31 Oct The Ongoing Evolution of Travel Writing
As technology changes, so does the way we travel and the way we share our stories. From backpacking around the world to sunning ourselves in an all-inclusive resort, travel is becoming increasingly affordable and accessible.
The way we document our travels is evolving rapidly, with smartphones and tablets keeping us connected. Now, traditional literature shares its crown with an increasing tide of travel blogs online.
How we tell the tale
Travel writing has never been about simple fact-sharing. Since before search engines and apps began offering us instant access to information, travel copywriting has always been about making a connection with a destination. Traditionally, it has fallen into two main categories:
- Travel guides – containing practical information, tips and advice for people visiting a particular place
- Travelogues – real-life stories about somebody’s journey, with an itinerary style and/or clear narrative
Authors like Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux capture the imagination with wit and humour, painting colourful pictures of the places they explore, while Lonely Planet writers focus on the “where”s and “how”s of getting around in a new locale. Browse the travel section of any bookshop and you’ll find journal-style pieces alongside literary tomes with an emphasis on style and structure, lined by A-Zs and Rough Guides.
But even the practical stuff is still made personal. Emotive, imaginative language is used to embellish those lists of things to do and places to eat, stirring up feelings and flavours in the mind’s eye. Historically, travel writing has had to paint clear pictures of unknown destinations for those who might never go themselves – and even now that we can ogle our dream destinations on Instagram, offering up personal insights remains key.
A digital age
If we want to find a place to eat, we look at TripAdvisor. If we land at the next stop with nowhere to stay, we look at HostelWorld or Booking.com. Information is instant, and though travel literature is still our accompaniment to long-haul flights and lazy days on the beach, it’s travel bloggers we now seek out for on-the-go, up-to-date travel experience tales.
With all the key information covered in real-time updates, we want to know what other people have done and felt in our destinations of choice. Flicking through a great piece of travel literature for opinions and stories is fine, but today’s readers are impatient. Travel blogs divide guides and stories into easy-to-search-through, bitesize chunks. Better yet, you can interact with them. Keen to build an audience, many bloggers are incredibly responsive to comments and questions, turning online travel writing into a one-stop-shop for expert knowledge.
Capturing and keeping an audience
If you have a favourite travel author, the chances are you’ll go and buy their latest book regardless of whether their next destination or journey is one from your bucket list. Likewise, blogs that build a rapport with their readers achieve high levels of engagement even when posting about topics at either end of the nichey-to-overdone spectrum.
It’s hard to predict what the future of travel writing will be, except that it’s a topic which never fails to garner plenty of human interest. From broadsheets to blogs, coffee table hardbacks to Christmas stocking fillers and everything in between, it can feel like there are already countless travel copywriters pandering to every possible audience.
With the backpacking industry alone worth hundreds of billions of pounds each year and communication technology becoming more available and affordable each day, it’s easy to think that travel writing has become over-saturated to the point of no return. If everyone is writing about every destination, how do you get anyone’s interest? It all comes down to finding that new angle, a new hook or twist that hasn’t yet been covered – and making it your own.
Once more with feeling
Since records began, human beings have been telling each other stories. In Medieval travel literature, nobody really knew what anywhere else was like, so they made it up. When people like Christopher Columbus set off to discover the New World, most of them embellished heavily on the truth – because they could. More recent authors have had to make do with telling us the facts, but seen as their own experiences introduce them.
The simple hop from page to screen only means that now instead of writing 60,000 words, covering our entire journey in one thrilling narrative, we break the adventures down into 600-word, photo-laden updates.
There are still as many travel guides as there are travelogues. With the world itself changing and developing as constantly as humans and our technology, the good news is that travel writers in all mediums won’t find themselves running out of inspiration any time soon.