Travail of the Travel Writer
Imagine this if you will – you have just returned from a glorious trip to
Europe, you are all excited and want the whole world to read about the
beautiful places you’ve seen. You sit at your word processor, (must not use
a typewriter [what do you mean, pad and pencil?] in these modern times!) and
try to earn some money so the trip becomes deductible if not profitable, and
so the IRS will believe this is a business, not just a hobby.
First, find a subject. Just to write about some beautifully interesting
building, festival, village, or country is not enough. Time must be spent
in research and in reading articles that have already been printed – maybe
you will get an idea of what will hit the editor’s select button.
You read where someone visited Prague and all he remembered were the beer
bars, and it almost makes you cry. When it dawns on you that article hit
some editor’s “select” button, you really do cry! Can that be for real?
Visit Prague and write about beer bars! What about the Charles Bridge, what
about the old Jewish Cemetery, then there is the St. Vitus Cathedral and the
The neighbors are invited for a showing of some of the slides taken during
the trip. Now the enthusiasm can show, with voice, body language and the
picture all combining to tell the story. It’s interesting to hear the
comments and see the excitement of someone who last visited Venice 30 years
ago, and now has the opportunity to visit again through your slides and
description. But how do you write that in fifteen hundred words or less?
Some people ask to see the slides another time and that makes you feel
really great, until your daughter says they probably just wanted an early
Part of the problem is that the English language will not cooperate in the
description of what you have seen. If you write about the Notre-Dame
Cathedral of Boulogne, France with its Italian dome, and the St. Petronius
Basilica in Bologna, Italy with its French (Gothic) dome, it is important to
remember that the same vocabulary must be used to describe two buildings
that are extremely different. Words like Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic,
Renaissance, and Baroque describe the differences, other words describe the
If you describe a “thousand” year old city surrounded by a high stone wall
with gates, with cobbled streets, a beautiful cathedral – a city still
alive with stores, banks, churches and schools for the residents, are you
describing Carcassone, Dubrovnik, or Rothenburg? Or perhaps Urbino, Italy;
Sarlot, France; York, England; or maybe Toledo, Spain. Could be one of the
several hundred other towns and villages that fit that description in
England, Italy, France, Germany and other European countries. They really
are very different to the eye, but the English language doesn’t know that.
Come to think of it, your impression will more likely reflect the weather on
the Tuesday you visited, than the skill of the builders a thousand years
When you see lovely old towns with beautiful homes, huge churches, castle
ruins, ancient bridges, and shopping streets, you wonder if the architect
designed that beauty, or if the builder just built according to the style of
that day, and the beauty “is in the eye of the beholder.”
Many travel articles describe just one location or even one little part of a
location or one little activity at that part of a location. That may be okay
for a reader who hasn’t traveled there yet, but for those who have been
there and are dying to return, they want to read about the whole place.
Isn’t it interesting that travel books, articles, and pictures are usually
of more interest to the traveler who has already been there, than they are
to those who have yet to leave home?
The eye can see and the heart can love what the word cannot describe! Now
about that select button…
For thousands of photos and tidbits from Jim & Emmy’s travels through Europe, visit Travel Tidbits.