For thousands of years, travellers have written about their experiences exploring the furthest reaches of the world, both to record their journeys for personal reasons and as a guide for those who might follow.
Before the internet age, even as far back as Ancient Greece, stories of distant lands were popular because many people would never have had an opportunity to visit themselves.
But what is travel writing like today? With the internet, sharing experiences of our travels has never before been so easy, and arguably travel writing in one form or another is more popular ever.
Definition of travel writing
Travel writing is a genre that describes a writer’s experiences, observations, and feelings while travelling to different places.
It often includes descriptions of the landscape, culture, people, and events that the writer encounters, as well as their personal thoughts and reflections on these experiences.
Purpose of travel writing
The purpose of travel writing can vary depending on the intention of the writer, with some of the most popular reasons being providing information and inspiration for future travellers, capturing and preserving memories of a trip, or simply sharing the joys and challenges of travel with others.
A brief history of travel writing
Travel writing has a long and rich history, dating back to ancient times, and has long been a popular way for individuals to record and convey their journeys to distant lands.
Early examples of travel writing
One of the earliest examples of travel writing is the Greek text “Periplus of the Erythraean Sea,” which was written in the 1st century AD and describes the author’s experiences sailing along the coasts of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
In the medieval era, travel writing took the form of pilgrimage accounts, such as the journal of Marco Polo, which described his journey to the Far East in the 13th century.
Early modern developments in travel writing
In the 18th and 19th centuries, travel writing became more popular as travel became easier and more accessible.
During this time, the genre evolved to include not just descriptions of the places visited, but also the writer’s personal thoughts and observations on the people and culture they encountered.
Some of the most famous travel writers of this period include William Bartram, Alexander von Humboldt, and Mary Kingsley.
Modern and contemporary travel writing
In the 20th century, travel writing continued to evolve, incorporating new technologies and styles.
The advent of air travel and increased tourism led to a boom in travel writing, with writers exploring a wider range of destinations and themes.
Today, travel writing remains a popular and diverse genre, encompassing various styles and perspectives, from humorous and lighthearted to serious and reflective.
Types of Travel Writing
Travel writing encompasses many different subgenres and styles, from non-fiction to fiction, and from informal to formal. These are some of the various types of travel writing:
- Journalistic travel writing
- Creative travel writing
- Memoir-style travel writing
- Guidebook writing
- Food and drink writing
- Adventure writing
- Ecotourism writing
- Travel blogging
Characteristics of Travel Writing
These are some of the key characteristics of travel writing that are common features of this genre:
- Descriptive language
- Cultural and historical context
- Personal anecdotes and experiences
- Use of sensory details
- Attention to detail
- A sense of place
How to Write Travel Stories
Travel writing is a fantastic form of creative writing to try for yourself, because every place you visit provides a new story and an entirely unique experience.
Here are a few tips on how to write travel stories:
1. Preparation before travel
Everywhere you go will have a rich history shaped by the people, environment, politics, culture, and so many other factors.
It’s impossible to understand every single facet, especially if it’s not somewhere you’re familiar with, but it’s important to do research before your travels to get a grasp of the fundamentals.
2. Gathering information
As you plan your itinerary, research each location you’re planning on visiting so you know what to expect and what to look out for as part of your trip.
When you’re actually travelling, you should still take what opportunities you can to learn more about the area and the sights you see, whether through the internet, guide books, or local guides.
3. Taking notes during the trip
Keep a notebook with you at all times, or somewhere else you can jot down notes, even if that’s just on your phone.
Observe everything and anything that might be of interest to a reader. Even the most minute detail might be worth including in your writing, as these are what really bring your travels to life and make your experiences feel unique.
For a great way to organise notes, learn how to keep a commonplace book so you can catalogue and keep track of everything you record.
Along with taking notes, don’t forget about photos! Everyone appreciates a good photo, and even if you don’t include images within your writing they are useful visual prompts for you to remember the places you’ve been.
4. Revising and editing after the trip
When you’re home (or have some time to kill at a hotel during your travels), write up the notes you took, even if it’s just a rough draft to start with.
Piece together your travels, outline what you did each day, step by step, and include any details you think might be of interest the reader.
Remember to explore all the different senses, especially the sights, sounds and smells of the places you went.
Depending on what style of travel writing you’re after, you can tailor your approach. It could be a more formal and introspective travelogue, or a more lighthearted and informal travel blog.
Benefits of Travel Writing
- Personal growth and self-discovery: Writing of any kind helps you be introspective, and with the new sights and experiences that come with traveling this is even more the case with travel writing.
- Cultural understanding and empathy: Reading about somewhere online or watching a documentary only get syou so far with learning about a different cultural. Truly understanding other parts of the world can only be achieved by traveling there yourself.
- Sharing unique perspectives with others: When you travel, writing about your journeys allows you to share what you discover with the world.
- Career opportunities: Meeting new people on your travels is always a great way to unlock new opportunities, but writing and publishing also helps you to develop new skills which you can use in other professional pursuits.
The future of travel writing
The fundamentals of travel writing have remained the same from ancient times to today; it’s a form of literature designed to express the feelings of a traveler in a new environment, create evocative descriptions and a sense of place, and capture the heart of an individual’s experience.
But travel writing has evolved with changes in technology and culture. There are still plenty of travelogues published traditionally, as well as newspapers feature travel sections, but the digital age has enabled a shift in how many people consume forms of travel writing.
Nowadays, online platforms allow more and more avid travellers to share their experiences. For example, social media offers a slice-of-life glimpse into endless adventures.
Longer-form writing about individuals’ journey can also be shared worldwide to an online audience, with travel blogs such as Ardent Wanderers being a popular way for many to find out more about what other parts of the world have to offer.
Travel writing is a genre of writing that captures the essence of a place and its culture, through the eyes of the writer. It’s a blend of journalism, storytelling, and personal reflection that provides readers with an immersive experience of the destination.
Whether it’s a guidebook, an essay, or a memoir, travel writing offers a unique perspective on the world, inspiring others to explore and learn about different cultures, people, and places.
No matter if you’re a seasoned traveler or planning your first trip, consider trying out travel writing so you can capture your experiences and share them with others.