I don’t just write travel articles, I am also an enthusiastic reader of travel books. As I read I am in awe of travel writers who can string together more than the 2,000 word limit of my articles and still hold my attention, be well-written, informative and entertaining; what stamina and discipline that must take. I immerse myself in these armchair journeys to the familiar and the exotic through the pages of a good travel book and I have many favourites. For me, good travel writing is not a guidebook [although I read these too] or a series of facts about a place; good travel writing is about stories and experiences, it is about how a place made someone feel, it is about tales told honestly and it is about personal journeys. In the hands of a good travel writing I feel I am sitting on the author’s shoulder and I am along for ‘The glory of the ride.’
My reading of travel writing started as a young teenager. With a passion for reading I soon exhausted the children’s section of the small town library near to my home and so [with some hesitation as I wasn’t sure if it was allowed] I furtively moved across the room to the adult books. At the end of two tall rows of books by a large warm radiator I found a little-visited corner where I could browse unnoticed and here was the library’s small travel section. Amazingly there were gems here and in particular I discovered two Ethel Mannin books; An Italian Journey from 1974 about her travels around northern Italy that captivated my imagination and started my love affair with Italy and her 1960s American Journey, telling tales from her travels by Greyhound around an America that was far from the glitzy American dream I saw on the TV. I am sure I missed much of the subtlety of her writing, I knew nothing of Ethel Mannin and her politics and little of the world beyond Staffordshire and yet the travellers tales and adventures of a lone woman both touched me and inspired me. It was some years later that I discovered Dervla Murphy and her individual style of travel writing and I have followed her on her numerous and exciting journeys ever since. Dervla Murphy has an honest style that is never sentimental. She is such a fantastic listener and gatherer of individual stories and she weaves historical information and personal narratives so well I feel I have been there with her every step of the way.
Some time ago World Hum compiled a list of their top 30 favourite travel books and I took a look to see if any of my own ‘must read’ books were on there and to look for ideas for new travel books to read. Paul Theroux, Norman Lewis, Bill Bryson, Bruce Chatwin, Eric Newby, Jan Morris and Patrick Leigh Fermor all make the list and are excellent choices that I have loved reading. Others such as Evelyn Waugh and John Steinbeck are writers I enjoy reading but think of as novelists rather than travel writers, so I added their books to my list. There are other titles and authors I’ve not come across and I have been looking at these; up to now I have added Europe, Europe by Hans Magnus Enzensberger to my wish list.
That young teenager had ambitions to be a writer but, despite my reading, I only thought of novels as the way to earn money as a writer and I lacked the imagination for such an undertaking. Forty-years later in my 50s I realised that ambition and became a published writer. My first travel article was published in 2013 and the thrill each time I see my writing and photographs in print has never faded. That said, there may be travel writers with glamorous lives but for me it is less razzle-dazzle and more about typing. The time I spend travelling versus the time sat behind a desk researching, writing and editing [words and photographs] is about 1:10.
I will never be as accomplished a writer as my heroes but I try to tell readers a story that every motorhomer can relate to. This narrative combined with the 2,000 word limit excludes many of my travel experiences and anecdotes and the editing process takes many hours. In these articles I am balancing practical information with my desire to paint a comprehensive pictures of the places we visit by describing the sights, smells and sounds I have experienced.
These ten tips for writing travel articles are a good and useful start for anyone who is thinking of writing their own travel articles but firstly check out this article 15 signs you are born for travel writing to see if travel writing is for you. The tips made me aware that I rarely include any direct dialogue in my travel articles. I can see how this can strengthen the intimacy of my stories and my current resolution is to try and bring this in to as many future articles as I can!