June 4, 2012

How to write a great travel story

Laptop

Yes, it can be as glamorous as this!

You want to be a travel writer or blogger? Drew Barrymore once famously appeared on the cover of Jane Magazine saying she would.

There’s plenty of articles out there full of tips and advice on how to write a great travel story. I know because I’ve just done a Google search on the topic. But flip! They’re so convoluted that I don’t think I could write what they require. And besides, I read far too many boring travel articles that are full of the correct techniques.

What’s lacking is the wow factor to cut above the rest.

So here’s the good news! I’m going to give you 10 really easy tips on how to write a compelling travel story.

I’ve been travel writing since 1999 for newspapers, magazines and websites, have won 2 writing awards from the US Travel Association in 2009 and 2011, have edited a couple of magazines and did a 9-month contract as travel editor at Yahoo!NZ when the channel grew from #18 in NZ to #1, so I have a few ideas on how to get you cracking…

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Blogging in Italy

Find a WiFi spot and blog!

Let’s go!

1. Pick your topic. I know, that sounds ridiculously basic, but what I mean is, decide whether you are going to write about a whole city, a round up of best places to eat, an event, or a character you’ve met along the way. The thing to remember is that you need to keep your story moving so bogging the reader down in an overview of an entire country is not a wise choice.

2. The beginning, the middle and the end. Writing 101. The introduction hook is all important, then you need an interesting and well paced middle, and a punchy or clever end, circling back around with a nod to the intro if possible. (Not all my stories strictly follow this, but in an ideal world they would.)

3. Start off with a bit of drama. These are my favourite introductions. Of course sometimes the topic won’t allow for this, but mull over your intro until something grabs you. You need to hook the reader in. Take your time with this. Think in pictures that might sum up what you’re seeing – “The white sand wrapped around the island like salt around a margarita glass.” (I nearly fist-pumped when I came up with that one a few years ago to describe what it looked like landing on the Cayman Islands.)

4. Tone. If you have a publication in mind, read other travel stories in it to get a feel for the style and tone. I like a chatty, bubbly style – and most newspapers and blogs do too. First person stories are best, that way you can convey a bit of your personality and allow the reader to get to know you a bit.

megan working on the train

Writing a story on the train between Brussels and Paris. This is the life!

5. Write notes at the bottom of your document of topics, events, hotels, people that you want to include so you don’t get so carried away forget the important bits, then as you work them in, delete them with a self-satisfied sigh.

6. Word count. If you are writing for a publication, or hope to, you’ll be given a word count. It’s important that you tell your whole story within that budget. Expect to write between 500 and 1200 words. And of course, with that varied word count it means 2 quite different stories. Don’t submit more than 50 words over your commissioned amount – it’s too annoying to an editor who has to either send it back to you for editing, or do it themselves. One writer once sent me 1500 words when I had commissioned 1000. That meant I either had to cut the story virtually in half and rework it or send it back for a rewrite. I sent it back.

7. Practice telling your story to friends first. It’ll help you crystalise the most important parts and you’ll be able to gauge how it’s being received and what aspects get you on more of a roll than others. I always find this helps immensely and only came upon it as a deliberate writing aid by mistake.

8. Always look for something unique that the reader won’t already know about. There needs to be a take-out from every story. Something that compels them to do what you’ve done because you’ve managed to capture something that lures them and they’ve also learned something.

9. Include a fact file. A list of contact details and websites of the places you’ve featured; how to get there; best time to go, that sort of thing. This needs to be included in your total commissioned word count, so make sure you allow an extra 50-100 words for it.

10. Be ruthless with your editing. This is probably the hardest aspect of the whole shebang because you’ve written something you’re proud of but it’s 200 words too long. You have to CUT. Ouch, I know, but trust me, a shorter, faster-paced story is far more interesting than hearing all about how you had to wait 3 hours for a train. Then re-read and re-read again before you send it off.

Hope this helps! Good luck 🙂

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About Megan Singleton

Megan

Megan Singleton is a travel writer, blogger and radio correspondent. She's been gallivanting around the world telling stories for the last 16 years and has her suitcase always half packed (or half un-packed!) Follow along on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for monthly newsletters if you want to keep up with the journey!

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