Top 9 Travel Writing Mistakes
It’s not where you go, but how you show readers…
…what it was like once you got there that matters most.
The most exotic of places can be made to look dull if travel writers ignore the basics of good travel writing, and your articles may never find their way into print if you continually make any (or all) of these rookie mistakes.
Here are the top 9 mistakes to avoid:
- Mistake: Not picking a unique angle or “selling point”.
Solution: Before you’ve boarded your plane, think of a unique angle from which to present your travel destination. Unusual venues in a city or places that have changed beyond recognition in recent years, crazy festivals and local customs – they all make for colorful and unique experiences that will grab a travel editor’s attention.
- Mistake: Not developing your own ‘voice’.
Solution: Write in the first person and know who you are – make use of your personal expertise! If you are a single middle-aged woman or a young man just out of university, use that angle to present your travels through Albania. Write from an experienced woman’s perspective, or a young man’s naive perspective, be a culinary expert who can cook herself and loves browsing through markets – or be a man who can’t boil an egg but appreciates finding cheap and tasty street food. Just pick a persona you’re comfortable with and more markets where you can sell stories will open up to you.
- Mistake: Ignore a publication’s submission guidelines.
Solution: Before submitting your query letter, read the publication you want to submit to. Check at least three or four back issues, and look back on last year’s articles, so you don’t repeat a story. Understand their style, their unique POV, and observe their submission guidelines to the letter.
- Mistake: Call or email editors saying “I’m in Timbuktu, do you need any articles?”
Solution: Contact editors beforehand and say “I’m traveling to Timbuktu and have some ideas for articles that I’d like to run by you“, then follow with at least two, but no more than four ideas to pitch (if you have more,just say you have more ideas). An interested editor will respond, but don’t get discouraged if they don’t — remember that most editors are very busy — it’s okay to follow up politely in a couple of weeks.
- Mistake: Be a know-it-all writer!
Solution: Travel writing is very different from other types of writing and it takes skill, practice and dedication to your craft. Learn to record the smells, sound and sights of a destination and be sure to include the people and their culture in your writing – who did you meet and what happened? Quote people accurately and identify them by name. Always ask their permission first, it’s not just polite, it’s professional.
Readers (and some editors for that matter) want to see personal experiences, good, funny, sad or bad. However, keep in mind that most travel publications exist to promote travel and tourism, and an article with negativity or criticism may wind up being rejected unless you can find a way to write about the experience in a humorous way that allowed you to learn from it. Also, include how others reacted when you had a mishap…..was the situation rectified quickly? A negative experience can still wind up with a positive spin.
- Mistake: Rely on hear-say, rumor, or others’ opinions.
Solution: Always check your facts. Working in some interesting local nuggets of information is always great reading material, but check your facts and don’t assume that what locals told you, or what you’ve read in guide books or via other research, is true. Double and triple check sources.
- Mistake: Write like it’s your journal, i.e. “I did this, then I did that“.
Solution: You don’t have to present everything chronologically, but you must come up with a narrative thread that will hold the piece together and run through it like a leitmotif, linking beginning, middle and end. Your article should flow well. Pick the best bits of your trip, include local people’s quotes, anecdotes and descriptions that will show readers what it’s like being at the destination.
- Mistake: Using clichés as well as words and phrases you wouldn’t normally use in everyday speech.
Solution: Readers and editors want to see original descriptions, not clichés like ‘azure sea’, ‘nestled among’, a ‘smorgasbord of’, a ‘hidden gem’ or ‘undiscovered secret’, or a ‘bustling market’. Nor should you use words like ‘abode’ or ‘eatery’, if they’re not part of your normal vocabulary. Your safest bet is to be true to your own speaking voice, write as if you are relating your story to a friend — otherwise it will ring false and sound stilted to the reader.
- Mistake: Ignoring your roots.
Solution: Who better to write about your home town, your city or your local college, community park, or historic quarter than you? You are the expert who knows more than the average tourist guide book and you can come up with great angles that outsiders would miss.
Avoid these common mistakes and you’ll be well on your way to building a career as a respected and reputable travel writer in no time!