Last week in an article about various forms of travel blogs I mentioned that the most popular was the travel journal which are often written by travelers posting a blurb or two about where they are, what they’re doing, and who they’re with.
I wrote that “nobody cares about these unless they are the writer’s friends and family.” Boy did I get some criticism for that! Quite a few readers commented on the post and twitter that they in fact, love those types of blogs. The most popular reason was that readers want an unbiased view from an actual traveler instead of a PR-fluffed piece or even info from a guidebook.
While I can admit when I’m wrong, I think many people took my opinion out of context or maybe we just weren’t on the same page. I still find hundreds of blogs about travel with little value because the writer isn’t focusing on their audience. In all honesty, I’m sure I am somewhat guilty of this as I used to jot down my trip reports as if they were happening to me then and there and never worried about who was going to read them. Actually, I never expected anybody to read them. Now that this site has a decent readership, for better or for worse, quite a few people read my old trip reports.
Who is your audience?
If you are writing a travel blog, publishing your trip reports, or doing any type of writing about your journeys, you want to take a step back and consider your audience. Are you writing to keep your friends and family updated on your whereabouts? Are you hoping the public will come out of nowhere to read your blog? Maybe you want other travelers to use your experience as a springboard for their own journeys. These are all things that should affect your travel blog.
If your family is the sole reader of your blog, you don’t have much to worry about. Keep them informed and you’re doing your job.
If your audience is bigger than that, you have more things to consider.
First of all, your writing needs to be clean. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but attempt to at least use proper grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Nothing takes away from your writing than when it’s plagued with errors. Also, it doesn’t need to be that colorful. I remember when teachers would force students to consult the thesaurus on every writing assignment. That helped build basic vocabulary skills and a bit of style when you were in junior high, but by this point, you should know enough adjectives to describe a person, place, or event from your travels without an abundance of colorful adjectives that some readers won’t even be familiar with.
Remember that you aren’t a public relations department. You’re simply sharing your experiences with other people. You don’t have to say that everything was perfect. Nearly every one of my travel experiences has included some type of negative experience. Not every place smells like roses, looks like paradise, or is filled with heaven-sent people. That’s reality and there is no sense in hiding it.
The travel narrative
I have to admit, I don’t consider myself a great writer so I’m trying to stay away from simply handing out writing advice. There are far better people who can do that. Instead, I want to explain what I look for when reading travel blogs and what I feel makes one stand out from the rest.
If it weren’t for reading Rolf Potts‘ compilation book of travel stories, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer, I wouldn’t have been exposed to the travel narrative which has given me a new sense of writing. As simply as I can explain, the travel narrative is a story created around your travel experience. It’s not a list of what happened where and when, but instead a piece of non-fiction utilizing characters and experiences from your travels and turning them into a stylized story. Often the characters become the centerpiece of the tale and form a personal connection between the reader and the story.
Travel narratives are just another option for publishing your travels and can appeal to readers whether they are interested in your location or not, whereas a standard journal entry likely only interested people already considering the location.
Uniqueness sets you apart from the rest
One thing I hadn’t previously considered was uniqueness, or niche travel blogging. You hear a lot about niche blogging but not necessarily related to travel.
I received several messages from people who pointed out that the main appeal to their blogs were the fact that their travels were rather unique. Heading to places like Myanmar or racing bicycles in Africa, Canada’s Adventure Couple’s blog really stands out.
Certainly, heading somewhere unique or even insane (Iraq anybody?) not only sets you apart from the thousands of blogs about Paris or London but your blog’s traffic will certainly benefit from being one of the few places for information on these places as well.
If you have. or are planning on starting a travel blog, I hope these ideas have you thinking a bit. If you have your own travel blog please feel free to share it by posting a link in the comments.