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Bucket List & Beyond: 6 Gag-Worthy Travel Writing Clichés

As much as I like travel, I dislike most travel writing. Publishing is easy these days, and that allows a lot of hacks to get their voices heard. You get lots of overwritten descriptions and ludicrous praise, all leaning on the same old clichés.

Many decent writers have compiled lists of travel writing clichés. They’re poked fun at them, skewered them, begged other writers to just please stop. But new ones abound! These are some of the latest I’ve spotted floating in the travel writing toilet.

Staycation – The first time I saw this, it was a clever commentary on an American economy that made it hard for many people to travel. Now it’s just a tool for hospitality-industry marketing stooges to entice people in a given city to take advantage of some sort of deal at their properties. Take Phoenix: It has no leisure travel during the summer, so hotels chirp about discounted “staycations” to put swimsuit-clad butts into their pools. And now the travel writing industry is continues to ride it hard.

Bucket list – A movie starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson inflicted this morbid phrase on us. Now it’s ubiquitous as “My Big Fat Greek (Whatever)”. Not only is it a sign of a creatively bankrupt writer, but it’s also a great excuse to procrastinate. Instead of a bucket list, make yourself a “next trip” list. It’s far more motivating. And you won’t sound like another woolly voice bleating about your bucket list.

Explore – I shudder everytime a travel article exhorts me to “explore” a destination. Look, I don’t care how remote or off the beaten path you travel: If it has signs posted or a travel article about it, someone else discovered, explored, mapped and catalogued it. Not you. “Explore” is a slab of self-aggrandizement marinated in ego. You’re not Admiral Byrd or Sir Edmund Hillary. Get over it.

Top/Best/Most Lists – I’m guilty of making lists. And I’ll own up to using Top/Best/Most/Whatever. But then I realized something: There is no legit way to quantify the best of anything. You might be able to get away with most popular, best attended … or something like that if you have the data. Otherwise, just tell me about 10 great glacier hikes or your 5 favorite themed hotel or 7 overnight hikes I shouldn’t miss.

Savvy traveler – Google this term. You’ll get 217,000 results. “Savvy” means you’re in your comfort zone. Put me anywhere in Asia, and I am not savvy. I’ll get by. But I’ll stumble and bumble and gain some humility. You can’t earn that perspective when you’re in a place that allows you to be “savvy.” And another thing: No travel article can make you savvy – only going somewhere, getting lost, digging your way out and connecting with the place will make you have a clue.

Guilty pleasures – I hate the idea that anyone should conceal what makes them happy for fear of being judged. That defines a guilty pleasure: “If my hipster fans find out I’d rather listen to old Warrant ballads than The Antlers, they won’t think I’m smart and cool.” Bollocks to them, then. If you love going to Las Vegas or going on cruises … well, you and I probably won’t be travel buddies. But that’s OK – there are all sorts of destinations and activities for all kinds of people. Go have fun and don’t worry about what I or anyone else thinks about it. Well, unless you’re making your bucket list and checking it twice …

8 thoughts on “Bucket List & Beyond: 6 Gag-Worthy Travel Writing Clichés

  1. WanderingJustin

    Don’t hang your head TOO much … everybody does it. And that’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it? My advice – if it’s the title of a movie, do something to twist the phrase and make it your own.

    Of course, I’m guilty of riding The Most Interesting Man in the World meme into the ground. I just can’t help it. I love those commercials!

  2. Nichole L. Reber

    You’re right about “savvy” + “explore”. OVerall I totally agree with you about these cliches. These are the same types of writing that appears in most of the glossies that I used to want to get into. Then after researching them to determine where my own writing would fit I found most all they covered was luxury, tourist, and banal. I’ve had travel sites approach me for potential commissions, saying they wanted something “off the beaten track” and when I tell them about places X, Y, and Z in China, India, or Peru, they say, “well, that’s TOO off the beaten track”. I don’t apologize for having no interest in the Great Wall of China or Machu Picchu. I’m a contrarian traveler. “top/best/most” lists don’t appeal to me– although if you gave me one of those lists about the Best Places to Find Art Deco architecture in South America, I’d give it a glance.

    Keep ranting, Justin!

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