I was fortunate enough to attend the amazing PRSA Travel & Tourism Conference in Palm Springs last week, where I participated in a creative writing skills workshop with the very talented Pam Mandel. During this day-long workshop, we talked about creative travel writing: what it is, how to do it well, and how to avoid common pitfalls. By the end of the day, I felt empowered and enabled to write stronger pitches, press releases, even brochure copy.
What makes creative travel writing?
Use these elements to make your destination stand out from the rest of the world.
- Sense of Place: Give readers a full sense of your destination – the sights, sounds, and smells. From just a few sentences, your writing should be able to take them to the place in their mind. But make sure to tell the story through the eyes of a visitor. What can guests expect when they visit? Their experience and mindset may be different (and probably is), than that of the locals, since it’s all brand new to them. View your destination through fresh eyes to really let them know what they can expect.
- Strong Voice: Does your writing have character? Make the voice and the tone of the destination come through.
Try this exercise: Write for 10 minutes about your destination, attraction, or event. Now turn to your friend or colleague and tell them about it, out loud, without looking at what you wrote. If the juicy details or interesting facts you said out loud weren’t included in your writing, go back and add them in.
- Lots of details: Focus on the specifics. Peel back layers until you get to the story within the story. Instead of saying your city is known for great cuisine, give an example of a special dish that visitors can’t get anywhere else. An example from the workshop was, “Only in Memphis can you eat a burger fried in 60-year-old grease.” (Not my cup of tea, but to each their own.) These are the things that are most memorable to travelers. Remember, everyone’s looking for an experience these days.
Common Creative Travel Writing Pitfalls & How to Overcome Them
Before the final save, do one more edit to ensure you aren’t making these mistakes.
- Using Jargon & Buzzwords: Death to jargon! Stick with standard speak so that everyone understands what you’re describing. Try to stay away from using the current buzzwords that everyone is boasting. You may be trying to stand out but in the end, you’re lumping yourself in with the rest of the crowd. Some may argue that the phrase “farm-to-table” already peaked and is becoming overused.
- Being Vague: Details and specifics should be your BFFs. Whenever possible, add more “decoration.” Stay away from words that are ambiguous such as “experience.” Keep asking “what?” or “how?” until you can come up with a more descriptive verb. Choose to describe one thing instead of listing everything.
Do this: Kayak through a channel of sparkling green-blue water as the sun peeks through the trees and warms your face.
Not that: You can hike, bike, jog, or walk along 37 trails.
- Focus: Narrow in on things that are specifically and solely your destination. Everyone knows the basics of a beach: soft sand, pretty water, big waves. Skip those assumed attributes, and focus on the ice cream stand at the end of the beach that has been serving sweet treats to beach goers and their dogs for 30 years.
Try this exercise: Re-read your writing but replace the name of your destination with another. If the rest of the description still works, add more details.
- Holding Back: Your writing doesn’t have to be stuffy. Pam suggested writing the most outrageous copy you can, and then scaling it back from there. And go ahead, share your destination’s quirky fact or festival. As Pam said, “Whatever makes you weird is probably your greatest asset.”