Is travel writing dead? Granta 137 has asked that question, and, before I read what international travel writers are saying about the topic, as travel writer, I thought I should answer it myself.
First of all, what is travel writing? Is it a guidebook? Yes. Can it be a blog? Yes. Can it be an article in a magazine? Yes. Can it be a setting in a novel? Yes. And, can it be pure fiction, or the embroidered truth? Unfortunately, yes.
So, the question, is travel writing dead, depends on which genre within the genre you are talking about. For me, and my style of travel writing, it’s about telling stories about what I’ve seen and done. It’s not PR work. It’s not interviewing my computer. And, it’s not embellishing my photos – what you see is what I saw.
Travel writing can include a destination overview or round-up, accommodation choices, personal experiences of fear & laughter, advice or ‘how to’ articles, food, a journey or transport, events and festivals, history, health advice, nature, animals and, of course, personality profiles. They can also be a memoir.
In the past, I told students to ‘encourage with description, tempt with flavour, resolve doubts with fact, take an unusual viewpoint, introduce fascinating people, reveal little known information, offer practical advice – of course they don’t all have to be in one story. And what doesn’t work? Stating the obvious, squeezing everything in, clichéd descriptions, trite phrases or a passive observer view’. It’s not a letter home to your family unless that’s how you are going to structure your book, your column, or travel book.
So, given these parameters, of course travel not writing is not dead: all the time I’m reading works by people writing along these lines in new and old literature, on the web, between the covers of books, and on my e-reader or tablet.
What is dead is the number of outlets available to reproduce such travel writing. Magazines and newspapers – which used to devote many pages to travel writing weekly – have drastically reduced. Along with this reduction is the huge decrease in dollars paid to the writer. My income is a pittance to what I used to be paid only a few years ago, and it’s very difficult to negotiate a payment – it’s mostly, “this is what we pay” and a take-it or leave-it attitude.
Pages in magazines and newspapers of course have reduced as circulation numbers and travel advertisements have also plummeted. Glossy flyers, posters in travel agent’s windows, and the Internet have replaced those adverts. No adverts equals no money equals pages reduced equals travel writers not needed.
The other reason local travel writers are not used are that editors are given free PR material to reproduce and, or, they use stories from the publishing stable of their international colleagues. This means in New Zealand we read stories written by British, or American, journalists and not something in a Kiwi voice and with a kiwi attitude to travel – and they are different.
Hear ends the rant. And, now on a wet Sunday afternoon in Wellington, New Zealand I can now devour my new Granta book and see what some of my admired, or unknown, travel writers have said about the topic.
Do you think travel writing is dead? What’s your favourite type of travel writer?
10 thoughts on “Is travel writing dead?”
Nope – I definitely don’t think travel writing is dead, despite what Granta’s contributors say (I enjoyed those articles because they made me think about the question).
However, for folk who want to wrote about travel and aren’t happy to become destination marketers, sponsored advertisers and “live the dream” sellers, there’s a lot of challenges on the horizon. Making money from telling travel stories has never been easy, but now there’s a definite squeeze going on. Big brands are seen as the ones with all the money – so it’s a common logical leap to see them as the future of monetizing travel writing.
Nope. For some people, maybe. If anyone got into travel blogging & travel writing to become travel marketers, I would never knock that. But if you got into it because you simply love telling great stories in exactly your own way, and you’re feeling the pressure to give that up because you’re not making enough money from doing that…well, that’s bad. That needs fixing. That’s the challenge facing travel writing that Granta is talking about.
If I knew the answer, I’d be doing it. 🙂 But I have a few ideas. I shared some with Don George a while back and they ended up in the last version of Lonely Planet’s Guide To Travel Writing. I reckon when travel writers start using Kindle the way that the serialized fiction storytellers are using it (like this guy: https://www.amazon.com/Sean-Platt/e/B004UOL2CW) then travel writing will return to the limelight and a goldrush will start for those dedicated enough to put 10/15/20 serialized travel books on Kindle. That’s one way. It’d be nice to be involved, so I’m on it. 😉
But travel writing will make a big comeback when travel authors get seriously entrepreneurial with their storytelling and story-selling, including how they market and sell those stories themselves in non-blog formats. That’ll be the start of the next wave.
Thanks for your considered response .. cheers Heather
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I think it is. The detailed descriptions have been replaced by instant photo blogging, vlogging, something akin to instant coffee.
It’s good that some of us prefer … and can find … real coffee: in some blogs, book and magazines 😀
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I always enjoy your writing and the great way you put your travels. Australia is about as far as i can go now. Always find your comments on facebook interesting. I enjoy taking photos and like yours they are original, I wouldn’t know how to “dr” them up. good luck with your next travel. Rata
Thank you Rata
I really enjoy your writing Heather, and this article was most thought provoking. While it is disappointing that travel writing in undervalued in the print media in particular, I can assure you that your genuinely refreshing and original stories are not! You have helped me revisit my favourite destination, Malaysia, and to become excited about new places! I only really began to travel again in my retirement, and despite being a past English teacher, I don’t have your flair with words and storytelling. I wish I did. At least my scrappy diary entries help me to work on photo stories and photo books. Your blog, and those of a friend I travelled with in Cambodia and Laos, help me to remember places, experiences and people that I may have otherwise forgotten! Thank you!
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Thanks so much for your generous comments. Lucky you – I’m off to Malaysia again in July so more stories for you. Thanks again for your kind words
Good one Heather. You have hit several nails squarely on the head. When I travel and have great experiences I cannot but help wanting to write about them. And tell stories. A recent North Island trip is a case in point. I reckon, in Wellington, I got most of your summer. Keep up the good work.
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Thanks Roy … you sound like me as I can’t help but write about our wonderful world😀
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