Travel Writing 101

Our non-fiction class had a special guest speaker a few weeks back, Teresa Cannon, an accomplished and very successful travel writer.

Teresa is a contributing editor to several Lonely Planet guides, and is co-author of the wonderful Aliya: Stories of the Elephants of Sri Lanka.

I’ve long harboured a desire to become a famous, well-paid travel writer, flitting from one exotic location to another, on a never-ending expense account. Teresa’s presentation certainly put paid to that – I didn’t realise there would be hard work and hardship involved in my dream job!

Seriously, I was inspired by Teresa’s enthusiasm for her work and her ability to make a living out of something she obviously loves.

A few interesting observations:

  • Travel writing involves a focus on place and/or movement
  • Think about the various dimensions of the place you are writing about – physical/cultural/historical/political
  • Also, importantly, what is missing?
  • Try to evoke the images/smells/sound/energy of the place you are writing – and remember to bring your imagination
  • Think about your audience and the particular needs they may have
  • Be alert to the agendas of various people you may speak to in researching your story, and decide how you will deal with these
  • Take photos, if only for your own sake. They may rekindle/refresh some memories when it comes time to write

While on the Road:

  • Be in work mode*
  • Writing takes precedence*
  • Don’t miss any opportunities
  • Collect literature
  • Allocate time for writing
  • Try to keep to a general itinerary*

* Things I might find difficult to cope with in my travels…

The difficulties:

  • Homesickness/loneliness
  • Alienation
  • Cultural differences
  • Fear or strangers or strangeness
  • Find your own way to cope with these – they happen to everyone

Hopefully, I’ll be able to apply some of Hazel’s excellent advice when it comes time to write up the Tour de France next month.


3 Responses to Travel Writing 101

  1. Simonne says:

    Interesting, thanks for posting this. Did she say why it’s best to stick to an itinerary? I would have thought some great experiences and therefore writing could come of NOT sticking to an itinerary?

  2. clarkebruce says:

    Hi Simonne

    I think her point was that if you are limited for time (and most writers trying to cover a particular travel story will be), you need to plan out your various activities beforehand – research, interviews, field visits, writing up notes – and try where possible to ensure you don’t miss out on an entire essential component of the trip.

    I take your point about going with the flow when travelling, and I;m sure Teresa would also encourage this – just as long as the writer is disciplined enough to tick all of the required boxes.

    How flexible you are with itinerary may also depend on how flexible your story has to be , particularly if it’s a commissioned piece.

  3. Simonne says:

    Ah, I see, yes that all makes sense! Thanks 🙂

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