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Travel Writing – Can You Trust It?

travel writing

Auckland – much maligned by locals. Don’t believe them.

Kiwis hate Auckland – and I can’t figure out why. It’s scenic, relatively laid-back, full of stuff to do. So why the hate from everyone outside its city limits – and even many residents?

This makes me question my travel writing. Every single day, I think about how much I liked the cities I’ve visited. And I wonder if it’s just because it’s different. Is Reykjavik that cool, or is it just the unfamiliarity? (To be fair, Icelanders seem to love it, too). Is Sydney just another sprawling metropolis of worker bees and cubicle drones, or is it truly a world-class collective of all that’s cool?

It’s easy to fall in the trap of being just so done with your homebase – especially if it’s like Phoenix … a young city trying to establish itself, all while dealing with a good four months of scorching-hot, sap-your-soul, make-you-crazy heat. Of course Wellington will seem like Paradise. Of course I’ll want to move to Monteverde, Costa Rica. And yes, Portland starts looking better and better.

Another perfect example comes from a comment in my Phoenix Espresso News post: “True espresso in [sic] only in Naples.” That’s such closed-minded thinking. I’ll hear similar lofty proclamations from a lot of American travelers, especially college kids who recently wound up backpacking across Europe. Invariably, they’re just sucked into the glamor of drinking espresso in Italy versus, say, Flagstaff. They’re tasting the stamp on the passport, not the espresso.

Travel writers are also highly susceptible – we got lured into the unfamiliar. Some get so roped in that they’ll extol the virtues of even the most unlovable parts of their destinations (I now read the word “vibrant” as “ramshackle, crowded and dirty” thanks to travel writing cliches). And we want to say something that grabs your attention.

So how can anyone avoid the hyperbole? Like this: Figure out the specifics. What did you see that you wish you could bring home with you? What’s an innovation that goes unnoticed and unconsidered back home? Put the details in your writing. Be specific. It’s a lot better than just calling it great, amazing or beautiful and moving on.

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