Capture a Moment in Time with a Travel Essay

Travel Essay
15 November 2010 Post Author:
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Looking to get more mileage out of your travel writing?

You’re probably aware of the concept of taking your travel experience and writing about it in different formats.

You can describe the scenery, the sites, the language and the people.

You can write about the best hotels and restaurants.

You can explore the how-to’s, the what-to-do’s and what-to-bring’s. You can give advice on where to go and what to avoid; how to save money and where to spend it.

It’s all good, factual stuff that’s useful for travelers, and there are numerous ways you can present the facts to your readers.

And then, you can forget about all that and write a travel essay.

A travel essay is not written to be helpful; it’s written to entertain.

That’s not to say that a travel essay doesn’t include facts. It does, but in very different format than a typical descriptive or how-to article.

An essay, written in the first-person, sees things through your eyes – up close and personal. It is not a comprehensive view of your entire trip, but a deeper focus on minute details, often from a specific activity or experience during a short portion of your trip. It’s not written to be helpful; it’s written to entertain.

Like a vacation, an essay takes the reader on a journey – to some observed truth or message. This journey may span only a microcosm of your entire trip, but it is a journey nonetheless. It takes your reader from point A to point B and keeps him or her interested along the way.

A travel essay ranges from humorous to poignant. It evokes emotion. It tells a story.

You can find essay material hidden in the most unexpected vacation venues. I wrote an essay about the time my family almost missed a connecting flight in Dallas because the drug-sniffing dog honed in on our backpack. Time spent in your stocking feet the back room of an airport is not the subject of your typical travel piece, but it does make for great essay material.

When looking for your own stories, step back from the grandeur of the mountains and look at the details of the landscape. Opt for the small moments that are worth retelling, such as:

  • Did your family have an adventure while getting photos taken for passports? Mine did.
  • The first time we took a trip with our new GPS device brought about great story material. The device took on a life of her own and we ended up giving “her” a name.
  • I took a ride in a jet ski once (and only once) during a vacation. Because I am a self-described thrill-seeking wimp, for me it was a life-altering experience, and worth writing about.

I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences. Maybe you had an especially humorous encounter with a forgetful waiter in a restaurant. Maybe your luggage got lost and you had to spend the week wearing the same T-shirt for days on end. Did you mistake a large tree for a bear? Did the beauty of nature cause you to contemplate the meaning of life? Did the children in a foreign country teach you something about yourself?

Tell the real-life stories that you’ve lived up close and personal. Chances are, readers will identify with your everyday travel experiences, because they’ve been there themselves.

~ Jill

Do you prefer travel essays or service pieces? Share your opinion!

10 Responses to “Capture a Moment in Time with a Travel Essay”

  1. Great post Jill, thanks! It’s a good reminder that travel writers can produce numerous articles and stories from a single trip – their experiences can be seen from many perspectives in keeping with where they’ll be published….some readers want (and like) reviews/service pieces, whereas other readers enjoy being told a ‘story’.

  2. Wendy
    Twitter:
    says:

    Great post. We often forget this angle when we write. If you travel very much…you will have many stories to tell. Short, sweet, funny, sad, crazy, unbelievable…we probably have experienced them all!
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Maria Staal
    Twitter:
    says:

    I love this post, Jill. I always really enjoy reading personal stories about travelling. Like you said, it entertains and takes the reader on the trip.
    I personally have taken the travel essay you describe to the next level and have written a whole book about a specific trip I made on a container ship.

  4. Brankica
    Twitter:
    says:

    I’ve never thought about writing something like this. And it is such a great idea, since I have a bunch of stories I could turn into essays.
    I would like to ask a question about this. If you write an essay like that is that something you would post as a blog post?
    I am wondering about your experience, is it perceived as a great post on a travel site where all of your posts are tips about travel.
    .-= Brankica´s last blog post: Drink refills for Europeans in USA =-.

    • Jill Pertler
      Twitter:
      says:

      I think there are numerous writing venues where a travel essays are welcome and valued. A blog would be one. Ezines, print magazines and newspapers all come to mind when I think travel essay. Any place where you have readers interested in travel, you have a possible spot for a travel essay.

  5. Amaso says:

    Nice post and really appreciate your work of sharing the information.
    There are many events where the travel essays are in demand and it is really a good way of show casing your writing skill to the outside world.
    Thanks for the post and keep sharing your information.
    .-= Amaso´s last blog post: Neasden Temple- Sheer Magnificence =-.

  6. Freys says:

    Really appreciate your post. I found that I need to spend quite some time on writing, so it might reduce the enjoyment of travelling. But if I don’t write immediately, I will forget the details. Any advice?

    • Jill Pertler
      Twitter:
      says:

      I always carry a small notebook and pen with me. I can jot down ideas quickly and access them later. I don’t have a fancy phone, but I bet they have capabilities you could use to record your thoughts.

    • Spot on, Jill – I do the same…..I write down any thought that occurs to me, with notes on *how to use that info* (to avoid the dreaded “what was I thinking?!?”). Love your idea of recording thoughts on a smartphone!

      I also carry a few ziploc baggies and use them to hold whatever propaganda I pick up at a place – brochures, menus, maps, etc., and then put my notes in with them….this keeps them organized for later.

      Another thing I do is when I take a photo (with my iPhone) that I know I will need to have notes with to remember the what/why, is to email it to myself and in the body of the message I put a few notes.

      And lastly, you just cannot beat pre-trip preparation – I research and develop story ideas *before* I leave home, then put thoughts on each idea on separate pieces of paper (yeah I could use my iPad, but I still like paper) so that I don’t forget to ask certain questions, or interview certain people, etc. for each story idea.

      If you know ahead of time what events might be taking place, you can pitch covering it to an appropriate publication and possibly get an assignment, or just pitch your story ideas to make sure you’ll come home with publishable articles.

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