Responsible Travel Writing: A Brief Guide

Responsible Travel Writing: A Brief Guide

“Traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

This quote from Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta is a favorite amongst travelers and can be found stitched into passport covers and leather-bound travel journals across the globe.

It illustrates the innate urge to share travel experiences with others. However, before you start telling the story, it is important to understand the power of your words.

Tourism can help preserve cultures, create meaningful jobs, and boost communities out of poverty. But if not managed properly, tourism can destroy ecosystems, exploit people, and create an unhealthy cycle of dependency.

As the number of people traveling worldwide is increasing with no signs of slowing down, it’s more important than ever for travel writers to emphasize the importance of responsible travel. 

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1 Think about the words you use

As a travel writer, you have the privilege of introducing readers to places, people, and cultures they may otherwise never encounter. Pay extra careful attention to the words you use when describing them. Your writing has the power to perpetuate stereotypes or to shatter them.

Words like exotic, primitive, and backwards can be patronizing when used to describe people or a culture.

Remember that you are the outsider, not those who call this place home. Keep this in mind as you write.

2 Highlight culture and history

Anyone can patch together descriptions of landscape and cuisine, but try to dig deeper and give your reader a glimpse into what makes this particular place come alive.

Do your research and observe your surroundings. Talk to locals and really listen.

  • What is daily life like for those living there?
  • Does the history of this place affect life today?
  • What important current events should your reader know about?
  • What are locals proud of?
  • What struggles are they dealing with?

An article that addresses these topics encourages travelers to learn about the place they’re visiting and to talk to locals, rather than sticking only to ticketed viewpoints and checking destinations off a list. 

3 Consider the consequences of your recommendations 

In the age of over-tourism and “doing it for the ‘gram,” it’s especially important to think about what effect your advice will have.

 Imagine if 100 people decided to climb over a fence after reading your advice about getting to “an epic view.” Ask yourself what would happen to those 100 people. 

Perhaps several would get a beautiful Instagram photo, which would only spread the word about this secret viewpoint. 

But what if someone fell? What if the wildlife started to get used to people and began eating human food? What if a fragile ecosystem was irreversibly destroyed? What if a farmer’s private land was subject to trespassing?

Instead, use the power of your voice to ensure your recommendations create a positive impact.

We have the opportunity as travel writers to illustrate how our actions as travelers have an effect on the environment and communities we visit, whether positive or negative.

Encourage readers to support small businesses and organizations that are giving back to the community. Travel blogs can be a powerful platform to help boost companies and organizations that are doing good things.

Consider the impact if 100 people took your advice and booked a tour with a local operator that gives a percentage of their profits to the local community school.

While not every recommendation will spur the same type of response, it’s a good habit to visualize the consequences of your advice before you put it in writing.   

4 Strive for honesty over perfection

When you consider the potential impact of your writing, it can feel like there’s an incredible amount of pressure. But striving for perfection will leave you burnt out and stuck.

I am in no way trying to pretend my writing is perfect. In fact, I’ve broken just about every one of these guidelines over the years. Writing is a constant learning process and is a craft that is honed and polished over time. The point isn’t to be perfect, but instead to be authentic and truthful. 

Share lessons you’ve learned. Explain to readers why they shouldn’t ignore the trail marker, or why they shouldn’t support an animal attraction, even if you did.

Show the beauty of places you write about, but know it’s also okay to reveal the blemishes—as long as you do so respectfully.

If you are committed to writing with integrity and to learning from your mistakes, you are already well on your way to making a positive impact with your travel writing.

Remember, words are a powerful thing; use them wisely. 

Bio: Katie Diederichs from Two Wandering Soles

With a degree in journalism and a stack of tattered notebooks that date back to the early nineties, writing is in Katie’s blood. Shortly after getting married, Katie and her husband, Ben, quit their jobs and set off on a 3-month backpacking trip that never really ended. They taught English in South Korea, volunteered on a remote organic farm in the Andes, and built a campervan they called home for a summer. Along the way, they shared stories, photos, and responsible travel tips on their blog, Two Wandering Soles.

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