Travel writing has a way of transporting the reader to new places. When done well, it can even inspire others to explore, to experience new things and gain an appreciation of different cultures. But when you sit down to start writing about your own travel experiences, it can be challenging to know where to start.
A place is so many things, after all. It’s the people, the architecture, the sounds of the city, the smells and tastes of the food, and more.
So how do you take everything that happened and condense it into a readable blog post? How do you take your experiences and turn them into a story? To find out, we talked to six professional travel writers and bloggers.
Here’s what they said:
Understand why you’re writing
Before writing a travel post, think about what you want to get out of it. That way, you can work toward something and have a starting point you care about.
“I feel accomplished when I get feedback that travel posts on my blog sparked interest for someone to go to a place or exposed them to a locale they’d never heard of,” says Lola Méndez, the writer behind Miss Filatelista, a travel blog with a focus on sustainability. “For me, the elements that are important are those that will make someone wonder or question something . . . I’m trying to spread awareness about how we can all be more mindful travelers as we explore the globe.”
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I didn’t know what to expect from Da Nang, Vietnam but it wasn’t this – palm tree beach resorts likened to Miami! We just passed through Da Nang because we flew in there to reach Hoi An but now I want to go back to explore it further. Compared to my first visit to Vietnam over 16 years ago, there is so much change and development, and I want to dig deeper and figure it which of it is for the better and which not. Oh and also … who doesn’t like beach time?! 🏖 🏝 • • • • • #vietnam #vietnamese #ilovevietnam #vscovietnam #ig_vietnam #visitvietnam #viet #베트남 #vietnamtravel #southeastasia #vietnamtrip #ベトナム #vn #igvietnam #handsonjourneys #empowermenttourism #thoughtfultravel #beautifulviews #fmspad #fms_green #danang #palmtrees #danangcity #danangbeach #danangvietnam
“I start with what makes me most excited,” says Kendle. “Rather than write a ‘Top 10 things to do in Venice’ post, I tend to start with the event or story that affected me the most, or that I’ve found myself telling people over and over . . . what I love to do is talk about something I learned from the experience and how I pushed the borders of my comfort zone, perhaps by making a bigger effort to talk to strangers, or by taking part in an activity I wasn’t sure I’d like.”
Having your ‘why’ in place at the start allows you to easily build in a sort of theme into your post. Then you can thread that throughout your work and create a stronger, more cohesive post and blog.
Make it your own
“Travel writing should be exciting to read. It should make the reader feel like they are next to you on the powdery beach with a warm breeze tickling their shoulders. They should be able to taste the curry, rich with coconut milk, lime, and lemongrass. They should be able to hear the chaos of the city traffic and smell the sewage wafting from the grimy streets,” says Katie Diederichs of Two Wandering Soles, which she runs with her husband, Ben Zweber.
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RUSH of the water. WARMTH of the sun. CHIRPING of the birds. SMELL of the forest. MIST on my skin. At HOME in nature. Feelings of CALMNESS, GRATITUDE & PEACE. — I close my eyes and I feel like I’m back in this place. — During our last week in Chiang Mai we did a lot of exploring, and made a visit to this waterfall at dusk on one of our last evenings. A bunch of Thai teenagers were leaving when we arrived in the parking lot, and when we finally made it to the falls we realized we were the only ones there. (Sometimes arriving late has its perks!) — We sat on the rocks and just stared for a few minutes in awe. And then I convinced Ben to stand reallllly still so we could get this shot #tripodforthewin — Do you feel at home in nature? What natural settings speak to you?
“Figure out what’s important to you and focus on that; write about your experience, and what’s unique about it. We live in a world where so much information is at our fingertips, but the way you experienced a trip—your emotions, your reactions, the crazy things that went wrong, the people you met and chatted with—is unique. That’s what makes interesting writing,” says Kendle.
Know the general rules of travel writing
Every type of writing has its own conventions—things that are expected and generally agreed upon as best practices within the space. For travel blogs, that often means the writing should:
- Be written in first-person
- Tell the story in the past tense
- Be conversational in tone (dialogue can be useful here)
- Contain sensory details
- Give the reader value in some way, whether that’s providing useful tips for navigating or insight into a culture
- Make it relatable to the audience
Since you’ll also be writing online, readability is key. For Diederichs, that means doing things like including a table of contents so the reader can jump to what they’re looking for, using short paragraphs, bolding key sentences, and segmenting the article with subheads. She adds, “Also, keep in mind that the majority of your audience is likely coming from mobile, so make sure that the text is an appropriate size and it is easy to read while scrolling.”
You don’t have to stick to the established rules and conventions, but it’s helpful to know what’s common—that way you’ll be able to break those rules with intention and purpose, rather than accidentally.
Edit your work
Writing is a skill, and first drafts—whether they’re novels, articles, or travel blog posts—are rarely, if ever, perfectly executed. That’s where editing comes into play.
“The editing process really is the most important part, as that’s when I take my rough idea and hone it into something useful,” says Matthew Kepnes of travel blog NomadicMatt. “Anyone can start a blog these days. What separates the good blogs from the great blogs is the quality of writing.”
While editing your work, you’ll want to consider several key aspects, like: Storytelling (including things like word choice and evocation); grammar (word processors and editing software can help); and overall effect (is there a consistent tone and voice? Does everything serve the larger purpose of the post?). Reading the post out loud can help you identify inconsistencies.
“I learned early on from re-reading my much-too-detailed travel diaries from various trips that there really is no need to reproduce a trip in every detail. I find the most important part, the message I really want to share, and focus on that,” says blogger, and host of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast, Kendle.
The travel-writing space is awash in cliches. But those are never something you want to include in your posts because it makes for a stale, rather than engaging, reading experience.
“Everyone has their own experiences and voice. Tell your story, and don’t copy others,” advises Diederichs.
If you’re working on a description and you just can’t seem to avoid the cliches—crystal blue waters, breathtaking vistas, ‘a place out of time,’ bustling marketplaces or city streets, authentic anythings, places that are ‘off the beaten track,’ cultural melting pots—try focusing on the truly evocative details, the things that stick out you most, the themes or comparisons you want to make, and break out the thesaurus.
If that doesn’t work, consider using a photo to convey the information instead. A travel blog is a multimedia platform. Writing is the core of it, but the photographs, videos, and audio recordings contribute as well.
Be confident in your abilities
It’s easy to see the many existing travel blogs and think, ‘what could I possibly have to add?’ But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a valuable and unique contribution.
“Don’t hold back because you think it’s a saturated field or you only have the budget to visit the town next door,” says freelance journalist and travel blogger Méndez. “Your experiences are valuable. Write from your heart—people will keep coming back to your blog if you’re authentic in the way you share what you saw or felt in a place.”
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PETRA! Ever since I first saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I’ve been obsessed with “the Canyon of the Crescent Moon” as Petra was called in the movie. That film sparked a love of history and archaeology. From my comfy middle-class teenage home, the movie seared a belief into my mind that there was excitement out in the world. Now, here I am. Walking through the canyon and seeing the Treasury was a dream come true (sadly, you can't get inside the treasury anymore so no roleplaying that last scene in the movie)!! I spent two dream fulfilling days exploring this wonder of the world. (I'll share more about the history of the place in my next post.) Tip: Get here before 9am or after 5pm when all the tour groups are gone. Otherwise, it's sheer madness with tours, crowds, and touts. #petra #petrajordan #jordantravel #jordantourism #bbctravel #guyswhotravel #backpacking #backpackerstory #intrepidtravel #BeIntrepid #TLpicks #travelblogger
“Over the years I’ve also become much more focused on what’s important to me about a travel experience (which is usually the life lessons) and less concerned about what I thought ‘should’ be in it (like an analysis of a painting at a gallery). I write what I want to read,” says Kendle.
Continually hone your craft
Practice is a necessary part of learning any new craft. Travel writing is no different in that respect.
“I’ve gotten much better at using things like Grammarly to help with my writing…I kick myself all the time that I didn’t have the courage to start earlier. The more you write, the better you get at it and if you help even just one person, it’s rewarding,” says Kristen Guglielmo of KristenAbroad.com.
If you want to be a better travel writer, it’s a good idea to build your skills by writing every day and reading great travel posts to get inspired, notes Kepnes, adding, “It’s a long, slow process to improve your writing, but as long as you stick with it you’ll make progress!”
Remember: It isn’t only about the Instagram-worthy stuff
Good travel writing doesn’t have to focus solely on the beautiful and expected. It’s about all aspects of your experience, and taking the reader somewhere new often means showing them the unexpected.
“I want it to look good and I want to inspire, but I don’t want it to be so unrealistic that people think they’re failing because they can’t live up to it,” says Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo, where he chronicles his trips with his kids.
Travel isn’t always beautiful, and as Stoen points out, people tend to bring their real-world problems with them on vacation and that impacts the experience. But more than that, places are no more perfect than humans are. And sometimes they don’t live up to our expectations.
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Vietnam's famous Golden Bridge, held aloft by giant stone hands. I had wanted to visit since seeing Instagram posts of the bridge last year, and…it was so disappointing! It looks like it's in the middle of nowhere, right? It's actually at a theme park – essentially the Disneyland of Vietnam. I had no idea. No one ever says that on Instagram. Yes, the bridge is unique, but after taking a car, bus, cable car and funicular to get there, and then barely being able to walk across the bridge because it was so crowded, we were underwhelmed. Wouldn't recommend visiting, unless you love theme parks – just not worth the hassle to get there and navigate the crowds. ___ #takeyourkidseverywhere #butnottothegoldenbridge #traveldeeper #familytravel #gnomads #afarambassador #travelpilots #travelbabbo #travelunplugged
“I think being authentic and honest is one of the biggest things to separate the mediocre bloggers from the great ones. The goal is for the reader to see, feel and taste what you are describing. Even if it’s not pretty,” says Diederichs.
Places, like people, are seldom what we think they’re going to be. That’s a good thing. The world would be a lot less interesting if we knew how every new experience, every trip, every new encounter, was going to play out. And it’s ok, and even encouraged, to talk about those discrepancies.