Travel writing and holiday writing (Mistake #109)

On holiday at the Adriatic, previously: I didn’t write about it

I call travel writing holiday writing when it is an account of the writer’s holiday, written as if to a friend or member of the family, in the style you might adopt for the back of a postcard. ‘Having a lovely time’ writing.

Editors rarely want holiday writing.

Editors want travel writing. They want adventure, stories, unusual destinations. Stories of adventure in unusual destinations.

No unusual destination? Then you need an unusual angle. An article merely about your trip to Paris – covering the standard sights, tourist spots, a bit of food, a bit of culture – will never sell. It Will Never Sell. A talented former student wrote an article on ‘The Heights of Paris’ – a weekend trip based on visits to all the lofty places in the capital – and not just the obvious one. Paris viewed from above. It was a hugely original angle on a hugely unoriginal destination. It sold. Of course it sold.

You could adopt a similar approach to other destinations. Or try turning the idea on its head. Underground Madrid? Are there subterranean warrens and dungeons – or merely quirky restaurants and museums – hiding under the streets of the capital of Spain? I have no idea. Go forth and find out. And maybe write about it.

Never start your article at the airport. Never start your article – please do not ever do this – at your computer, booking your tickets and hotel room. Nobody cares.

Start there, in the thick of the action. Start in a cool underground room, where ancient Moorish art, so fragile to the effects of warmth and light, must be kept. Begin in the cellar of a Spanish housewife’s home, where you’re about to bite into a lentil and chorizo casserole, at a supper club which the local mayor has decreed illegal.

If you have to backtrack, you can do it later, but you probably won’t need to.

My view from Asinelli Tower, Bologna: I wrote about it

Hook the reader from the off, then. An arresting visual description, perhaps. Or start with an anecdote – a funny one, or a shocking one, that makes a valid point about your trip or destination, and is relevant to your theme.

The purpose of a travel article is, ultimately, to help the reader make up his or her mind about whether he or she might like to visit that same destination and follow in your footsteps.

Give them information they need to come to that decision – which you should do in the article, and have completed by the end of the article.

The reader doesn’t give a hoot that you got sunburn, that you were exhausted after Day 2 and had an early night, that your flight home caught some turbulence. The reader does not need this information in order to decide on their next trip.

The reader needs to know what he or she can do, can experience, can visit; what he or she needs to bring; when he or she should go; what he or she may feel, taste, see, touch, hear (which is not necessarily what you felt, tasted, saw, touched, heard).

Never assume a reader will have decided to go before they have finished reading your article. Do not give them information in the article before you are certain they need it. The hotel’s phone number? The tourist office’s address? The currency exchange rate? The price of a cab from the airport to the station? They need none of this before the end. Put this information after the end. After the end comes a fact file or sidebar of information.

You have now written a good travel article.

Unless, somewhere, you have called a view “breathtaking”.

Please – never call a view “breathtaking”.

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