Photo: e_walk

This post complements lessons from the MatadorU Travel Writing program.

WE’VE SEEN THEM too many times, and now they sound tired, strained, and cheesy — and at Matador, that’s definitely not what we’re about.

1. “Best-kept secret”

Really? Are you sure The Purple Dinosaur Bar is Denver’s best-kept secret? You found it, after all, and now you’re publishing its location, so it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a secret, much less a well-kept one.

2. “Et cetera”

Whether it’s “et cetera” (fancy! Latin!) or plain old “etc.”, you’re really saying this: “There’s more, but I’m too lazy to tell you about it.” Keep it out of your travel writing.

3. “Sun-dappled” / “sun-speckled” / “sun-splashed”

We get it. It’s sunny. Tell us about it in a way that doesn’t involve the word “dappled.” Please.

4. “Don’t-miss” / “must-see”

A bit of a bully, are you? What are you going to do to us if we miss it, huh? Just give us your experience. Let us decide for ourselves if South Dakota’s Corn Palace is a must-see or a see-maybe-if-I-happen-to-be-driving-through-South-Dakota-someday-and-need-to-use-the-bathroom.

5. “Exotic”

“Exotic” is relative — it just means “different” or “foreign,” and depending who your reader is, that could mean ao dai, guayaberas, or blue jeans — so focus on describing your experience, and let your readers murmur, “oooh, how exotic!” if they so choose.

6. “Gem” / “jewel”

A beach is not a gem, and a restaurant is not a jewel, and yes, we know what a metaphor is, but you can come up with a better one than that, can’t you?

7. “Oasis” / “paradise”

If you’ve traveled to an actual oasis, as in “a small fertile or green area in a desert region, usually having a spring or well,” feel free to tell it like it is. But describing anything but an actual oasis as an oasis is another case of a threadbare travel writing metaphor.

And throwing “paradise” around just makes you sound clueless. Have you seriously found a place with zero problems, conflicts, threats, dangers? Or are you just, you know, on vacation?

8. “Treasure trove”

If you’ve stumbled upon a previously undiscovered royal Egyptian burial chamber, or a forgotten cache of pirate’s booty, fine. Otherwise, leave “treasure trove” alone.

9. “Breathtaking”

Was your breath literally taken away by the beauty of that sunset? Probably not, so this word is overkill. Unless you’re blue in the face and suffering from awe-induced oxygen deprivation, look for another.

10. “Boast”

Why must places “boast” fine dining, colonial architecture, unspoiled beaches, or symphony orchestras? Can’t they just have them? “Have” is a perfectly good word. The citizens may well boast about their city’s marvelous offerings, but that’s another story.

* Note: This post was originally published on June 3, 2009.

* Visit MatadorU to learn more about Matador’s online travel writing and other travel journalism courses.

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