by Janice Nigro
Since my travel story hit the LA Times, I have been wondering why that one worked while so many others did not. And if I could figure out why, then I might be able to make it happen more often. Or tell others how to do it.
There are some straightforward procedural steps to take-like following the guidelines or checking for spelling mistakes-but what makes a good travel story can be a more philosophical and less tangible idea to communicate.
Is there a protocol?
In my mind, not exactly, but here are a few simple ideas to consider the next time you sit down to write a travel story.
You don’t write about the obvious.
A lot of travel writing, especially on the internet, has a somewhat focused purpose-to provide information on where to go and what to do. What museum or restaurant should your reader go to? It’s even better if you are the first to report on such places or activities.
Another kind of travel writing is more a reflection of your attitude while traveling. We can be obsessed with what to do and where to go, but a great adventure can take place in a routine travel destination at a local coffee shop or the table for single diners in a restaurant. If you are open to it.
Such stories illustrate lessons for living that we can take home with us.
You write in a narrative style.
Good writing in general involves telling a story, even if it is a so-called listicle. A practical way to determine what to write about is what do you tell your friends/family at home about the trip? And why?
Your story is about a human encounter.
I often think about how some of my most profound changes in life occurred ironically because of a chance encounter on a trip with a person I might never see again (ask me about scuba diving).
My story in the LA Times was based on a conversation with a woman in a coffee shop in Munich, Germany. I could have been doing a thousand other things that morning (like sleeping off jetlag). Instead, I went on a routine errand run with my host and ended up with a story in a major newspaper.
I no longer hesitate now when people ask what I do. I say, “I am a writer!” But I will never be able to tell the Colombian woman how her statement about expat living changed my confidence in my writing and my life.
Your story is like a chapter out of a book.
Travel is usually planned as a jam packed series of events so that a lot of “stuff” happens. Sure, I have written articles on whole trips, but my best travel stories are the ones that focus on a particular day, a conversation, or something that really moved me.
I once wrote a story about a conversation with a couple of dive guides from a small island in Indonesia about the movie the Incredibles. Another time I wrote about a conversation with an Italian taxi driver about gelato. Another story was about an encounter with a rare fish I found on my own while diving. You get the idea, small pieces of a bigger story.
You have a breakthrough.
Yes, the word breakthrough is stolen directly from my science vocabulary. Travel changes us, and a good travel story will show us how you arrived at that breakthrough. You might be able to provide a list of the best gelaterie in Roma. But the real breakthrough might be how you found out about them. Your story might enrich your readers’ travel in a way they hadn’t previously considered.
Or maybe their every day life. Travel and adventures happen every day. Some adventures you might want to talk about, others not so much. One of the biggest clichés after all is that we are all on a journey in this life. That doesn’t begin or end with a vacation somewhere.
Maybe that’s the biggest lesson to learn about travel and writing.
So what elements do you consider when writing your travel stories?
©Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com