What Travel Writing Should Be

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I have been absolutely riveted by Richard Bangs story on his Tour of Libya for Slate.com.

As much as I may like to fancy myself a travel writer, I’ve certainly got a lot to learn from Bangs and others who occasionally write engaging pieces.

Last year, I tried querying Tom Swick of the South Florida Sun Sentinel with several article ideas. All were rejected, sadly, but he did direct me to read his article that details what makes a good travel story. Hopefully he won’t mind if I post it here – maybe he’ll get better queries from us so-called travel writers.

Roads Not Taken
by Tom Swick

Why is so much travel writing so boring? Why on Monday morning do people talk about an op-ed piece they read in the Sunday paper, or a sports column, or a magazine essay, or a feature profile, but rarely a travel story? Why do the travel magazines, lavish with tips and sumptuous photographs, leave us feeling so empty? (Journalism’s tiramisu.) Why has the travel book become a rich literary domain while the travel story has not?

One simple answer is that Travel is not a high priority at any newspaper. Like Food, Fashion, Home & Garden, it is far removed from the main business of reporting the news. Yet the Travel section has enormous potential precisely because of its life of low expectations. It need not adhere to the strictures of journalism that govern the rest of the newspaper — brevity, clarity, distance; instead it can accommodate leisurely, nuanced, occasionally passionate writing. Because it is not the most important section of the paper — quite the contrary — it can experiment, take risks, have fun. It should — by virtue of its generous space, deadlines, and subject matter — feature the best writing in the newspaper.