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Travel articles are peppered with meaningless words and phrases: stunning, incredible, pretty, diverse; ‘land of contrasts’, ‘melting pot’, ‘bustling’.Any of these could be applied to thousands of destinations worldwide.But many trips don’t have an obvious goal; they are more about discovering a place, unpicking its history or meeting its people.
Some trips have a physical objective (reaching the top of Kilimanjaro, crossing Costa Rica, seeing a tiger) that gives your article direction and purpose.
The reader (hopefully) sticks with you because they want to know if you’ll achieve your goal.
The best travel or food writing is often longform essays, historical accounts told through food, or in-depth interviews.
“I’m continually surprised how many people think a food/travel writer is always a reviewer – that our sole purpose is to pass judgment on a place.
To see the kinds of stories that get published, look at the bold line of introductory copy (known as ‘standfirsts’ in the trade) of articles in papers, magazines and websites.
Try writing the standfirst for your own story, and then use it as your brief.Showing is when you slow down your writing and describe a scene in detail – what you saw, tasted, heard, felt – you are showing the reader the world through your eyes.Telling is simply moving the story along: "We returned to the tents for a well-earned rest." Articles typically switch repeatedly between the drama of ‘showing’ and the practical economy of ‘telling’ – you need both. Good writers tend more to follow Hemingway’s maxim: “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.” That doesn’t mean you can’t be playful and experimental – just don’t do it at the reader’s expense.They are beholden to deadlines, editor questions and fixes, and ethics clauses.They must be strong writers, usually trained in journalism or creative writing, as it’s a writing job first and foremost.Here’s what we in the industry know, and what you should think about the next time you’re scrolling through articles or your Insta feed. Traditionally, travel writers are paid to write for newspapers, magazines, or online sites.They rely on interviews, research, and first-person experiences to create a factual, hopefully entertaining article.The life of an influencer looks even more fabulous. It requires long hours, constantly pitching yourself and your ideas, being tech and photo savvy, and is often paid in experiences, which don’t pay rent or student loan debt. Like how sometimes marketing companies pay them to go on trips, how they don’t always eat the food they post photos of on Instagram, that that “candid” shot took 100 takes, that they don’t visit every place they write about, that click rates determine which articles get posted, that almost no one’s Instagram following is as it appears, and more.I’ve been a travel and food writer for about six years now, and boy have I learned a lot.Once you know your storyline, gather the experiences that fit it – and dump the rest. Or: "we could see the lions heading off hunting." Which sentence is more interesting to read?Most travel articles will be 1,000 to 2,000 words – that’s only 10–20 paragraphs. You can start a travel article any way you like, as long as it grabs the reader’s attention. Dialogue brings a scene to life, gives personality to the people in your story, and allows you to convey important information in a punchy way.