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Write a Good Travel Essay. Please.

SmarterTravel

Editor’s Note: We know that many of you are looking for help writing travel experience essays for school or simply writing about a trip for your friends or family. To inspire you and help you write your next trip essay—whether it’s an essay about a trip with family or simply a way to remember your best trip ever (so far)—we enlisted the help of Professor Kathleen Boardman, whose decades of teaching have helped many college students learn the fine art of autobiography and life writing. Here’s advice on how to turn a simple “my best trip” essay into a story that will inspire others to explore the world.

Welcome home! Now that you’re back from your trip, you’d like to share it with others in a travel essay. You’re a good writer and a good editor of your work, but you’ve never tried travel writing before. As your potential reader, I have some advice and some requests for you as you write your travel experience essay.

Trip Essays: What to Avoid

Please don’t tell me everything about your trip. I don’t want to know your travel schedule or the names of all the castles or restaurants you visited. I don’t care about the plane trip that got you there (unless, of course, that trip is the story).

I have a friend who, when I return from a trip, never asks me, “How was your trip?” She knows that I would give her a long, rambling answer: “… and then … and then … and then.” So instead, she says, “Tell me about one thing that really stood out for you.” That’s what I’d like you to do in this travel essay you’re writing.

The Power of Compelling Scenes

One or two “snapshots” are enough—but make them great. Many good writers jump right into the middle of their account with a vivid written “snapshot” of an important scene. Then, having aroused their readers’ interest or curiosity, they fill in the story or background. I think this technique works great for travel writing; at least, I would rather enjoy a vivid snapshot than read through a day-to-day summary of somebody’s travel journal.

Write About a Trip Using Vivid Descriptions

Take your time. Tell a story. So what if you saw things that were “incredible,” did things that were “amazing,” observed actions that you thought “weird”? These words don’t mean anything to me unless you show me, in a story or a vivid description, the experience that made you want to use those adjectives.

I’d like to see the place, the people, or the journey through your eyes, not someone else’s. Please don’t rewrite someone else’s account of visiting the place. Please don’t try to imitate a travel guide or travelogue or someone’s blog or Facebook entry. You are not writing a real travel essay unless you are describing, as clearly and honestly as possible, yourself in the place you visited. What did you see, hear, taste, say? Don’t worry if your “take” on your experience doesn’t match what everyone else says about it. (I’ve already read what THEY have to say.)

The Importance of Self-Editing Your Trip Essay

Don’t give me your first draft to read. Instead, set it aside and then reread it. Reread it again. Where might I need more explanation? What parts of your account are likely to confuse me? (After all, I wasn’t there.) Where might you be wasting my time by repeating or rambling on about something you’ve already told me?

Make me feel, make me laugh, help me learn something. But don’t overdo it: Please don’t preach to me about broadening my horizons or understanding other cultures. Instead, let me in on your feelings, your change of heart and mind, even your fear and uncertainty, as you confronted something you’d never experienced before. If you can, surprise me with something I didn’t know or couldn’t have suspected.

You Can Do It: Turning Your Trip into a Great Travel Experience Essay

I hope you will take yourself seriously as a traveler and as a writer. Through what—and how—you write about just a small portion of your travel experience, show me that you are an interesting, thoughtful, observant person. I will come back to you, begging for more of your travel essays.

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