Travel Writing is a LOT Like Writing a Journal Entry
Image Credit: Ketut Subiyanto
By William Ballard
For anyone who's ever kept a journal or diary, ask yourself this: Why did you keep that journal in the first place?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I have reason to believe that it was done in order for you to relive a certain memory or event. And as you write that entry into your journal or diary, what you are actually doing is making a note of what you feel in that particular situation or moment.
And, in so doing, it requires you to activate your five senses (I’ll talk more about that in a few).
Who is The Audience of a Journal Entry?
In the first installment of The Ultimate Travel Writer’s program, there are quite a few lessons on knowing your audience and knowing what emotional triggers appeal to that audience the most.
Anyone that has ever gone through a writing course would know that whenever you try to write to everyone, you end up writing to no one.
This is why, in most writing courses, instructors always teach their students that whenever you sit down to write, you should write as if you are speaking directly to one person, and person only -- especially when it comes to writing persuasive copy. In essence, you imagine that person (that reader) sitting right in front of you, as if you are talking to them over a cup of coffee.
With that said, when it comes to writing a journal entry or keeping a diary, the audience you are most likely writing to is yourself. So that would then leave us with this question: What are the emotional triggers that appeal to YOU the most?
What a Security Officer Can Teach You About Writing Descriptions
Before becoming a freelance travel writer and copywriter, I spent the majority of my professional life in the security industry. For anyone who is not familiar with this particular field, there is really only ONE thing that encompasses all of what a security officer does, and that is to “observe and report.”
In chapter six of The Ultimate Travel Writer’s program there is a section about the art of painting word pictures, of which, touch on this very point about becoming an observer on high alert.
You see, in the security space, similar to that of a journalist, security officers are required to always have on them a note pad for taking what is known as “field notes" -- in fact, this particular item is considered part of their uniform.
As a freelance travel writer, we too should look at having a note pad and pencil as being a part of our “uniform.” If you think about it, you could even look at these field notes as being similar to that writing an entry into a journal or diary.
Now, as a security officer, when it comes to writing field notes, we are required to observe and take note of everything that is going on around us in order for us to write adequate descriptions and report our findings.
If we are describing a person, and what that person did, we have to be specific with those descriptions. We have to take note of what a person is wearing, what ethnicity they are, whether they are tall or short, big or small, and so on.
To Be a Better Travel Writer, Engage Your Five Senses
However, when it comes to travel writing, we are not necessarily reporting on a person, but rather a place. And where travel writing goes one-step further than normal field note taking, we are required to activate all of our five senses.
You see, as human begins, we are all triggered by the engagement of our five senses. What we smell, what we taste, what we feel (touch), what we hear, as well as what we see. Mentally, we record it all.
In fact, science has proven that our memory is triggered by our five senses. If you were to smell a particular scent, because of the way our brain works, that smell is more likely to trigger a memory, of which, will automatically bring you back to that place where that memory was produced.
That is what travel writing is really all about – at least, to me. It’s about experiencing a place fully -- with all senses engaged -- and then reporting on that experience through emotional driven content.
Actually, it is more than just content.
Let it put it to you like this: There's a BIG debate going on online about content being king. But if you were to ask me, content isn’t king, but context is. You see, there's a lot of "content" out there, but not all of it contains true valuable substance.
To that end, when it comes to being a travel writer, and writing effective descriptions, it is important to get to the “heart of the matter" fairly quickly.
When you are able to bring that emotional element (the one that encompasses all of the five senses) into your piece, not only do you bring awareness to a new vacation spot that a reader may not be familiar with (provide content), but you also impact them at a heart level (share the context) – and that has more of a powerful affect than just providing unemotional descriptive content.
I don't know if you believe this or not, but to me, life is a journey. And the most valuable worth of that journey is in sharing the experiences that have changed or altered your life.
When most people think of journals or diaries, they think of something that holds secrets or hidden thoughts. But it is these thoughts, these ideas, these experiences, that make us who we are.
Jim Rohn was once asked, "Why would anyone want to buy a blank book (a journal) for $30?" He responded by saying, "Because it is a book that you get to write. And it is up to you to produce content and information that would be worth $30 or more."
He went on to say that some of the most valuable assets that he would be leaving to his kids would be the ideas that they would have access to from his journals.
Don't think of a journal or diary as something that you hide secrets in... think of it as a life-changing book, that once filled, becomes an invaluable resource that you have contributed to those around you, as well as the universe as a whole.
That is how I view travel writing, I am journaling the experiences I have on the adventures I take, and then I am sharing them with you here. In essence, you get to take the trip with me.