Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Travel Writing: Pack Your Journal!

A view of Shanghai--thanks to my travel magazines!

Without a doubt my favorite magazines for finding writing and art prompts are travel magazines. I can spend hours snipping, tearing, cutting, and dreaming over photos of tropical beaches, European cities, and the kind of Asian resorts that make me want to run away from home in a heartbeat. There's hardly a single page I can pass up without having an idea for a story about a millionaire with three poodles or an orphan who finds a full set of packed Louis Vuitton. 

The bulk of my magazines come from the library free giveaway bin: Conde Nast Traveler, Travel and Leisure, National Geographic Kids, Sky; you name it, I've read it. Strangely enough, though, for all my love of travel and the magazines that go with it, I've never attempted writing a travel article myself. Lately I've been thinking it's an area I should look into. To better understand what goes into an article, I started taking notes on what makes a good story, as well as the different kinds of articles magazines publish. Some of the main points I've observed are:
  • A piece of travel writing can be as small as a paragraph, or as long as a book. That said, there's not many travel magazines willing to reprint your entire book, but they will look at small sections or chapters. Travel magazines are also a good way to promote your book via reviews, which in turn make a good starting point for armchair travel writers. If you've enjoyed reading a book about Singapore or the North Pole, submit your opinion!
  • Humorous articles seem to be overwhelmingly popular. The more mishaps the merrier. Whether it's the time you fell off the gondola in Venice or slipped on a banana peel at the Ritz, enquiring minds what to know more, more, more.
  • The articles don't always have to be slapstick funny, but they can be deeply personal. I've read articles that have brought me to tears: stories about adopting children overseas, scattering a loved one's ashes on a faraway beach, or coming to terms with a serious illness or disability through the daily rigors of getting from one place to another.
  • Travel experiences don't have to be recent to qualify as magazine-worthy. Travel memoirs are among some of my favorite articles: "When I was ten years old, eating ice cream in Helsinki with my grandmother . . . "
  • For many people, travel isn't just about business or pleasure. Sometimes a trip has a deeper significance, such as taking a pilgrimage to a sacred site, or doing volunteer work in an area hit by a natural disaster. Writing about these experiences for publication can inspire others to take the same path.
  • The more unusual the place visited, the better the story, whether it's a little-known trail-way, restaurant, or museum: weird is good.
  • Speaking of restaurants. . . . Many travel magazines devote entire issues to food themes, complete with recipes. Yum! (Don't leave out the wine!)
  • Budget travel is always a big hit with both travelers and readers.
  • But luxury is even better! I particularly like the articles that show how to combine the two extremes, as in, "A backpackers guide to Lake Como," or, "How to get invited for free to the most expensive island in the world." If you can manage it--write about it!
  • Clothing articles are always a stand-out: what to pack, what to wear in Hong Kong, the best in-flight slippers, etc. etc. If you have a clever way to travel in the same outfit from Barcelona to Tahiti, let us know.
  • Theme journeys make for good stories: eco-travel, visiting literary shrines or artist's studios, motor racing. . . . Designing a trip and an accompanying article around a specific interest sounds like a great way to test the travel writing waters.
  • Travel buddies. Some of the best stories I've read are about the people you travel with. Whether it's a spouse, children, extended family, best friend, group of strangers, or all by yourself--the human element is in many ways the most important part of the trip as well as the story.
  • Artwork. Be sure to take your sketchbook on your next trip. Many of the articles I read include sketches of the journey taken, and most of these sketches are totally raw, smeary, crooked, and real. In other words--they're sketches. Their lack of "perfection" is what captures the moment so well. Even if you don't consider yourself an artist, give it a whirl. You might find a whole new reason to travel!
Tip of the Day:  Keep in mind that travel writing doesn't always have to be nonfiction. Perhaps poetry or a novel based on your travels might be just the ticket. Bon Voyage.

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