Module JD160

Travel Journalism

Module author

Tim Hannigan


Learning objectives

After you have completed this module, you will be able to:

  • Have a firm understanding of what travel writing is, and how it breaks down into different categories;
  • Understand the historical and cultural contexts of travel writing, and know how it has developed from the distant past to the present day;
  • Have a solid grounding in the practicalities of travel journalism, from research and planning articles, to structuring, writing and pitching;
  • Have an understanding of the travel writing industry, and a recognition of how its commercial imperatives impact on travel writers;
  • Recognize some of the major critical issues and ethical considerations that surround travel writing, and be in a position to think about how to address them as a practitioner.

Chapter 1: Travel Writing Contexts
1.1 Terms and definitions
1.2 Time travel: the history of travel writing
1.3 Travel categories

Chapter 2: Categories and Audiences
2.1 The three paths of travel writing
2.2 The different types of travel journalism

Chapter 3: Conveying Place
3.1 Describing place
3.2 The elements of place writing
3.3 Traveling people
3.4 Researching history 
3.5 Pace and place

Chapter 4: The features of the feature
4.1 Magazine contents
4.2 Word-counts
4.3 Key elements
4.4 Intros and outros 
4.5 History, culture, and people
4.6 Finding a theme
4.7 Pre-planning and post-planning

Chapter 5: Travel Markets
5.1 Running free
5.2 Outlets for travel writing
5.3 The demands of advertisers and readers
5.4 Pitching

Chapter 6: Travel Writing Issues
6.1 Critical issues
6.2 Meeting the Other
6.3 Respecting the Other
6.4 Truth and travel

Chapter 7: Travel Writing Futures
7.1 Looking back
7.2 The death of the guidebook
7.3 Travel literature and travel journalism
7.4 New forms

Study points 2
Preview Travel Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that Travel Journalism is important

Travel writing has a long, rich history and important place in the tradition of journalism. Merchants who forged along centuries-old trade routes wrote of faraway lands and fantastical cultures, which inspired explorers such as Marco Polo and Lewis and Clark to map unknown lands and recount tales of discovery. Pioneers like Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, though widely divergent in their methods, were cultivated by the growing genre of travel writing, having contributed many important pieces of travel literature and paved the way for travel writers of today, such as Bill Bryson, Tim Cahill, and Susan Orlean.

Travel journalism upholds the practice of capturing colorful, exotic places, important or perhaps historical events, and people from all walks of life by documenting with the written word and photography. Travel journalists have a fuller appreciation for the places to which they travel and are responsible for some the greatest and most widely read creative non-fiction of the past several centuries.


Why study Travel Journalism?

The landscape of journalism has shifted drastically in recent years. Today's economic environment has provided travel journalists more opportunities to publish travel writing and has made conducting supplementary research more accessible as well. The modern travel journalist is expected to have an understanding of global events, has the desire to travel and experience new places and cultures, and possesses the knowledge, technique and skill to narrate a journey.

As the liaison between the press and the public, a travel writer is in the important position of translating worldly events and experiences into journalistic content for print in newspapers and magazines, but also for radio, television and the internet. Travel journalists have a crucial place in an informed society. They are the ones on the front lines, investigating and uncovering crucial information, the ones who can see beyond just the superficial. A good travel journalist requires stamina, an observant eye, a talent for descriptive language, and can tailor their voice to a variety of different publications and audiences. In short, it is the travel writer's job to go to remote corners of the world, to record global happenings, and to keep the population informed and aware.

Great travel writing is important for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it allows readers to form connections, whether to people or places or events, which would otherwise only be accessible to them in their wildest dreams and imaginations. The travel journalist puts the new, the exotic, the exciting right in the readers' hands, sharpening their perceptions of that which is out of reach. Travel writing provides enrichment and expands horizons. It allows people to conceive of new things and think in new ways.


Overview of the module

This module on travel journalism is designed to be an overview of the development, principals, and important techniques of travel writing. Upon completion of the module, you will have a firm understanding of what travel writing is and how it breaks down into different categories. Further, you will understand the historical and cultural contexts of travel writing and be aware of its development from the distant past to the industry that it is today.

This course unit will provide you with a solid understanding of the practicalities of travel journalism, from researching and planning articles to structuring, writing, editing and pitching them. You will be provided with many essential tools for travel writing, such as an awareness of the Other, ways to respectably and accurately describe people and places, and how to write captivating travel pieces. You will gain thorough knowledge of the travel writing industry and be able to recognize the impact commercial imperatives have on travel writing. And finally, you will recognize major critical issues and ethical considerations that travel writing entails, and accordingly be in a position to think about how to address them as a practitioner.

The module is designed to provide you with a foundation of historical, theoretical, and practical knowledge so that you may be a confident, competent travel writer and journalist in the information age. Over the course of seven chapters, we will examine travel journalism and its various perspectives in some depth and define what it means to be a travel journalist.

To start, we will discuss the context of travel writing at different points in its history and identify the principal categories of travel writing. We will discuss guidebooks and how-to travel writing, fact-based travel journalism and reporting, and travel literature such as essays and personal travel narratives. We will identify the ways in which these categories of travel writing are different, but also the ways in which they are similar and related. Next, we will focus on the basic skills necessary to writing about travel, which includes practical applications and methods of research required for travel journalism. You will be taught elements of place writing including how to accurately capture the essence of a variety of different places, appropriate forms of place description, and how to incorporate relevant historical information into your descriptions.

We will spend time looking at the feature article, which is the central form in travel journalism, and will discuss ways to pick a theme, pre-planning and post-planning, writing effective intros and outros, how your feature will appear in magazines and in newspaper supplements, and other key features. Another important discussion will be the marketplace in which travel writing appears and will involve crafting pitches, considering the reader in your writing, and looking particularly at the effects commercial imperatives have on practitioners.

After pausing to consider some of the ethical and critical issues faced by today's travel journalists, we will single out the more important of those issues in order to discuss some effective ways to overcome them. We will discuss the Other, such as who they are, how to portray them accurately and respectfully, and other considerations to writing truthfully. Finally, after reviewing key concepts of the module, we will discuss reasons why the travel guidebook is becoming less common while considering how travel literature and journalism are continuing to evolve in the 21st century as well as new forms of travel writing to consider.