Who is really a Travel Writer?

Do you consider yourself a “travel writer”? I believe that it is high time to reassess the whole profession – or what remains of it – that is travel writing. Currently I am not reading anything listed under travel writing. I just cannot bring myself to slave over labored descriptions and hackneyed terms.

How should a travel writer behave?

How should a travel writer behave?

Why the attack?

No, this is far from an all-out attack as there are differing levels of travel writing and there are efficient bloggers and there are those who clearly work hard and carve out a career. I am weary of the pseudo-academic and partially intellectual travel writers out there who hop over to a destination and make half-investigated judgments and opinions that are meant to rile the reader and then convert this into a record number of punishing retorts.

These aforementioned are little better than social media whores. Click for Pinterest, click to Tweet, click to LinkedIn and so on to appeal to the faceless droves of trolls. Lists written to drum up interest in your page as well, this gets me, lists in magazines and advertorial- influenced writing. How dull. Thread counts for hotel sheets, reviews on Trip Advisor by people with little better to occupy their time. Obviously, it’s all a game that needs to be played and I am involved as well.

Are travel writers just self important social media whores?

Are travel writers just self important social media whores?

But, albeit arrogantly, I can perhaps stake a claim to being better informed as both an operator with a hotel suffering the online vitriol of customers placing reviews and as a journalist and erstwhile travel writer.

Rather than give publicity to the worst travel book I have ever set eyes upon (it was about Paraguay), and rather than confound myself with the details of how it actually made it into print and was not self-published, I’ll just move on.

We owe it to the trade of travel writing to actually push the boundaries once again and compose text that cries out to be read and therefore enjoyed. Obviously we can all point to Steinbeck, Mathiessen and others. Classics from Waugh will stand the test of time. What can we say of today’s internet fodder? For certain there are worthwhile publications out there. I can point to the Perceptive Travel as one online magazine we should read. Each piece is carefully vetted, only writers with a published book can submit articles and the layout is all about content. No faffing about with social media and various widgets to jazz up the design, the writing stands alone and the magazine wins awards.

Brazil has beautiful beaches but, do we need yet another top 10 list?

Brazil has beautiful beaches but, do we need yet another top 10 list?

This alone shows us that writing and the quality of the writing matters.

I moved in to travel writing since it was what principally interested me out of my Masters, but, over a decade down the line – while I am still prepared to write travel articles under my own conditions – I find myself placing a distance between me and the genre. I don’t want to read plain travel writing, I want to read engaging literature. Sure, I still write news and this is reflected in my current field of study of Conflict Resolutions here in Colombia. Previously, I flew below the radar here as a travel writer so as not to get mixed up in the self-censorship required of news/ investigative journalists here in Colombia. My goals have changed and I am more interested in writing articles on news which are perhaps less reported in the international mainstream media.

If this means that I have to get the realities of Colombia across by publishing a travel article, then so be it, but, expect it to be informed and interesting.

No more lists, no more dross. Intelligent writing from here on in.

19 thoughts on “Who is really a Travel Writer?

  • What? You are tired of bespoke hidden gems nestled among soaring peaks and breathless valleys off the beaten path where locals ply their picturesque and inexpensive crafts? .

    • where turquoise waters lap unspoiled beaches and the top ten tips for travel this year are…..
      Oh, and do we need another "Machu Picchu alternative"?

  • In fairness to bloggers, there's a learning curve. I didn't come to travel blogging as a writer, but as a traveler who wanted to write online to help enable a new career and way of life. Inspired by a recent talk at the TBEX conference in Toronto on storytelling, I've sought some one on one advice from the speaker on how I can improve my approach.

  • Thanks for the shout-out on Perceptive Travel Richard. We try hard to put out good work that's different and has long-term value—including on the blog. That might not get us the sugar rush of traffic we could get with a "photo of the day" and top-10 list or best-of list number 48,526. But hopefully we're reaching the right people: curious travelers with a brain.

  • Poor Richard,
    I feel your pain but on the other hand I came to travel writing from the world of Trade Publishing and was amazed that no one seemed to know the difference between homogenized, commercial crap and writing. Once I accepted the fact that most travel writers weren't writers at all but regurgitaters of press releases and encyclopedia entries it was just a question of accepting this new kind of communication and then ignoring it.
    As a writer I wanted to convey my passion for travel and I could only do that by writing my own books , not being a part of a group of contributors to some demented travel guide that was written for the lowest common denominator. It's true that I have not been the most sought after on press lists but since I have another identity as a novelist, that seems to add a note of mystery for PR people . Bottom line, a good writer is a good writer, no matter if they are writing about travel or grain futures or spa treatments. So, cheer up, and forget about what's being churned out like rancid butter, the crème de la crème will always taste delicious.
    Nan

  • Hello Richard, I'm another writer with the honor of appearing in Perceptive Travel, which really did address a need for serious, quality travel writing (the only kind I care to write). In the end, good travel writing is writing with a long shelf life, writing that goes honestly and deeply enough, in an engaging manner, to be around for years to come. Top ten lists, as you beautifully expressed, don't last more than two weeks and hardly do anything to the mind (body or soul) of the reader who glances at them for a few mere seconds. But, a profound understanding of how locals still keep Occitan alive in rural areas across southern France, from Bayonne to Nice? That lasts, and with luck, will inspire a few more inspired travelers and readers. (That's my intent after dedicating over 25 years of living in, researching, learning the languages, and writing about northern Spain and southern France.) Thanks for this post. Best, Beebe (www.BeebesFeast.com)

    • Beebe, Thank you for your comment, I am overwhelmed with the number responses on this post of mine and am relieved to see so many people agree with what I wrote. Quality writing stands the test of time regardless of SEO and gimmicks.

  • Interesting read, Richard. The question for me is what makes something – travel writing or anything else – worth reading? What makes someone not only open a link, read the entire piece, and THEN actually feel afterwards that it was worth their time (as opposed to some of those celebrity Twitter links that the HuffPost sends out)? So much of what is churned out today focuses only on "hooking" the reader initially — getting them to click so that one more page view is added to the stats. There's not enough focus on making content actually worth the reader's time. There's something to be said for not losing the craft amidst all the marketing.

  • Hi Richard,

    I found my way to your post on travel writing after learning about you and Casa Amarilla through an article published in the Guardian.

    I'm definitely in your camp and expect my articles to be "informed and interesting."

    I've posted six articles so far on my new site. More will follow. I believe all are worth your while, but would recommend one in particular: http://eyeniccolo.com/there-will-be-dead/

    Just wrote inquiring about a two-week stay at Casa Amarilla. I look forward to your reply.

  • I found it funny — for a moment I thought it was meant to be ironic — that after all the bashing of "social media whores" (love the term, btw), at the bottom of your article there is an arrow that says 'Sharing is Caring!' and it points to a string of icons representing maybe every social media website in existence.

  • I like this post very much. I will definitely be back. Hope that I can go through more insightful posts then. Will likely be sharing your wisdom with all of my friends!

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