3 Exploring the World through Writing
In this chapter, you will apply what you have learned in the previous chapter about genre and writing for a specific audience and purpose by writing a travel article. For your travel article you will choose a place to visit in your community. When you visit that place, you will take photos and notes on your experience and talk to other visitors or staff to get a variety of perspectives. You will then write a travel article that will be shared with your classmates and teacher. You may even choose to share your article on a personal website or social media. Reading travel writing can be a way to learn more about the world, both far away and near to home, and you can inspire others to explore by sharing your experiences in writing.
“Travel Writing for Beginners” by Max Hartshorne and Paul Shoul
The Travel Writing Process
In the video below, published travel writer, Elizabeth Baertlein (also the author of this book) describes the process that she went through to plan, write, and publish a travel article in Iowa Outdoors magazine. This video will help you to begin to think about the process that you will go through to write your own travel article.
“How to Write a Travel Article” by Elizabeth Baertlein, YouTube.com
“Travel Writing for Beginners” by Max Hartshorne and Paul Shoul
In the article, “Travel Writing for Beginners,” professional travel writer Max Hartshorne and professional travel photographer Paul Shoul share tips for new travel writers to make their writing interesting and engaging for readers. As you read this article, think about how you can apply these lessons on travel writing to your own writing.
“Travel Writing for Beginners” by Max Hartshorne and Paul Shoul
Find a hook. Start out with an exciting scene — don’t meander. Use the inverted pyramid (a journalism idea), and put the most interesting part of your trip right at the beginning.
Everything else stems from that place. You can backtrack from there. It’s like when you get back from a trip — the first information you share when people ask you how your trip went is the information that should be your lede. Below is how Bruce Northam set the scene for his piece about Annapolis, Maryland:
Annapolis, Maryland is an iconic, charming, thought-provoking destination, and with good reason—awesomeness tempts you from every angle. The Naval Academy (you don’t get it until you take the tour), America’s oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use (intimate, gorgeous, screams history), and the epic leisure-boat port vibe are just part of the appeal in America’s Sailing Capital.
Get right to the point. Tell your reader where the story is set, where you’re going, and what the story is about. Don’t keep them guessing. If it takes three paragraphs for the reader to find out where the story is set, you need an editor. Here is an excellent example of setting the time, place and scene written by Andrew Castillo, on GoNOMAD about Burlington VT.
It’s after 9 p.m. and one of those nights when my feet are soaked, but my spirits aren’t.
How can they be, when I’m in Burlington, Vermont, for the Discover Jazz Festival.
The raspy wail of an electric guitar floats out from under the awning of a tucked-away bar on Church Street. I push open the door and the full brunt of sad notes invade my emotions. It’s like ‘90s grunge met smooth jazz and produced an offspring.
Or maybe John Bonham from Led Zeppelin reincarnated as a jazz drummer.
(Read the rest of his Burlington VT story)
The hardest part, the story arc—people want to see WHY a place is worth visiting, and they see it how you share what happened. Plot out what happened. “Finding the arc of the story. Some suspense. Something has to happen. Characters have to meet resistance and change, just as in any good short story or novel. Something has to be at stake. Otherwise, the piece is just a litany of “We saw this, then this.”
Use all the senses. Don’t forget about smells, sounds, taste, sights. Your reader hasn’t been to the places you’ve been to. Put them there with vivid, tantalizing descriptions that fully immerse them into the environment.
Best advice: use dialogue from locals. Peter Heller, of Outside Magazine, said this about dialogue and details:
I met John McPhee once. He told me to carry a notebook and write everything down, everything everyone says, exactly as they say it. Even while you’re climbing a mountain. Don’t try to remember dialogue at the end of the day, it will all end up sounding like you, and will be inaccurate. So that’s what I always did, on an eco-pirate ship in a storm, on a trail, I scribbled everything down as I heard it. Nothing can evoke a sense of character and authenticity better than letting the characters do it themselves. Write everything down. Save receipts, save business cards, use a composition book and glue stick to keep as many reminders of where you went and matches, details, etc.
Stick to one tense. The present tense is NOT GOOD. Use the past tense. Don’t be tempted to use present tense, because most of the time it will have to change eventually. We all do it some times but keep it to a minimum.
Use simple language. Write conversationally. Maintain a personal, unique voice that has a distinct flavor. Talk the way you talk, use your own voice, but make it descriptive and don’t use overused words boring words like great, awesome, beautiful, nice….THINK HARDER.
Narrow your focus. Don’t try to write a guide if you visited for a few days, instead pick the event or local attraction and write about that then build the story around it. Festivals are not usually worth the whole story but can be a basis to write about a destination, including more than just the festival because people might visit at different times of the year.
Be a reporter. Details details DETAILS! Be a reporter. Use visual descriptions and provide EXACT locations. Make sure you document, for instance, how much hotels cost. Travel writing has been described as part reporting, part dear diary and part providing information for the reader. Wikipedia is good place to start but also use tourism board materials, state dept info, and ask experts. It’s harder being a reporter than a writer but if you want to get stories that people will want to read, ask more questions and dig deeper! Steve Szkotak, AP editor and reporter often says it’s harder to be a reporter but way more valuable than a writer. Heller suggests finding experts, asking for experts and trusting their answers.
Take a fresh perspective. Writing from a different point of view makes the story more interesting.
Everyone is a local somewhere. You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to be a good travel writer. Start local. Write about what you know. People are interested in where you live, more than you might be, and it’s the perfect place to start. Look for things people can do, places you take friends—travelers would also be interested.
Write ironically. Be unusual. For instance: Skiing in the desert — be ironic! Surprise your readers with topics and ideas they don’t expect. Monaco for the Average Joe. Wineries in Mexico….
Learn to see the world from a fresh perspective. Write about familiar places in unfamiliar ways. When writing about mundane experiences, pretend that they are new and exciting. Document your findings in vivid, immersive detail.
Use a narrative. Make it a story, don’t make your travel article a checklist. Delve into what moved you, take out anything that’s not really crucial to understanding the place you went.
Include emotion. Show how the trip affected or changed you. Human emotion is important to make the reader care about what you did and where you went.
Avoid clichés. Think harder for the right word, be more precise, don’t be lazy.
Read other travel writers. Some of the greats are Bill Bryson, Rachael Friedman, and Paul Theroux. Get in the habit of reading the NY Times Travel Section, Washington Post features, Afar, Atlas Obscura. Find your own favorite travel writers and read them, enjoy them, be a reader to become a better writer. My favorite is Jeffrey Taylor, who travels to rough parts of the world like Siberia.
Create a blog. It will give you a place to practice your writing and showcase your work. Don’t worry about making money from it, rather, use it as a place to introduce yourself. You can go back and use some of what you wrote on a blog on a trip to include in the final story. Capture the in-the-moment quotes that you can use in the story later.
It’s about their trip. Focus on what the readers can do, not what you did. Include events and places that anyone can visit, if you have an exclusive view to something, it’s not that interesting. No one cares about your massage or big meal unless they can get one too. The fact that you went to a location isn’t necessarily interesting. The fact that you’re showing the reader how THEY could go, makes it interesting. Also, a story about a fascinating location can be boring, just as a story about a boring location can be fascinating. The location doesn’t make the story, it’s what happens and how they can relate.
Make your pitch. Be a salesman for yourself: Write about places that haven’t received much attention from travel writers, such as the Middle East. Pitch your story to editors using a well written, succinct paragraph outlining what your story is about.
Surprise an editor. Include a CAPTIVATING photo in your query — that’ll make your pitch stand out. When you do send in articles, be reliable. Submit working links, good images, and polished work. Tim Leffel, who’s an editor and author said “Ask me which writers I like working with the best as editor of multiple websites and group blogs, and I’ll tell you it’s the ones I know I can depend on every time. They meet deadlines. They hand things in already formatted correctly. The links in their blog posts work because they’ve checked them. They don’t give me excuses about why their photos are crappy. They don’t make the same stupid mistakes a half dozen times after being corrected twice.
Hartshorne, Max and Paul Shoul. “Travel writing for beginners.” Go Nomad, 2016, https://www.gonomad.com/6360-travel-writing-for-beginners (included on the basis of fair use)
After reading “Travel Writing for Beginners” by Max Hartshorne and Paul Shoul, discuss or journal about the following questions:
- Was any of the advice in the article surprising or confusing to you?
- What advice in the article do you think will be easiest to apply in your writing, and what advice will be most difficult to apply in your writing?
Example Travel Writing
Now that you have some understanding of what travel writing is, it is time to look at some examples of travel writing. Try to find some travel articles about places that you are already familiar with, such as the city or town that you currently live in, the city or town that you are from, or a place that you have visited in the past. Local newspapers and magazines are good places to look. You can look for articles about your favorite restaurants, museums, festivals, or parks. Your teacher may help you find articles or even assign you to a particular article to read.
Here are several links to example articles from Eastern Iowa, where the author of this book is based:
African American Museum Examines History, Culture of Black Hair
Cedar Rapids Juneteenth Celebration Offers Opportunity to Learn
Tee’s Liberian Dish Brings West African Cuisine to Cedar Rapids
After you have chosen an example travel article to focus on, read the article carefully, and then answer the questions below, which will help you understand how your example article fits into the genre of travel writing.
- How does the writer establish the setting (place and time) of the article? Provide a quote from the article to support your answer.
- What sensory details (things you can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell) does the writer include in the article? Include specific quotes to support your answer.
- What dialogue or quotes does the writer include? Why do you think the writer chose these quotes to include?
- Are there any areas where the writer shows emotion in their writing? Why do you think they chose to use emotion in those areas? Provide specific examples.
- What kind of “hook” does the writer use to draw the reader into the article?
- Is the article written as a narrative or as an exposition of factual information? How can you tell?
- How does the writer end or conclude article?
- What verb tenses are used in the article? Provide specific examples.
- Does the writer use the first person (I) in the article? Why do you think the writer decided to include or not to include first person narration?
- How would you describe the language that the writer uses? Does it seem like formal or informal language? How can you tell?
- Do you think this article is a good example of travel writing? Why or why not?
- If you could give this writer some advice to make their article even stronger, what advice would you give?
Critical Genre Analysis:
- Some people do not have enough money to travel. How could travel writers present their article in a way that is inclusive to those who do not have much extra money to spend on travel?
- Do you think the type of travel described in this article would be accessible to people on a tight budget? Why or why not?
Planning Your Travel Article
Now that you have a better understanding of the genre of travel writing, it is time to start planning your own travel article. To begin, research some possible places that you could visit in the coming weeks. It could be a new place for you or a place you’ve visited before. Choose a place that is accessible to you and is within your budget. If you don’t want to spend money, there are plenty of free places to visit, like parks, public libraries, and some museums. After you have chosen a place to visit for your travel article, here are some questions to consider:
- How will you get to the place you are visiting?
- Will you go alone or with others? How will this affect your experience?
- Approximately how much will it cost you to visit this location?
- How much time do you plan to spend there?
- Who will you talk to when you are there?
- How will you take notes and photos?
- Are you nervous about visiting this location? Why or why not?
To get a better understanding of the planning and process of writing your travel article, watch the video below and think about how this process might apply to your own writing.
Visiting Your Location
Now that you have a plan, it is time to visit your location. This is the fun part! Make sure you bring something to record your observations and quotations from people you talk with. This can be a small notebook or your cell phone. It is important to record observations while you are there because it can be difficult to remember details later. Remember to record sensory details, such as smells, tastes, sounds, and sights. Including these types of details will help your reader to feel what it feels like to be there. Also be sure to record exact quotes from people who talk with, either in writing or on your phone or other recording device. Exact quotes will help show the personality of the people in your travel article. Make sure to also record practical details, such as where to park, how much it costs, etc. These details will help your reader plan their trip. Even as you record your experience, remember to have fun and enjoy your time. Your genuine excitement for the location you are writing about will show in your writing and make your article more engaging for readers.
Drafting Your Travel Article
After you have visited your location, it is time to start writing. It is best to write soon after your visit, while the details are still fresh in your mind. Use your notes, photos, recordings, and any other materials you gathered to help you plan for your article. As you plan your article, review the advice from the “Travel Writing for Beginners” article. Be sure to include an attention-getting hook and introduction, include sensory details to help your reader feel like they are in the place you visited, include all the logistical details about how to visit the place, and include quotations from people you talked to in the place.
Revising Your Travel Article
As a first step to revising your travel article, you will engage in a peer review activity. Since you are already familiar with the place you visited, it is helpful to get another person’s impression of your article to see if your writing clearly conveys your experience of the place.
First reading: Read your peer’s travel article completely. The first time you read it, just try to understand the meaning and experience the writing as you would if you found it on a website or in a magazine. Do not focus on providing comments or correcting anything.
Second reading: Read your peer’s travel article again. This time read with these questions in mind:
- Does your peer’s article include a strong hook that draws you in?
- Does the writer establish the setting of the article clearly in the first few sentences?
- Do the sensory details help you feel like you are in the place they are describing? Where could the writer add additional descriptive details?
- Does the writer make effective use of quotes in the article? Does the writer provide enough context for the quote to be understood?
- Is there enough detail provided in the article to help you understand how to visit the place and what you can do or see there?
- Are there any areas of the article that are confusing or unclear to you as the reader?
- What areas of the article could be improved to make the article stronger or more clear?
- Did you notice any patterns of errors?
After reading: Discuss your peer review observations with your partner. Remember that your purpose is not to criticize your partner but to help them improve their writing to more clearly express its reading for its intended audience and purpose. Avoid evaluative comments like, “This is bad” or “Everything is really good.” Instead, try to point to particular parts of the travel article that could be improved and explain how to improve them and point out particular parts of the travel article that are effective and explain why they work well.
Tips for Revising Writing
After you finish the peer review activity, it is now up to you to revise and edit your travel article to make it the best you can before publication. Watch the video below to get some hints to help you revise your article.
“Tips for Revising Writing” by Ten Marks, YouTube.com
As the video says, try to imagine you are someone else and take an “airplane view” as you read through your article again. Try using the “ARMS” checklist, which is introduced in the video, as you revise your writing:
- Add information, or explain your ideas more.
- Remove information that you don’t need.
- Move information to the right paragraph, or even move paragraphs around.
- Substitute words or sentences to improve your essay.
Once you have revised the content of your essay to be the best you can make it, then you should go through your essay again and edit it to fix any grammar, spelling, capitalization, or punctuation errors. Remember that being creative with your language use is a great way to engage your reader. It is important to be consistent and express your ideas clearly for your intended audience and purpose.
Formatting and Publishing Your Travel Article
Finally, now that you have revised and edited your article, you are ready to format it and submit it for publication (or to your teacher). There are many ways to format a paper, but one common formatting style for writing in academic courses is from the Modern Language Association (MLA). If you are writing for a publication, such as a newspaper, magazine, or website, you should always ask the editor about their preferred formatting style before you submit your article. Following a formatting and style guide for your writing will enhance the professional appearance of your writing and will give the editor (or your teacher) a good first impression of your work. MLA gives instructions for formatting a paper as well as for formatting citations within a paper and in the works cited list at the end of your paper. For your travel article, you do not need to have a Works Cited page because your main source should be your own experience for this type of writing. However, if you did use any outside sources in your writing, you should cite them properly in the text of your article and list them on a Works Cited page, following MLA citation format. An excellent resource for all things MLA is the MLA Formatting and Style Guide on the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). On the OWL, you can find extensive information about paper formatting and citations in MLA as well as other writing styles you may encounter, such as APA, from the American Psychological Association. On the OWL you can view a sample MLA formatted paper with notes about the various features of this formatting style. You can watch the video below to see a demonstration of how to create an MLA formatted document in Microsoft Word.
“How to Format an MLA Paper” by US Represented, YouTube.com
Once you have properly formatted your travel article, now you get to experience the joy of having your article published. Traditionally, the word “publish” has been used to talk about print media, like books, newspapers, and magazines, but the internet gives writers so many more options for publishing. Even if you self-publish your writing on a personal website or on social media, it is still a form of publication, and you will still get to experience the joy of seeing others read your words and learn from them.