• Chris Silberston

How to be a travel writer without travelling.

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

Everyone likes a holiday. But writing copy about them is a different matter. When you’re selling the same thing as hundreds of other competitors, standing out takes more than some cleverly placed adjectives. And not every travel company can afford to send their brochure writers to Mauritius.

Travel writing has pitfalls and you see them everywhere, from major travel agents to smaller companies. Avoiding them can make up for your lack of first-hand knowledge. Here are some of the things I discovered writing a series of brochures that took me around the world – without leaving the office.

Relying on adjectives clogs up good writing

Imagine white sands and turquoise sea, fringed with palm trees. Sounds like paradise? According to the vast array of travel agents, it could be the Maldives, or Barbados, or Australia or maybe Majorca. It seems that describing a place without at least seven adjectives is impossible for some companies. Such as Thomas Cook:

Sleepy villages, hideaway beaches mixed with top-class watersports, and some of the most fun-packed nightlife in Greece, Corfu holidays are ideal for both families and couples.

While the odd adjective can boost the copy, too many can make it clunky. Some are overused and start to become nonsensical. Top-class water-sports? That’s a shame, I was looking for those middle-class water-sports, said no one ever. And sleepy villages could mean it’s full of tired people, rather than a village where you can kick back and enjoy a glass of prosecco. Verbs. That’s what makes travel writing come alive. What’s a fun-packed nightlife like? One where you tour the many bars and clubs, singing yourself hoarse at karaoke bar while dressed as Sonny and Cher.

Clichés – the travel writer’s bread and butter

Clichés are hard to cut out of your diet, but it can be done. Of course, the odd one will not doom your copy to oblivion, but liberal use of terms end up sound cheesy – and sometimes not truthful. Here’s a list of my favourites: There’s something for everyone

Off the beaten track

Paradise on earth

Turquoise sea and white sand

Location, location, location

Wish you were here

Buzzing nightlife

Be pampered in luxury

World-class accommodation

Can’t go there? Find someone who has

It would be lovely to go to every destination you have to write about, but travel companies rarely have the budget to send you. And you won’t have the time to travel the world. But there are ways you can add value to travel writing even without first hand knowledge. Order as many brochures as you can and get reading. Although, there is a rather annoying side effect from this approach, as I found out. I get regular letters and emails asking if I’m still thinking about going on a safari around India…

Have a chat

You can also talk to people. First hand experience enriches copy like nothing else. The travel specialists may not be natural writers, but they are enthusiastic about their work. They’re the ones who get the free holidays so grab their insights while you can. When they’re not arranging a tailored trip around the Maldives, they’ll always be happy to chat about the endless beaches and Thai massages. Just try not to hate them at the end.