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Travel Writing, Travel Journalism, and Travel Blogging (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?)

Travel writing, travel journalism, and travel blogging. How do they differ? Are they really the good, the bad, and the ugly? If I was a bit fuzzy about each of them before, I no longer am. Within just a couple of weeks, I attended two somewhat related events: one was Bradt Travel Writing event – organized by Travellers’ Tales, and another was Travel Blogging event at Intrepid (both in London). What did I learn?

Travel Writing

Travel writing is the epitome of written work on travel. It can either be an article or a book. It is honed to perfection in literary sense, has narrative drive, and a good shape/structure with beginning, middle, and ending. It’s the type of writing that wins writing competitions and gets published in traditional sense (book, newspaper). Classic examples include writers like Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson. Also check out the winner of Bradt travel writing competition: The Pyrenees: A close encounter of the wild kind by Julia Bohanna – published by the Independent – to know what kind of quality is expected.

While I love the idea of travel writing (I’m a fiction reader after all) and I love the idea of being able to write such piece, I rarely read one. While some people get a good rush from reading a travel writing about something they may not experience themselves, I have more interest in pursuing my own experiences. I do plan to try some of the classic travel books, starting with Theroux and Bryson, but I don’t see myself reading travel articles regularly.

The Great Railway Bazaar - Paul TherouxNotes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson

Travel Journalism

Travel journalism is pretty close to travel writing in terms of how hard it is to get published, except that it is written more by following what the publication wants. In short, it is less self indulgent. You pitch story to a publication. If they like it, they ask you to write it and send it to them. Once you sell this piece, it’s no longer yours. The publication can edit it as they like.

We got the travel editor section of The Independent in our Bradt Travel Writing event who talked at length about how to pitch stories well, how they get selected, all the tips and tricks of the trade, and so on.

Again, I love the idea of travel journalism and I love the idea of being able to write it, but I rarely read one. I don’t read printed newspapers – I get all my news from the Internet. I’m also not a fan of magazines in general. Almost never buy one.

Wanderlust MagazineThe Independent banner

Guide Book Writing

I guess strictly speaking guide book writing falls under travel journalism. And interestingly this was talked about at length too at Bradt event. It makes sense since two of the speakers are from Bradt publication – who specializes in guide books for unusual places. In fact, the reason I signed up for the event was because of Hilary Bradt (the founder) herself is tutoring. I’m very happy to be able to meet her in person. She’s now in her 70s and it’s fun to imagine her younger days when she went traveling to all these exotic places not covered by any other guide books (Bolivia, Madagascar, Rwanda, Albania to name a few). To be honest I have never used Bradt guide books, because I have never been to all these off-beat destinations! But I promise I will if I go to North Korea.

Interestingly Guide Book Writing sounds like something that I can do. It does not necessarily mean writing a whole new book or chapter, but you can be a guide book updater. They basically always need people to update all those guide books – often not done by the original writers since they may be off doing something else.

I use guide books quite often, so it would be so great if I could contribute in some ways.

north korea - bradt guidemadagascar - bradt guide

Travel Blogging

Finally we got to the topic of travel blogging, which is sort of the bastard child of all of the above. It is uncontrolled, anybody can open a blog and write whatever they want. It may not lead to any income or career progression in whatever form. Does it even have merits at all?

I was slightly disappointed that the panel in Bradt Writing event did not know very much about the world of travel blogging and looked down on it as a result (they did mention travel blogging in the course outline so I kinda expected they gave some good light for it). In fact, I stood up and talked about blogging a little bit, as there were only two people in the class that have some familiarity with it (the other person was a Flight Center social media person). One rather outspoken person in the class referred to blogging as something that is only read by your mom, so she recommended instead to stalk a well-known publication and make yourself known in the comment section to get noticed if you want to write something for them.

All in all it was a great day, but not exactly ended on a high note for this travel blogger.

jumping in Paris

blogger – a wild breed?

What did I learn?

I learned a lot about how to write better – which is really my initial purpose of going to the class. Learned about all the different entries on travel writing, what might work for me and what might not.

I learned a whole world of printed publications and they’re quite fascinating. Learned that everybody is still figuring out the role of travel blogging in this whole thing.

The tutors in the class mentioned how digital/self publication would never compare with seeing your name on print. I agree with that but I also think they are two different things and we probably shouldn’t compare them. Bloggers have followers that otherwise may not be reachable by printed publications. Some travel bloggers think guide books would soon be obsolete. I don’t agree with that as I think there would always be needs for thorough guide books. Travel blogs are good for certain things but not for neatly structured and detailed information. You have to sort out the gems from the piles of junk all over the Internet yourself.

So I don’t see why printed publications and self publication online can’t play nice with each other. Like the arguments between printed books with e-books and self-publication, I believe one would never completely replace the other. I think we all have our own roles to play!

Which ones of all the above do you usually read and why?


The Traveling Reader
I left home when I was 17 and never stop exploring the world since. Most days I'm a digital technician at one of the London's biggest visual effects studio. My alternate persona writes and travels and dreams of doing these as a living. I alternately call myself Indonesian or Australian whichever is more beneficial at the time, and I've been a Londoner since 2011.