Travel journalists! Ditch the fancy writing and just give me your travel notes…


Visual notes

© Len Kendall

Does anyone actually read those lengthy travel narratives in newspapers anymore? After all, travel features are really just a vanity in that the travel section is not written for you, the consumer, but for the advertisers who desperately need content on which to hang their product. This in turn funds the news part of the editorial mix – as Paul Bradshaw from the Online Journalism Blog reminds us in this Audioboo about the Times paywall.

I’ve been wondering what kind of travel writing/journalism a reader might actually want to read, now that the advertising imperative is pretty much defunct and traditional travel supplements on their way out.

As a consumer of travel writing, what do you actually want from a feature? Do you just read the first few pars of a lengthy travel article and then scan for the relevant bits? Or do you enjoy the poetic telling, wrapped up in a narrative, inside one particular (and privileged) writer’s experience?

Or perhaps you may just want to cut to the quick and see the summary or the travel notes? (I’m sure I’m not the only one who skips to the end of a feature to get the lowdown on whether the writer liked a place or not.)

In the interests of experimenting, as is the will of this blog, I was interested to come across Len Kendall’s series of visual note sketches taken at SXSW Interactive this year, a festival I also attended and struggled to write up because of its enormity and huge downloads of information. Above are Len’s visual notes on how to take visual notes – or you can visit his Posterous if you want to see the whole sketchnotes series.

I think they are cute but also show a mixed bag of results – some of the sketches make life very easy indeed, while others leave you hanging and full of questions. And yet…

I’m wondering if this could transfer to travel writing?

After all, travel journalists are trained to observe, collect and note experiences on a destination. And The Times has already got in on the travel sketching act in the form of George Butler’s Sketch Travel Blog –  of course, after June, the paywall means you won’t be able to see it, for free anyway.

I have a trip coming up soon to Paris. If my hands aren’t dead from taking notes at the conference I’m attending, then I might attempt to do create visual notes rather than write up a feature. I imagine it will look kind of like an ‘essay plan’.

We’ll see. Any further suggestions on how to ‘do’ travel writing differently, I love to hear ’em.

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5 responses to “Travel journalists! Ditch the fancy writing and just give me your travel notes…

  1. Really like the visual notetaking. For me, I like to find out how the place might make me feel, rather than excessive facts, such as the overall ambience and what makes it relaxing, exciting…

    Having said that, key facts, kept short, are very welcome – how hot, is the beach really sandy or not, quiet or noisy, busy or quiet.

    And, always, the photos!

  2. “…travel features are really just a vanity in that the travel section is not written for you, the consumer, but for the advertisers”

    – interesting, didn’t thin about that before. Would also argue that they’re a vanity project for the writer.

    Personally I can rarely be bothered to read long travel features, in print or online. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m just not bothered in the detailed travel experience of someone I don’t know, who is also probably on an organised press trip. Unless it’s particularly funny or unusual.

    The alternative? Surely it just can’t be endless lists of ‘best for…’ or ‘top ten…’

  3. I’m for anything that gets away from the creeping brain death of those endless Top 10-style features. I’d rather read my shopping list for Tesco. I’m always won over by great photography to accompany a travel piece and the Sketch Travel Blog is a nice idea – but nobody will see it after that paywall goes up and readership of the Times gets flushed down the toilet.
    How to do it differently? Integrate audio and video content. The 1000-word feature becomes 400wds plus multimedia add ons. Well, maybe.

  4. Hey David! I know – isn’t it great. The Times is opening up a lot of opportunity for those who don’t have a paywall to contend with. Possibly…

    Have you seen Pictory. I love what they are doing by curating the top picture captions of a place or theme. Quite atmospheric insights I think.

  5. No, I’ll check that out now. Thanks for the tip. D