list, we conduct several searches:
- Search ‘“boutique hotel” (name of destination)’;
- Consult aggregators of niche hotels such as Alastair Sawday’s Special Places to Stay;
- Search ‘“best restaurant” (name of destination)’ or ‘best place to try (name of local delicacy)’;
- Ask Twitter and Facebook friends and fans where they like to stay, eat and shop;
- Search for stores that sell local handicrafts or support local craftspeople (such as artisans, the disabled or women);
While On Location
- Take tons of pictures. It is very difficult to absorb all of the information while you are on location, so we advise taking a large number of photos to refer to later.
- Keep it all organized, accessible, and safe. Learning how to maintain a considerable database of travel information involved a lot of trial and error; however, in the end, we decided to keep all of our content on a password-protected personal domain. I can’t recommend this strategy highly enough. We are able to print out any information we need, pull up the information on our phone or computer, easily update the information while traveling, and, best of all, our research remains secure should we ever lose our computer, phone or paper notes.
Although your writing goals will naturally lead you to research different topics than what we have outlined above, we hope that this list provides you with some helpful tips or sparks an idea of something we may not have thought of.
We would love to hear from you — how do you research your trip?