Our travel memories are a rich and diverse array of stories collected from the road. The afternoon spent watching sea lions sun themselves on the beach in the Galapagos Islands. Being completely mesmerized as an artisan paints fine details across a Venetian mask, explaining how this is a family tradition going back several generations. Running through a long list of tunes with new friends in one of Seoul’s many singing rooms.
As travel writers and bloggers, these are the moments we cherish and want to share with other people through our work. But regardless of the outlet you’re writing for — whether it’s your own platform or a popular international magazine — the choices you make when sharing these travel stories matter.
What you include and exclude, the words and images you choose, the point of view you use, the voices you seek out and stories you amplify, the content structure you select. All of the decisions you make can influence where people will travel, as well as their expectations, perceptions, decisions, and actions throughout the entire travel experience.
A lot can go incredibly right in this transfer of knowledge…but a lot can go wrong, too. This is why it’s important to be a mindful and responsible travel writer.
But what, exactly, does that look like in the context of your work? There are three main aspects to consider as you go about your writing to ensure it is done in the most mindful, respectful, and equitable way possible.
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Pillar #1: Decisions Made for Background Context and Coverage
Before you ever put a single word on the page, you will make decisions that will affect your storytelling. This includes things like conducting background research, deciding who to interview and what questions to ask, and thinking about story angles and themes — all while navigating potential conflicts of interest!
Each of these decisions is layered with complexity. For example:
- How will you access people to interview?
- How does your privilege as a travel writer influence power dynamics and access?
- What are the consequences of choosing one story over another?
Every person on this planet has their own personal history. Your past influences how you perceive the world in front of you in the present moment. As a travel writer, that means you need to identify and acknowledge how your personal bias, perspective, and position in the world color the way you approach travel writing.
Additionally, systemic structures and global history have built a foundation of colonialism and power dynamics that you need to be aware of. A myriad of global influences is in play every time you begin shaping a piece of travel content.
Read next: Travel is a Political Act
There is no “right” way to write yourself out of a piece of travel content. What is important about this pillar of responsible travel writing is that you take a personal inventory and do the work of filling in appropriate cultural and historical context. This is as much for yourself as it is for your readers to ensure you approach your work responsibly.
You need to have a thorough understanding of how your personal history, story, and position in the world impact what you’re writing about. Then, go out of your way to do research, find diverse sources, and make adjustments while you’re on the ground. That way, once you begin writing, it appropriately represents the experiences you have, the people you include, and the destinations you visit.
Pillar #2: The Writing and Publishing Process
All the background information you gathered, the people you interviewed, the story angle you chose, and the lens through which you package all of this boils down to a predetermined word count, a few photos, and a headline.
What does it mean to act with responsibility during the writing and editing process? This requires mindful decision-making related to word choices and terminology, article formats, point of view, awareness of subjectivity, writing headlines, choosing imagery, and crafting captions.
All the choices you make during the travel writing process influence the way readers perceive and interpret what you’ve written and the imagery matched with it. This, in turn, can influence their expectations, behavior, and understanding of the places they visit. To say there is a lot riding on a thousand words, a headline, and a few images is an understatement.
Throughout the writing process, you’ll need to carefully consider and take responsibility for:
- How word choices dismantle or perpetuate clichés and stereotypes.
- How cultural nuances are interpreted.
- Alternative interpretations of terminology.
- The message you convey.
- Local people who you include, exclude, and misrepresent.
It’s also important to think about your readers. Consider the diverse readership that might be drawn to the core content of your article. Based on what you’ve written, are there readers who have been excluded? Unintentionally or not, a lot of travel content is written with young, white, privileged, able-bodied, cis people in mind. As a result, a lot of readers are left out.
This is the part of the travel writing process where you perfect the product you’re putting out into the world. Make sure it’s a piece of writing that you know upholds the highest ethical standards and invites a diverse readership in.
Pillar #3: Your Conduct as a Global Citizen
As a travel writer, you are a vital conduit of information between the destinations you cover and the people who want to learn about and travel to those destinations. Every decision you make in your work has a ripple effect and greater impact.
You might think of yourself as a travel writer, but you are so much more than that. You are also a traveler, influencer, and global citizen of the world. Your identity doesn’t live in a vacuum, and neither does your work. That means you need to think about how your decision-making as a travel writer both positively and negatively impacts the greater world.
What does this bigger-picture perspective look like?
First, it means thinking about how your decisions are reflected in the context of the climate emergency. For example, is it appropriate for you to fly around the world several times a year? Do you follow your own responsible travel advice like cutting out single-use plastics when you travel?
Additionally, it requires being cognizant of how your travel writing helps or hinders sustainable development in the destinations about which you write. For example, are you aware of your financial impact on the local community if you stay at an international hotel brand? Do you make a point to support and promote local initiatives and businesses as a writer, traveler, and citizen of the world?
It’s also important to remember that, as a public-facing writer, you are also an influencer of sorts. Your readers are aware of your actions, which means you need to translate your responsible travel writing practices into social media. Do you model environmental stewardship, cultural awareness, and social sensitivity through your social media accounts? Do you think carefully about your word, imagery, and content choices on every platform you use?
As a travel writer, you influence your audience. Your work can affect how other people travel and the choices they make on their trips. You can impact how they interact with and support local people and institutions; you can influence their environmental footprint (and its residual impact on local communities). And you can responsibly model how they should share their stories with friends and family (who may be future travelers).
As a traveler and global citizen, your decisions influence how and in what way tourism-related businesses are supported and able to thrive locally. You can affect the kinds of tour offerings other companies are likely to develop and promote. Your work can influence policies enacted to manage and mitigate environmental concerns. And your writing can further the demand created by travelers.
The choices you make in the many roles of your life matter. Do not underestimate the impact — positive or negative — you can have on this world. As a responsible travel writer, this awareness should guide your decision-making from your first moments of research to the final time you share a piece of content with readers, followers, and potential travelers.
So, what can you do next?
The past year has been undeniably difficult for travel content creators, as well as the communities they visit and promote through their work. But these past several months have also gifted us with time and perspective. We’ve had the chance to reflect upon the kind of world we’ve been living in versus the kind of world we want to live in — a safer, healthier, more equitable world that prioritizes people and the planet over profits.
When you venture back out into the world, carry this ethos into your work as a content creator. You can keep learning and improving your skills with Responsible Travel Writing: A Course for Content Creators an online, self-paced course with more than 50 lessons that provides the tools and resources you need to ensure you aren’t causing undue harm while pursuing a job you love.
Individually, we must continue building our own skill sets with a responsible and intentional focus. That effort, when taken collectively, can help lead the tourism industry as it builds back better than ever before.
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