Travel Writing Practices

Back in the TKT Lab, Zoe and I often bemoan the lack of a single good book on how to write travel literature. Zoe is compiling and editing a collection of research papers on the subject at the moment (Roberts 2016). Of course, hidden away in collections and anthologies we have found a chapter by Tim Hannigan.  Spending a day writing with Tim is easily equal to reading a writing manual in itself.


Tim Hannigan and Zoe Roberts at the Place Writing Conference in the TKT Lab at Plymouth

And manuals do exist, Nomadic Matt offers a set of PDFs along with his travel blogging course.  But what we seek, I think, is an academic approach for use at university, I imagine it would have examples of travel writing, in clearly annotated extracts with a commentary on how each component can create place or communicate the emotions of the travel writer as she encounters the next step in her journey.  That is why I would include in a chapter on opening paragraphs, the one from Carole’s Dog Blog, post number 8, I quote at length to make my travel writing points:

‘After two days in Nicosia I begin my journey to Paphos and choose to go via the B9 motorway through the Troodos mountains, rather than the quicker A1.  I drive West, passing the old airport, and then sweep south, the mountains spread out before me, past the roadside pottery sellers and through the strip villages.  Eventually the road increases in steepness and pine clad the slopes.  I pass through the wine region, with its billboards offering free tasting.  I reach a crossroads; one road leading to Troodos (and Mount Olympos, the highest point in Cyprus), the other to Limassol.  I stop at a roadside café and drink a Cyprus coffee.  The air is cool and fresh and the pines thicker, obscuring the treacherous slopes.  Occasional deciduous trees add surprising sparks of orange, a reminder that it’s November.  A group of aging British bikers arrive and order tea and chips.’  (Baker 2015)

She provides the visitors who might be following her journey with enough signpost detail to plot her route, naming road names and places of historical value like the old airport.  However, she quickly reminds her readers that this is a literary piece by using descriptive language to communicate the dramatic landscape, telling us why it is worth being here.  Then she compresses a set of local details, eg the pottery sellers, free wine-tasting, to give her readers suggestions of what to look out for, and to do, if they pass this way.

But just rewind a sentence or two to this one:  ‘Eventually the road increases in steepness and pine clad the slopes’ (Baker 2015).  Here she gives agency to the pine trees, making them, for her readers, important subjects both, in the grammatical sense, of the imagistic verb, clad, and of the scene.  The pine have clothed the slopes, no human intervention here.  She also avoids using ‘There is’ or ‘There are pines here’ the ultimate in non-agency in writing, a phrase that Derrida considers at length.  So you see how such a book might sound.  You can take a closer look at Carole’s post here


Baker, C. (2015) ‘Dog Blog’ in Brunt, P., Busby, G., Mansfield, C., and Wheeller, B. (eds.) (2015) Travels in Search of, Plymouth, TKT [online] Available at [Accessed 28.11.15].

Hannigan, T. (2015) Travel writing, history writing [online] Available at [Accessed 28.11.2015].

Roberts, Z. (ed) (2016) River Tourism: The Pedagogy and Practice of Place Writing, Plymouth, TKT.

Roberts, Z. (2015) Bucket and Shade: Travel Writing [online] Available at [Accessed 28.11.15].

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2 comments for “Travel Writing Practices

  1. 28th November 2015 at 15:18

    I recently came across mention of a book called “The Soul of Place: A Creative Writing Workbook” by Linda Lappin. I’ve ordered a copy, but I haven’t received it yet so I can’t vouch for whether it’s any good, but it certainly sounds very interesting. As far as I can make out it’s a sort of creative-instructional piece. I’ll report back once I’ve had a look at it!

    Carole’s intro quoted here is lovely. Besides giving agency to pine trees (!), there’s an excellent balancing of general sweeps of physical movement – “past the roadside pottery sellers and through the strip villages … through the wine region…” – with the smaller, more precise moments: “I stop at a roadside café and drink a Cyprus coffee … A group of aging British bikers arrive and order tea and chips.”

    That’s a great technique in effectively recounting a journey – broad strokes conveying big landscapes and hours of travel, offset with the minute, the momentary…

    • 29th November 2015 at 19:47

      Thank you for that follow-up posting, much appreciated. I am fascinated by the book, and writing teacher you mention, Linda Lappin. I await your verdict. I looked it up on Amazon and from the page was led to this organisation, EACWP – it could be a useful group to try to work with to develop our travel writing conferences. I’ve written to them and will let you know the outcome.

      I’m particularly excited to find French groups running writing ateliers among the members of the EACWP, since my post-doctoral project is to write about the towns of the Loire Valley in this blog here on eserve. I have found and been to one French writing workshop, run by Catherine Marc in Quimper. There is a link to them on our TKT LAB site, url below. It was very useful. Some great teaching ideas, including journaling your day with a haiku, quite mathematical.

      Linda Lappin’s site and the book we are talking about

      Graham Busby, who posts here on eserve, tells me you are running a writing workshop, over on the other side of the Tamar. Or has it already taken place? Please post a link to the page if there is one.

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