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Five Things Travel Readers Look for in a Travelogue
chillibreeze writer — Selina Sheth
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A distinct memory I have involves summertime road vacations where I, all of six, got into a solid, rusty blue Ambassador with my parents and elder brother. Off we’d clunker, Hindi film songs on the scratchy tape deck, our knapsacks fortified with supplies of cheese sandwiches and bottled water. Our destination was always a desolate country “holiday spot,” where we’d spend nights in dusty state-run tourist inns and days taking walks or paddling around a grimy lake.
Thankfully, in the 30 years since, the Indian travel industry has seen enormous exponential growth (the combined size of foreign-bound, incoming and domestic travel in 2008 crossed the 100 billion USD mark). Yet the one thought that leaps out at me – despite all our glossy tourist magazines and mushrooming travel websites – is how valuable and rare a well-written travelogue really is.
The basics have always been in place. It’s mandatory – and obvious – to find information on a destination’s geography, history, climate, local culture and lifestyle. Thrown in are affordable air fares and hotels, popular restaurants and shopping areas, scenic attractions and recreational activities. Along with this, travel writing nowadays does a masterful job of selling you a reason to experience a new environment (family bonding, an awful boss, plain old wanderlust), and you’ll find this accompanied with poetic text and enticing visuals.
But is this enough? I – the perennial reader – would address fellow travel writers and give them a few tips on what turns a travelogue from merely satisfactory into a document as important as one’s passport.
1. VALUE ADD. Prominent landmarks and selling points of an area are often common knowledge to the average traveler. So go off the beaten track and share little-known gems! The Duomo in Milan is a cultural and architectural marvel, but not many tourists know that right behind it, is a vibrant flea market with fantastic bargains on Sunday mornings.
Alongside, make sure you offer “something for everyone” – even if the destination is known for just a single key attraction like adventure sports or a historical monument. This involves a bit of research, but then you’ll be able to sell a spa retreat even to families with screaming kids - as long as you’re able to point out that there’s a bustling Mall Road with pony rides nearby.
Another way of value-adding is to suggest mini-itineraries that target diverse budgets and interests. A yuppie couple with only a weekend to visit a busy metro will appreciate just the major highlights – the main sights, a good restaurant or nightclub, a hotel with internet facility. Similarly, a group of college history-majors would want to know more about an area’s cultural sites and cheap ways of getting around, less about a five star hotel and gourmet cuisine.
Lastly, build in an event or seasonal attraction to entice potential travelers. A four day trip to Rajasthan is exciting when pegged around the annual Jaipur Literary Festival in January and Goa is beautiful in the off-season monsoon (not to mention a lot cheaper and quieter).
2. PERSONALIZE THE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE. Like a good film or book, travel is meant to appeal to our sense of drama and imagination. If you’re writing about your experience of swaying through the Kerala backwaters, make your reader feel every bit of it – from the smell of the balmy air to the gentle sounds of the river at night. If you’re relating a spiritual journey to the Himalayas, share how you started out (maybe cynical), what affected you (the mist every morning over the mountain tops), how it changed you in some profound way (it’s made you forever respect the powers of nature). Describe actions, events and people in your journey as if you were narrating a fascinating story with real characters. And don’t stick to conventional text formats - a travelogue written as a daily diary or as a personal, stylized essay can make the dullest of places come alive. Or a piece written from an original perspective – undercover detective, out-of-town chef – can add a dash of mystery and a dose of humor to any experience.
3. PEOPLE MAKE THE PLACE. Travel is never about inanimate monuments or glimpses of scenery. The skin of the local culture and the personal warmth and idiosyncrasies of its people are what we really want to get under. A good travelogue should inform the reader of the social and personal habits of a population (Romans eat late and like to dance, for instance, while Punjabis like a good Patiala peg and zany gossip) – being aware in these ways often leads to real friendships formed whilst traveling.
If describing a distant or little-known culture to the reader, a travel writer must take care to include basic DOs and DON’Ts when it comes to social behavior. A conservative community in South India will be offended by women wearing shorts in public (or anywhere near a temple), and similarly, a European host may feel slighted if one turns up late for a dinner invitation without any explanation.
4. CONSTANTLY UPDATE. I’ve had too many trips ruined simply because printed information is outdated, misspelled or misrepresented. While it’s important for readers themselves to cross-check facts before traveling, it’s easy for travel writers to provide updates or changes in information if they are attached to a regular publication or website. Let your readers know when hotels close down for a season, when restaurants go out of business or suddenly cost through the roof and when important local attractions are no longer offered. It spares the reader time, money and disappointment and makes your word and opinion all the more credible for the future.
5. NEVER OVER-HYPE. Most travelogues fall into the trap of promising paradise. Sadly, what this means is we, the readers, will find ourselves searching for that beautiful, photographic view when in reality, all we see around for miles is a plastic-filled garbage dump. Travel writers must tell the truth and not be afraid of pointing out flaws. Creating high and unrealistic expectations will only lead to disillusionment – and a decision for readers to stay home the next time holidays roll around.
Chillibreeze's disclaimer: This is a contributed article and was published on Chillibreeze in February, 2010. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of Chillibreeze as a company. Chillibreeze has a strict anti-plagiarism policy. Please contact us to report any copyright issues related to this article. The relevance of the facts and figures cited (if any) could change after a period of time.
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