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The New Travel Writer's Most Common Mistake

by Ian MacKenzie Nov 15, 2006

ONE OF THE PERKS of working for a travel blogging community, is that you get to read a lot of travel blogs.

I’ve read all types: short, long, personal, experimental. You name it.

And with my experience wading through these digital archives of one trip after another, a single glaring difference emerges, separating the compelling journals from the humdrum ones.

Last time in this series, I wrote about the importance of starting your journal with bang — an opening that grabs your read and propels them to the next paragraph.

Now I’m going to discuss the most common mistake new travel bloggers make afterwards.

Take this first example:

“We arrived at Heathrow airport and made our way through customs and then the baggage claim. We left the airport and grabbed a cab, then drove to our hostel in downtown London. It was a pretty nice day, wasn’t sunny, but it wasn’t raining either. After we got to the hotel we ditched our bags and went out for some food. I couldn’t believe how expensive it was! Anyway, after lunch we walked around the city, and checked out Big Ben (the giant clock) and Buckingham Palace.”

What did you think? It’s okay, reads well, certainly nothing special. Chances are, it probably sounds a lot like the majority of your friends’ travel journals.

Now read this version:

“We hailed a cab from the airport and rode into the city. Overhead, the sky was bleak, hinting at rain. The driver didn’t speak much, though he stole occasional glances at us in the rearview mirror, as if to ensure we wouldn’t disappear from the cab without paying.

Through the window, I watched the other drivers hunched over their steering wheels, hurtling along the highway, enveloped in their own personal worlds. At a stoplight I stared at an elderly woman idling beside us in a brown Lincoln. She seemed to notice my gaze and turned her head. I took a chance, smiled and waved at her. She scowled and drove off as the light changed.

Welcome to England, I thought.”

Which version do you prefer? They read like completely different stories, from two different writers that potentially had a very similar experience. And this reveals the biggest mistake committed by new travel bloggers:

They try and cover it all.

New travel bloggers (understandably) want to share their stories with their friends and family back home, and so they pound out a travel journal that includes: their flight, what they had to eat on the flight, the films on the plane, collecting their bags in the airport, getting to their hostel, walking around the city, all the different sites they saw, what did had for dinner that night, and so on.

Perhaps your travel blog isn’t quite that thorough, but you get the idea. I committed this exact mistake on my first trip to Europe in 2000, over and over again. It took a lot of reading (and a lot of practice) before realizing that it’s not important to capture everything.

The trick is to pick certain moments that stick out of your trip, and expand on them instead.

Don George, author of Lonely Planet’s Guide To Travel Writing (aff) calls this “The Accordian Theory of Time.”

“What you have to do is edit your reality. You have to think about all the pertinent experiences in your trip and then you have to choose those very few…that embody and illuminate the main points you want to make about your journey.”

Write about a conversation you had with a talkative local. Write about a single night out to the club that opened your mind. Write about a hike through the jungle that was the most bug-infested, sweat stained, and exhilarating experience of your life.

Then stop.

And next time your write, pick another moment (or two) that characterizes your trip since you last surfaced, and share that with your friends and family.

After all, it’s far better to leave your fans wanting more, then inundate them with every last detail.

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