Planning a trip to an exotic destination that has yet to be tainted by tourism? The widespread use of blogs, social-networking sites, webcams and cell phones places just about every corner of the planet at our fingertips.
Suddenly, anyone with a computer can be a travel writer and any day spent far from home can be instantly shared with “friends” you’ll never see.
This may only be the point of departure, but that’s OK.
The important thing, as a writer, is that you bring this to life with descriptive detail that sets the mood and weaves imagery, color, texture, sound, light, architecture and nature into a believable background.
Travel has shifted in style and scope while tourism—that market-driven substitute for a voyage of discovery—runs the gamut from “packaged” to pretentious.
In the 21st century, the well-crafted travel essay has begun to look as nostalgic as a dusty khaki safari jacket sans logo.Think of your essay as a flight into the unknown, which it should be for the reader (even if you know the place inside out).There are many techniques for starting, ranging from a short, punchy statement to a patch of dialogue with locals.(Leave that task to the travel guides.) And while there is no foolproof formula, there are a few “rules of the road.” Your travel essay will be a success when it leaves readers with a fresh, vivid memory of a place they’ve never seen.Because a good travel essay should be readable in one sitting, it takes an artful approach to focus your lens, calibrate your timing, build your structure, and discover colorful threads to weave through the fabric of your essay.Remember, your goal is to come full circle, so always take time to check and see if your last few paragraphs relate to the beginning.You can get a sense of this full circle by “checking the echo” of beginnings and endings in the travel essays you’re reading now.You might, for example, shift from the description of a winter landscape to a wounded bird on your windowsill and the dilemma of how to help this tiny animal, or from a “perfect” day in a lively city to the realization that your wallet has been stolen.Use this technique of shifting from descriptive prose to the here and now to drive your narrative forward.In “Alone in Amsterdam,” I began with an imaginary dialogue between myself and the “Dutch Masters” in Rembrandt’s iconic painting “The Draper’s Guild.” Other writers, like Jan Morris in her introductory chapter to Venice or Orhan Pamuk in Istanbul: Memories and the City, plunge in with sensuous word paintings of cityscapes.Simon Winchester’s The River at the Center of the World begins by explaining the circumstances that motivated his 4,000-mile exploration of China’s Yangtze River, then he is free to take the reader along with him on his tour.