I love travel writing, but the strangeness of the internet marketplace means that sometimes I have to write travel articles about places that I’ve never been to. I’ve now done several of these, and here’s what I have learned from the process.
As a writer you can make connections between what you have done and what you are writing about. Okay, so you may not have visited a water park in Tenerife, but you might have visited one in Disneyworld. You can use your memories of that experience to add local color and a bit of excitement to your writing about the new location. No matter where you go in the world, water parks, museums, parks and other places of interest have many of the same features, which you can use as a way of getting started.
It’s essential to do your research. Normally, I don’t recommend Wikipedia as a research resource, but I have found that their profiles of countries and cities are generally well researched, with verifiable sources. If you want a starting point for an overview of the history, climate, industry and main attractions, Wikipedia works well. I always double check the information there with information from the destination’s city or country guide site. These sites are also great places to find out about local amenities and annual events. A site that provides a good overview of these is Eventguide.com.
When it comes to describing the attractions and knowing what people really felt about them, you can’t do much better than TripAdvisor.com. You get a capsule description of the attraction and lots of great reviews. If 300 people found the same location amazing or awesome, then you are on firm ground when using those adjectives in your travel piece. You can usually find links to the attraction websites to get more information. This site also helps with nightlife, eating out and other aspects of a successful trip. Other resources I find useful are Yahoo Travel and the Lonely Planet site.
Once you have the right research resources, it’s relatively easy to put together a piece that will give readers information about the place of interest. I’ve travelled a lot, so I can use that experience to create some excitement for readers who are looking for information about a particular place. And since I love to travel, I am interested in learning about new places and excited about what they offer, so I don’t have to fake that fizz. I’ve also found some great new destinations as a result.
18 thoughts on “Travel Writing Resources”
This is a technique I’ve used for scene-setting in fiction. I didn’t realize that travel writers did it.
Writing as an authority on a place you’ve never been is just far too disingenuous. I’m probably naive in my thinking but any site that would promote such a thing without disclosure would lose all credibility with me.
“sometimes I have to write travel articles about places that I’ve never been to”
And you don’t have ethical quibbles? No stirring in the neither regions?
The reason I’m asking is this. When I read travel articles I assume a truth. A reality.
Silly me, but I trust that the author has physically experienced the place he / she has been paid to write about.
All you are doing is summarizing and it should be stated as such.
Otherwise, it’s a falsehood. Correct?
Yep I can’t see how you can ethically hold your head up if it’s claiming to be a piece about your visit there….
I can see how this would be a great fiction writing technique, Maeve.
Cat, I’m a ghostwriter (among other things), so people pay me to write things because they don’t feel able to do so. I’m sure that sometimes they take their own experience and inject some local color. Of course it’s nicer to write about places I’ve actually been to – and there are plenty of those – but that won’t always meet the client’s brief.
Thank you *so* much for this post. These are questions I’ve always had, but was afraid to ask, and not knowing has kept me from pitching a few articles where I had some (but not all) of the first-hand experience I’d need. Thanks again.
Sharon, my first reply disappeared so I’ll attempt another …
I travel extensively, at times going back to favourite spots around the world. With my parents being expats, my first introduction to a life of travel began when I was still in diapers. In addition, I’ve spent twenty years living overseas and will continue to do so (I presently live in Bangkok).
And yes, I do compare the travel writing I read to what I know as fact.
And your explanation has cleared up some of the doubts I’ve had over the years.
For instance …
When I lived in Brunei (Island of Borneo) some articles in magazines and travel books were considered a running joke with the locals and expats. This was mainly due to information being ridiculously outdated, some seemingly plucked from thin air.
So I can only assume that the articles were very possibly written by ghost writers. And that whoever had the responsibility of editing them into shape (and / or giving the misinformation in the first place) failed miserably.
And I wonder … if a ghost writer takes on a project such as this and the information is not corrected before being published … who suffers from a loss of reputation?
Just this week I signed up for a travel writing course. Obviously I’ll be interested in seeing how they tackle this aspect of the industry.
My take on travel articles will never be the same again, that’s for sure 🙂
I would suggest the final step to be:
Get a couple of REAL local people to read the story. Or contact someone who posted the best blog entries / forum comments – in your sources about the place!
Hi, It’s very interested site!
Have a nice day
Cat, I think articles in travel books suffer from the publication cycle, because it can be a 12-24 months after writing the article that the book is actually published.
One of the resources I use extensively, which is presumably reliable, is the information made available by the governments of cities and towns. Backing that up with information from individual attractions helps to verify the research.
Like you, I have seen some poorly researched and edited articles about destinations I know well, and I wouldn’t want to produce any of those. I can’t speak for every writer, but as a former journalist and editor, I learned to research, double check and triple check work, so I have never had any work returned because of factual errors.
You write travel articles about places you’ve never been to?
And you don’t have any problem with that?
Sharon, thanks for the reminder about the strangeness of the internet market place… though no doubt the same applies in print journalism too. It was a useful reminder to me to apply the principle of ‘buyer beware’ when it comes to things that we read.
A lot of material we can get (esp when it’s not paid for) will provide useful background and colour, but if we want to be sure we’re getting the ‘authentic’ experience we need to dig around in the policies of the company that’s publishing the material.
I guess that kids will learn more of this digital literacy as they get more and more of their information from the net, learning how to sift and sort material according to what they’re looking for, and why.
@ David: some of the pieces are merely pointers to what’s there to be seen and I use reputable sources.
@ Dmitri: when it’s a job that I can sub out, I do look for people who have been there, but it’s not always possible to find them
@ Joanna: yes, the internet marketplace is very strange, and I am also very careful about which information I believe.
Good article, but I see that you haven’t conformed to one variety of English. You use American and British spelled words.
I’m a ghostwriter too, and I see nothing unethical or wrong about writing on places I’ve not been to… As long as the writer researches enough and uses information from a good number to reputable websites, the content writes no lie…
If some of you super-ethical minds still think I’m wrong, then it’s advisable to stay away from such content seeking clients…
The point is, when it gets down to the BIG cash opportunity for writing a few words of content, ethics become foggy…
sorry for the typos above… I need an option to edit my comments… Webmaster, are you listening? 🙂
This is a little off topic and I understand your point is about writing. However, I was googling for TripAdvisor alternatives and for whatever reason, your post came up!
I will share my thoughts though, even if off topic just in case others find you for the same reason. I hope you don’t mind.
I do have a serious problem with Trip Advisor as far as actually traveling.
TripAdvisor stinks because the pages are confusing, finding attractions often takes jumping through hoops and I could list a lot more complaints.
I do agree with your post though on the WikiTravel site. Wikipedia has some information, but the WikiTravel.org has better information on pricing and such.
I would really love it if there were a one-does-it-all-site though instead. This would be a site that would have the following features:
* A wiki so users can update information such as hours, prices, locations, climate etc.
* Users can write reviews.
* Users can add things to a travel plan.
Thanks for letting me air an opinion! 🙂
I think it’s really crazy that people write travel articles for places they haven’t been, especially considering it wouldn’t be too difficult to find a writer that actually has been there. That does seem unethical to me and scares me a little, BUT I don’t know why I held travel writing to a higher ethical standard than any other form of journalism. I personally know people who are assigned to write interviews (both sides) with doctors that get published in medical magazines, and the writer never actually spoke to the doctor at all.