In the next installment of our Travel Writing Tips series, Maria Betteghella, an experienced travel blogger, writes about how globalization has changed the face of travel writing and how to make it work to your benefit.
Travel writing is an ocean, and you need to understand what kind of boat you’re in.
I am not sure how long have you been travelling, but I can tell you something: you know you are a veteran if you surfed the 0.09 cent flight sales on Ryanair. I must have been around 16 years old when the insane trend came out (feel free to figure out my age). I quickly became a pro in finding 1, 2, 5 or 10 euros flights. Yes, I flew from one country to the other spending less than I would have on a coffee, and I did it more than once, even when I had nowhere to stay.
One time I even bought 10 spots on a flight because they were worth 0.01 cents. It was a Milan – Salamanca route, and obviously, not one of us ever showed up.
This fairy-tale ended pretty quickly, and I feel a bit old when I say that it was the beginning of the low-cost airline era. We were about to see the whole travel industry change; Air B&B was about to reshape the urban geographies of the most popular European destination, and today it is very common to read statements on Barcelona and Madrid’s walls asking tourists to go home. In Lisbon, locals line up at bus stops on working days for at least half an hour due to the tourists in town, and sadly enough, I have been denied a glass of water on a flight from Naples to Amsterdam. Long gone are the fresh bread days on Qatar airline, those hot croissants served on my first flight (no, I am not that old, I just started travelling earlier than usual).
So why is this important for travel writers? Well, because travelling is not a few-people thing anymore, and we can debate if globalization has been for better or worse, but one thing is for sure: you cannot ignore it. Travel writing can lead you down different narrow streets, niche topics and target audiences that you may want to consider after the second or third time you approach a blank paper because the big trends are probably taken.
You could also just go out there and hunt for stories, but I suggest that you never take anything for granted. Everybody is a tourist, but not everyone is a traveler. It takes dedication, respect and curiosity to really connect to a place, its story and its people, and this is where you can make a difference. If you are new, no worries. We all figured it out along the way, and if you have been patient enough to read until now, it probably means you are going to be just fine.
I will leave you with a little trick: we all love travelling, but don’t forget you’re a writer, and this means that your story needs to have the basic elements of any good story.
Fiction is full of advice on this topic, and even if travel writing is considered a not-fiction genre, keep in mind that if you don’t engage with your reader, they will probably drop your story. It’s as simple as that.
So how do you write a good story? Well, Jean-Luc Godard said, “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl”. It’s kind of the same. Keep the characters true, describe them for what they are, and keep the tension of your story line going until you reach a peak. After that, release the tension, relax and go home.
Travelling is an adventure, so it shouldn’t be too hard to transpose the emotion of discovering the unknown into a nice story. The hard part is to picture it in a way that communicates the reality of people and places, and not only your travel experience on its own. The only way to do this is by being a traveler, not a tourist.
As for the truest things in life, there is no recipe to learn them. You will have to find out on your own.