8 Travel Writing Tips for Becoming the Next Bill Bryson
Tom Miller once wrote, “The finest travel writing describes what’s going on when nobody’s looking.”
Whether you’re making money from your travel pieces are just starting out, there’s always room to improve.
“The finest travel writing” consists of much more than just jotting down what happens during your day in Geneva or what you see on your hike in Peru.
There are plenty of things you can do to take your travel pieces from good to amazing.
Why Become a Travel Writer?
Writing travel pieces is a great way to recount one of your most passionate interests—traveling!
Whether you want to write travel essays, guides, blogs, articles or op-eds, you can help others learn about travel destinations. And if you work really hard, you can even earn an income through travel writing!
- Document your travels. Your travel experiences are full of new experiences that could help readers see the world from a new perspective. Writing about your adventures is a great way to share your journeys with everyone.
- Help others have their own travel experiences. When people read your travel pieces, they’ll want to go out and explore the world for themselves. When you share your travel articles, you’ll help people achieve their dreams of happy, safe and fulfilling travel adventures of their own.
- Be a digital nomad. Wouldn’t it be nice to get paid to travel around the world? Well, you can actually create an entire career based around traveling. You have numerous options for how to earn money. For example, you can sell your articles to travel blogs or create your own travel blog and make money with affiliate sales, sponsorships and advertising.
If you’ve just completed a trip or are planning one for the near future, document your travel experience with these eight travel writing tips and share your love of traveling and writing with the world.
8 Travel Writing Tips for Becoming the Next Bill Bryson
1. Find Your Angle
First things first: Your story needs a point.
You’ve probably read travel stories that just ramble on and on and you aren’t really sure what the writer is trying to say. These pieces are boring to read, and the overall meanings and themes are muddled.
Not to mention, if a story has been written a million times already, no one will care about your perspective because it won’t be unique. Why would anyone want to read about something they’ve already read a million times before?
But when your story has a unique angle, your piece immediately becomes interesting.
You have a reason for writing the piece, central message you want to convey and framework you can use to mold the article.
A unique angle will immediately capture a reader’s attention more than a story without an angle.
Consider the difference between these two titles:
- What Happened When I Went Traveling in Saudi Arabia
- The Forgotten Women of the Saudi Arabian Textile Trade
First of all, the second title more captivating. Second, simply recounting the tales of your Saudi Arabia trip in a “this happened, then this happened” kind of way won’t hold a reader’s attention for very long.
While many people think finding an angle is hard, it’s actually quite simple. Just use your unique, personal experiences to find something exceptional about your travels.
Did you participate in a Shamanic ritual in Peru? Write a story about the history of that specific ritual. Did you bike around China? Describe the best biking routes from city to city.
There are endless angles out there. You just need to find one.
2. Dig Deep into Sources
Your sources make each travel article authentic. They’re the glue that connects your personal experience with the richness of the local culture.
You need to find out all about the people, way of life, religions, languages and everything else that makes a specific location unique. You need to become curious about everything.
And once you identify specific details about places, ideas and people, go deeper.
Pinpoint exactly what’s intriguing about someone or something. Dig into emotions, habits and tendencies, rationales behind certain experiences and the deep sense of humanity that each culture shares.
Dig into academic journals online or old newspaper articles at your local libraries. These reliable outside resources will add validity to your story.
Go out and conduct a survey and dig into the data analysis.
One of the best ways to dig deep to talk with the locals. Natives will provide you with experiences, anecdotes and teaching. They’re the primary sources of authenticity you can use in your articles. Pepper locals’ quotes into your stories to make everything more realistic for your audience.
What’s the secret to connecting and communicating with natives? Speak the local language.
Doing so will also allow you to connect to the culture on a much deeper level. Not to mention, a mutual language builds trust between you and your source. When the person you’re interviewing feels like you’re trying to learn, they’ll be more inclined to teach you.
But if someone feels like you’re just using them for some superficial gain—to exploit their culture so you can write a great article—they’ll be much less likely to tell you all of these interesting things about their home and life.
3. Use Great Images
Nothing captures readers’ attention like a stunning picture.
Attaching great images to an article will attract a reader to your piece and keep that reader on the page. Strong images also help drive social shares, thus gaining you more and more readers.
When traveling, take lots of pictures you can use to heighten the writing elements of your story.
Are you writing about a certain kind of food? Show a picture. Are you writing about a specific style of dress? Show a picture.
While you can use your literary prowess to describe those items, it’s always helpful to have a picture to augment your readers’ imagination.
But it’s important to understand that photography doesn’t replace the writing. It merely heightens your writing by making it more vibrant and relatable.
When selecting images, you shouldn’t just use random pictures. Don’t upload all 120 photos from your trip to Mexico to your blog post! Make sure each image has a necessary reference point in your article.
Also, you should know how to take a good photo. Smartphones are great at storing memories, but a lot of cell phone cameras don’t have the capacity to capture high-quality images for the web.
If you’re serious about being a travel writer, it’s a good idea to invest in some decent photography gear and learn the basics of taking attractive photos.
4. Tell a Story
Everybody loves a good story.
Stories help readers become emotionally invested in a piece of writing. You wouldn’t want to read a novel or watch a movie that didn’t tell a story. Likewise, travel writing that lacks the classic elements of a story is uninteresting.
Stories describe situations and highlight nuances about what life is like in a different culture.
Compare the following two paragraphs:
- Mayan healers believe they get their powers by communicating with nature in specific rituals.
- Christina sways side to side as she slowly chants a prayer in the local Mayan language atop the tallest mountain in southern Mexico. With each deep breath in, she believes the spirits of the natural world are filling her body with the energy necessary to fulfill her life’s mission of healing the suffering people of her local community.
The second paragraph is much more enticing because you know a little about who Christina is as a person and why she’s doing what she’s doing.
Even if you have a travel blog that makes money from affiliate marketing, you can incorporate elements of a story into your writing.
I’m working on this piece next to a busy street in rural Guatemala. The motor taxis clunk by on the old cobblestone streets as kids play football, bang on trashcans and shout at one another. Luckily, I’m able to maintain some peace thanks to my high-quality earplugs.
Here, you can insert that affiliate link for “high-quality earplugs.”
5. Educate Your Readers
Unless you’re writing in a diary, you should seek to help your audience in some way. Maybe there’s a place in France that you think everyone needs to see, or maybe you want to tell everyone about this cool tribe that exists in the desert of Namibia.
Whatever the angle of your story is, you should seek to educate your readers about that angle.
Educational articles are also more likely to drive social engagement than non-educational narratives. The audience can find something more immediately useful within the context of an educational article.
While narratives are nice, they’re often so personal that a reader can’t relate. But a piece that both entertains and informs has a much higher likelihood of being shared with friends looking for similar advice.
Providing information is also a great way to drive profit to a blog. You can add sponsored or affiliate links to products or services that will benefit your audience.
In this way, being educational and helping your readers will reward you with increased readership and profit.
6. Show, Don’t Tell
“Show, don’t tell” is arguably the most basic rule of creative writing.
It’s especially poignant in travel writing because you want the place you’re describing to come alive for readers.
“Show, don’t tell” can be defined like this: Instead of simply saying what happened, describe what happened.
Describe the people, location, street, clothes, scent in the air, reflection of the sun off the lake, feeling of the humidity in the air and anything else in the scene.
Telling a reader something is fine, but showing with powerful writing allows them to vividly imagine the scene. This makes your entire story much more interesting to read.
Let’s go back to Christina, the Mayan healer. See which one is more interesting:
- After 30 crazy minutes, Christina’s traditional Mayan ritual was over.
- Christina flailed her arms wildly as the vibrant colors of her intricately sewn traditional Mayan clothes reflected off the full moon in the night sky. After 30 minutes of subdued prayer, Christina belted out an ear-piercing screech and immediately dropped to the floor. The ritual was over.
The second option is much more engaging and gives you a more well-rounded understanding of what happened. You can almost see Christina performing this ritual in your mind.
That’s because the second paragraph showed you what was happening while the first paragraph merely told you what was happening.
As you detail your travel experiences, try to step into your readers’ shoes and see if they can imagine the scene through your writing.
Don’t tell your audience anything. Instead, show them.
7. Be Detailed
Details are crucial to travel writing. They transform bad travel articles into interesting, informative and professional pieces.
Let’s say you’re writing a travel guide for South America. You should tell the reader precisely what they need to know for them to have the experience they want.
Tell your readers exactly where to go around Argentina and Bolivia.
Tell them what they can do in each destination.
Give information about how they can get there.
Recommend the best luggage and gear.
And throw in any other information you think is crucial.
That’s a lot of details! Your reader definitely won’t have any trouble on their journey now.
If you’re a blogger, you can also use details to promote affiliate links and advertisements. Know of a specific shuttle company that takes you around the most beautiful places in Japan? Put an advertisement for that company in your post.
Don’t overlook important geographic features, location abnormalities, political climates or anything else that’s important to know about a place.
People need to understand everything about a location so they can get a feel for that place before they go.
8. Edit and Proofread
This is the step many beginner writers skip, which is one of the main reasons why they never become professional writers. It’s not an exciting part of the process, but it’s necessary to getting your work published.
Editing and proofreading are so crucial for any kind of writing, but they’re especially important for travel writing.
In travel writing, there are tons of moving parts that all need to be collected and organized into a flowing and factually accurate article.
When editing, ensure that everything has been written in the most precise, accurate and effective manner possible. That means removing sections that are unnecessary, adding and refining points to make them more clear and reorganizing the overall structure to ensure the story flows with intention and grace.
You also need to guarantee that all the information you’ve provided is factually accurate. Are all the links working? Are all the addresses and phone numbers correct? The last thing you want to do is ruin your reputation by giving out factually incorrect information.
Once the editing stage is done, you can move to proofreading.
When proofreading, you need to make sure everything is spelled correctly, the grammar is flawless and there are no mistakes of any kind anywhere in the piece. Proofreading is like applying the final polish to the article before it goes out into the world.
Don’t let yourself fall victim to laziness. You need to read and re-read your travel pieces when you’re done writing them. This will guarantee you’re producing your best work.
Travel writing doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be high-quality. With so much competition out there in the travel writing niche, it’s important that you know how to write the best pieces possible.
If you find a unique angle and learn how to describe it with precision, intent and beautifully written prose, you can quickly become an accomplished travel writer.
Eric Michelson is a nomadic, philosophizing, peace-minded pluralist. He hopes to help bridge the divide between the diverse factions of the world by exploring various perspectives brought on by personal experience. You can follow Perspective Earth to learn more about him and his work.