The sun’s shining, the air’s warm, and I hear seagulls (which is odd, because I live in Aldershot in Hampshire—nowhere near the coast).
Anyway, Britain and the sun are frequently falling out, so the fact that they’ve been on good terms for the past week or so has given me a bit of a travel itch. It’s also got me thinking about the art of writing travel articles.
And yes, they are an art. All writing is art, technically, but travel articles require a little more craft and panache than other forms of copywriting. All copywriting needs to have a clear and persuasive message, but travel copywriting needs to possess a literary quality as well; in other words, approach a travel article like you’d approach a story.
With this in mind, here are 6 tips for writing travel articles that’ll make readers not only wish they were there, but feel like they are.
1. Work out the main message you want to convey
You need to identify the central theme of your article before you start writing. Decide at the outset what main point or message you want to get across to your readers, i.e. the ‘big picture’. This will enable you to work out a sensible structure for the piece, and help you decide what information to include, and what to consign to the cutting room floor.
2. Have a clear storyline
As mentioned earlier, a travel article is a story, and stories have characters, suspense, drama, comedy and, most importantly, purpose.
So, what is the purpose of your story? Travel articles are normally framed around goals such as climbing Kilimanjaro, road tripping across America, or photographing rare birds in the Amazon. This gives your story a direction and a reason for your reader to stick with you: to know if you’ll achieve your goal.
Of course, many trips don’t have specific physical objectives; they are more about discovering a place, learning about its history and culture, and meeting its people. But a simple description of what you saw, who you met and what you learned—no matter how colourful the language—won’t cut it. Your article will lack focus and could lose readers’ attention. If your trip had no specific goal, invent one. What exactly did you want to know about the place you visited? Was there someone in particular you wanted to meet? Was there a type of food you wanted to try? By doing this you add suspense and anticipation to your story, and you give your reader a sense of where you’re taking them. Setting a goal will also help you delineate your beginning, middle and end.
3. Use dialogue and quotes
When you meet people on your travels, take notes of what they say and how they say it. Quotes and dialogue bring stories to life. That’s why they’re so important in press releases, case studies and most other feature articles. As beautiful as your description is, nobody wants to read reams of it. Dialogue gives personality to the people in your story, lets you convey information in a punchy way, and ultimately makes your story more real and honest. Breaking up long descriptions with quotes and dialogue will also make your article easier and more interesting to read.
4. Use vivid language
As mentioned, travel articles are often trying to convey what’s beautiful, interesting or exciting about a place. But too many are peppered with words such as “stunning”, “incredible”, “diverse” and “bustling”, which could be applied to thousands of destinations across the world. Use language that is specific to what you are describing, and try to be creative and fresh with your choice of words. Use metaphors and similes where possible, and try to avoid clichés — unless those clichés are used sparingly for the purposes of providing clarity or humour. (See my previous article on the use of clichés in copywriting.)
5. Show AND tell
You might’ve heard the phrase “show, don’t tell”. It applies equally to non-fiction as well as fiction, but it’s not an absolute. Too much showing and not enough telling can damage the pace of a travel article. Showing is where you describe a scene in detail, i.e. what you saw, felt, heard, tasted, smelt. You show your reader the world through your eyes. Telling is used to convey information quickly and move the story along, e.g. “We returned to the hotel for a much-needed rest”.
A travel article requires a careful balance of showing and telling. Showing is important for involving and engaging the reader, and adding drama and excitement to the story. Telling is practical and allows you to get to the point. It also lets you convey certain key information about a place in a clear and succinct way.
6. Don’t forget a proper conclusion
Article copywriting tends to include a call to action at the end and travel articles are no exception (though they are often expressed in a subtler way). Some travel articles, in an effort to include everything that happened on the trip, finish suddenly without a proper conclusion. Think about the purpose of your article and allow a final paragraph to sum up and reflect on the journey, and reiterate the message you want to get across.
As a freelance copywriter, I’ve written articles, blogs and landing pages for travel agents, concierge companies and dozens of luxury hotels across Europe. If you’d like some help getting readers going places, contact me on 07411 331721 or firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to provide you with a free, no-obligation quotation.