5 elements of the best travel writing

You may have gathered, I read a lot. I read rather widely, but one of my favourite topics is travel. As I’m on my own writing journey, I thought about what elements take centre stage in the best travel writing. What makes the best writing different from the just sort of interesting writing? What makes a story one that I can’t put down and then, when I have to, I rave about it? What should I aspire to?

Take you away to somewhere.

When I start reading, or pick up where I left off, I like to be drawn into the place. I like to be able to visualise what it looks like as if I was there myself. I like to imagine I smell it; I feel the temperature and the weather. Most of all, I like the descriptions of people, not in a token-ised ‘here is a Local I met who just happened to show me all around’, but rather chance encounters or my favourite: Paul Theroux-style judgements.

Make you feel like you’ve already been there and can’t wait to go back

My favourite writing makes me feel like I’m tagging along with the author, rather than just flipping through a scrap book of holiday snaps. It makes the unfamiliar, if not familiar, at least possible. It makes a place, I’ve only dreamed of accessible or a dream that could come true one day. It’s like you’ve visited, but didn’t see enough or have an old friend there whom you would like to see.

Make you want to book a ticket immediately

The best travel writing inspires me to quit my job, sell all my positions and use the money to buy a one-way ticket to wherever I’ve just been reading about. The places I’ve been inspired to go from reading include the exotic like India or Hindu Kush and the romantic like Paris and even the less exotic eg Margate. (Thank you, again, Paul Theroux.)

Inspire you to travel, even if it’s just in your neighbourhood, for now

Why did I include Margate in my list above? I mean I’m sure it’s a perfectly nice place, although I must admit I haven’t been there yet. The best travel writing makes every place seem like a possibility for adventure. You can find new things or have amazing experiences without quitting your job and buying a one-way ticket to anywhere. The best writing inspires me not just to go to amazing places, but also to find the adventures closer to home.

Show you that the world is a magical, incredible place

Just like how the best writing can inspire me to find adventures in my own neighbourhood, in exotic places  and everywhere in between, the best writing also reminds me that the world is amazing. It’s not just in a Disneyland sort of way, but the fact that there are so many cultures and so many places to see, is really just amazing. The diversity and enterprise of our species as a basic fact is incredible. The world more wonderful than any work of fiction, at least one I have written (so far).

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