Stylistic Approaches to Travel Writing

A look at some of the most commonly used styles and formats of travel narratives, complete with a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using them.

There are countless ways to approach writing the story of your personal travels to another city or country, and the style you choose will greatly depend on your audience and your intended effect. Before you start retelling the stories of your incredible foreign journeys, consider some of the most common styles of travel narrative, and the effects they have on the reader.

Diary/Journal Travel Narratives

More popular in classic travel writing than more contemporary works, the diary/journal travel narrative reads as exactly that: a diary or travel journal. These narratives are typically comprised of a day-to-day look at the writer’s travels, and are most often written in the first person, recounting the day’s happenings in an immediate and often informal way.

While diary/journal narratives do offer the reader a very immediate and personal experience, they can also run the risk of becoming monotonous, therefore losing the interest of the audience. This often happens because the writer is separating each day of their travels with a heading including the date of the entry and the geographical location in which it was written. As a result, the reader gets stuck in a repetitive pattern and the narrative loses its arc.

Diary-style narratives also bring a lot into question in terms of how much of the diary has been edited out before the publishing process took place. Most readers would expect to glean a lot of personal, emotional knowledge and experience from these types of narratives, but often, they are just the opposite: methodical and almost journalistic. This type of editing, if not specifically pointed out to the reader by the author, can seem almost like a betrayal, so it’s something to watch out for.

After-the-Fact Travel Narratives

These are travel narratives that are written by the traveler after they have completed their journey and have returned to their normal life. They may be written even years after the travel was completed, and are often based on memory, rather than journals or notes kept by the writer.

The benefit of writing a travel narrative after the fact, of course, is that you can give yourself a lot of time to reflect on your experiences, and even to see how they have affected the way you now live your life. You may also want to complete travels to a few different places before compiling a narrative, if you are looking at countries from a certain region of the world, for example, and doing so could take a period of months or even years.

Another benefit as a writer of writing after the fact is that you can put a specific slant on the piece, using your travels in order to make a point that you want your readers to keep with them long after reading your work. Rather than giving your audience a day to day account of what happened, then, you can focus in on incidents that have to do with a specific topic. This would be helpful if you wanted to write on the treatment and social status of women in Australia and New Zealand, for example.

Once again, these narratives will bring into question the amount of editing that has been done in order for the writer to achieve their desired effect. If you are going to dramatize certain events, and draw attention to specific elements of your travels, you may want to tell your audience outright in the form of a forward or introduction. In doing this, you avoid leaving the reader feeling misled by the initial expectation of a memoir-style journey.

Journalistic Travel Narratives

Journalistic travel narratives are often written in a much more practical, matter-of-fact way, the way a newspaper of magazine article would be. Although they can be written in the first or third person, they focus in more on factual information rather than the personal, emotional experiences of the traveler. These types of travel narratives read more like essays than they do a memoir.

Journalistic narratives are an excellent way to explore a number of topics, from the effect of the economic boom in Ireland on the countryside to the near-extinct languages of the aboriginal peoples of Australia. They do, however, keep the reader at an arm’s length, since they exclude the writer’s emotional response to the travel, so writing in a journalistic way is not effective if you are trying to convey your personal feelings towards your journey.

Now that you have an outline of the different styles you can use to write your very own travel narrative, it’s time to get out there and see the world!

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