Travel Writer: Seven Secrets of His Successful Career

The travel writer seeks the world we have lost – the lost valleys of the imagination. Alexander Cockburn.

Profile of a Travel Writer: He carves a tapestry of flora and fauna with mere twenty-six letters of an alphabet, and you go in a trance. He is endowed with a visual imagination and memory of a tall order. His nib spells words to paint a picture of a place that emit a musical tone of tuning forks. Besides travel and adventure he provides information and shares a lived experience. He lives both in the present and the past. He does not possess a coffer of tools. With just seven secrets nicely packed in his suitcase of visual imagination and memory tools – he is a travel writer that I present before you.

1. Approach : It is only rarely that he gets hold of a map, randomly selects a spot, and visits it. Mostly, he chooses to go to a particular place because he has read or heard something about it. He has to be alert to record some useful and interesting details, facts, and observations. It helps him not only to form an overall idea of the natural and historical landscape of a place, but also to locate spots of interest. His mind is open, free of prejudice, and well-informed.

2. Observation: Travelling is an experience that involves the traveler at many levels. So, the quality of what he writes, inevitably depends not just on his immediate experience but upon the entire range of imagery that his mind has captured – all the travelling he has ever done, his exposure to various fields of knowledge, art, history, and science – coupled with his visual perceptions and sensitivity. His writing will then reflect all the components that go into making him the individual that he is. He has powers of observation and learns how best to communicate what he has seen: About places, people, customs and festivals. His individual informed judgment and advice is of greater use to the reader.

3. Clarity: Here, he has to be very clear in his mind who he is writing for. He tries to represent as much accurate information as he can, backing this up with his personal experience and the authentic, verified details that only he can provide because he has been there. Reading represents a great escape for many people. They derive vicarious pleasure by reading about faraway places, adventure, and the joys of travelling, all in the comfort of their homes. Much travel writing gives us a unique view of a place through the eyes and personal perceptions of the writer. So, not only do we learn about the place, but also about the person.

Andre Gide quotes, “To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him and travel in his company.” Travel writing often tells a story – that of the writer, and his discovery of a place. For the writers themselves, their writings are often a way of somehow preserving a present for themselves. And, everything he writes is consigned to posterity, because as the seasons plough, adding years to their lives, their every account would come back to them as a beautiful poem that once was shared as a story! This would be their time, for quiet reflection, and a time to relive those beautiful moments penned by him.

4. Informed views: H e needs to enliven the text with relevant personal observations to hold the attention of readers. Introducing an element of personal experience carries a universal appeal. A personal anecdote here and there, can add considerably to the interest of a piece of writing. To write this sort of article effectively, he has not only to remember details, but to put himself in his reader’s place. It offers the reader the feel of a place. Especially in this age of rapid modernization and change, travel writing is one way of preserving not only the physical landscape of a place, but also the feel, and atmosphere.

If you were interested in going to, say, Goa, what sort of details would you like to have? Your response to the monuments you saw may not be of much interest to the reader as much as a poetic description of the sunset over the sea. The reader would rather like to know what it feels like being on the beach at sunset. Where did he feel tempted to linger, and why? Was there anything that was especially worth buying? Equally important would be his considered opinion of what the best eating places are, or whether the guides are worth hiring. This is where his experience can be of great use to the reader.

5. Style: This element, in fact, is particularly important in travel writing. As a travel writer, he has to use a blend of fact and creativity to make a place come alive to his readers. A very simple, straight and preferable short sentences and adjectives that fit should be the language craft. The writer, therefore, chooses a style that arouses and sustains the readers’ interest. For instance: The ‘awe-inspiring bungalow’ is easier to read than ‘I was awe-struck by the grandeur of the bungalow’, in terms of style. Both say the same thing but there is a difference in how it is conveyed. It is therefore, his factual style that will make the article worth reading, and not a recitation of facts or adjective-ridden descriptions.

6. Technique: One might think that since a travel writer needs to combine many skills, he does not need to develop any particular technique. On the contrary, it is precisely because of such diverse requirements, that travel writing requires him to exercise tight control over what he writes. If the truth is beautiful, then it is his job to express this beauty. And, if it is unpleasant, he needs to be honest about that, too. The technique has to lively in order to capture the interest and curiosity of the reader. No one would care for a dull record of facts that sound bald and dry.

7. Responsibility: Like any other writing, he needs to embroider the truth with the thread of honesty. Many people will take his accounts of places, customs and people to be the real story. Once he has decided what kind of travel story he is going to write, and who his readers are likely to be (travel professionals, armchair travelers, magazine readers, foreign visitors to this country or business travelers and so on), he has to get down to the work of collecting information, consulting a map, tourist literature, and guidebooks to eventually settle down to write.

This is true of all writers but it is especially true of a travel writer, because he always brings to life the multiplicity of all that he has seen, within the limit of a few words. Beyond that there is no secret formula of a travel writer!