How to Write a Real Travel "Story"
In Denver, our attendees met freelance travel writer Stan Sinberg — and spent the balance of his presentations with smiles on their faces. Stan writes mostly travel and humor pieces, and he’s seen them published in places like the Chicago Tribune, Mad Magazine, and a few men’s magazines (I’d list their names, but I’m afraid your email filter will mark us as spam since they’re really “gentlemen’s” magazines if you catch my drift.)
What I like about Stan’s writing (and, in fact, writing by Steenie Harvey and Jennifer Stevens, too) is that his articles give you a sense of a destination without quoting the thread count of the hotel’s sheets or stating facts a reader could find online or in an encyclopedia.
For the sake of illustration, I’m departing this week from our usual how-to article about travel writing or photography and am, instead, including one of Stan’s articles here below. He wrote this on his trip to Vietnam last month, and not only is it funny (which is pretty much a given coming from him) but it’s also a good example of what I just talked about: He gives you a sense for what it’s like to travel from Da Nang to Hoi An without quoting numbers about how many cars are on the road and without resorting to a generality like, “the traffic is bad.”
Take a minute to read Stan’s article below, and then scroll back up here for step-by-step guidance on how you can infuse humor and a concrete sense of place into your own travel stories:
STEP ONE: Come up with a funny travel story. If you need help, review issue “How to Write Humerous Travel Stories: Seven Ways to Ensure Something Goes Wrong On Every Trip” in our eletter archives. There Stan breaks down the elements of a funny travel story and even gives you tips for ensuring that something go wrong on your next trip so you’ll have something to laugh about later.
STEP TWO: Review Jennifer Stevens’ piece on: The Difference between the Number of Beaches and the Feel of the Soft Sand Between Your Toes. This will help you write better descriptions by appealing to a reader’s emotions rather than his sense of logic (see issue “The Importance of Specific Detail: How to Write Descriptions That Mark You As a Pro” in our online archives: www.thetravelwriterslife.com).
STEP THREE: If you own AWAI’s The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program review the travel article templates in lesson 7 for step-by-step advice on crafting your article and see lesson 15 on writing those first critical sentences. (Note: Lesson 7 is included in the very first installment of the program. If you don’t yet own the program but would like to give it a try, check out the link above and start with the installment option – meaning you’ll receive the program in pieces rather than all at once. It’s only $49 and you’ll have 30 days to return it for a refund if you’re not satisfied.)
YOUR TASK THIS WEEKEND: You signed up for this eletter because you have an interest in traveling the world and selling your stories. So get away from your computer over the next two days and head out of the house. Grab your camera and a notebook and look for something to write about.
Create a little humor, even. Think about trying something you wouldn’t normally do — there’s bound to be a funny moment or two. You’re a bit of a couch potato, you say? Try taking a hike. Not one for personal pampering? Spend a day at a spa. A self-proclaimed food snob? Taste-test the fare at your town’s local diner.
Just going out and getting started is half the battle. Promise yourself that by the time the sun sets on Sunday, you’ll have an experience you can write about. And then next week, spend half an hour a day turning your observations into a salable piece. By this time next Friday, you could have a manuscript ready for an editor.
And, of course… as always, keep me up-to-speed on your travel-writing or photography success. If you have a story to share, send me a quick note at email@example.com.
Have a great week,
Director, Great Escape Publishing
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]
HONK IF YOU LOVE HONKING
By Freelance Travel Writer Stan Sinberg in California
Unless you’re someone like a Bono who gets to traipse around the world and speak before the United Nations on issues of global importance, or you work as a volunteer in some international relief organization, you don’t often get the opportunity to make a radical change in the quality-of-life of a country you visit.
Recently I had that chance, and I…I…
Well, I should start at the beginning.
One of the most mind-blowing things about Vietnam, especially when you first arrive, is the traffic. There are no discernible rules that one can find. Traffic lanes are “suggestions,” traffic lights and stop signs are non-existent for miles at a time.
Vehicles from every conceivable direction plunge head-on into intersections or roundabouts without slowing down or acknowledging a right of way. Motorbikes, bicycles, cars and trucks all share the road equally. And in that mix pedestrians fearlessly bolt from the curb to cross the street.
Many foreigners tend to liken the action to a swarm of bees, or perhaps like members of the Borg, the race of beings from the second Star Trek series, who operated with one group mind.
What’s even more striking about it is, the constant roar of the motorbikes aside, how quiet it is.
Oh, sure, you hear the intermittent honk from a vehicle. But considering that half of these are from cruising moto drivers looking to pick up passengers, and that when you’re out in this madhouse traffic, you swear you’re going to die, oh, every thirty seconds, or so, honking is amazingly rare. Somehow, drivers know they’ll find a way through the maze.
Which brings me to Cho, my taxicab driver transporting me from Da Nang airport to the town of Hoi An, a distance of some 30 kilometers. In the course of that 40-minute trip, I estimate, without exaggeration, that Cho honked his horn 10,000 times. It’s impossible to count accurately, of course, because of the variation in honks: the short single honk, the quick ‘beep beep,” the long lay-on-the horn honk, the honk that sounds like it’s in Morse code: long-short-short-long, and a hundred other variations. But I did try to keep tabs of Cho’s honking during two separate minutes, and I daresay my estimate is not off by more than 20 percent.
Cho virtually never took one of his hands off the horn. The horn was as much a part of driving as the brakes.
He honked anytime we: approached within 25 feet of a bicyclist or motorbike; passed anyone in either direction; saw an oncoming vehicle, no matter how far off to the other side of the road it was: spotted a pedestrian on the sidewalk, whether or not he had any intention of crossing; noticed someone merging from an intersection; or if more than 20 seconds elapsed, because he was having withdrawal symptoms.
There were times he honked when there was no discernible traffic in either direction, leaving me to conclude he was honking at stationary roadside food stands, for fear, perhaps, that they’d suddenly leap out into oncoming traffic.
Cho, by the way, was not particularly high-strung, or impatient. Quite the contrary. When he attempted to speak to me in his halting English, he smiled broadly and appeared relaxed. Nor did he seem particularly concerned about his safety. His seat belt sat next to him, unworn.
But it was as if Cho thought he was driving in the Village of the Blind. Or perhaps he was under the illusion he was manning an invisible taxi. Unconvinced that anyone coming the other way could see him (which, actually, towards the end of the trip might’ve been true: darkness set in and oddly, Cho never turned on his headlights), Cho felt compelled to announce his presence to absolutely everyone via horn. The entire trip sounded not unlike a locomotive, roaring down the tracks.
At some point, I considered asking Cho why he honked so much. Or, in stretches where there was no traffic at all, WHAT he was honking at. I thought of saying, “Hey, Cho. Did you ever notice that you’re the only one honking? Ever wonder why that might be, Mate?” After all, one of the ways we learn to act appropriately in life is by realizing that nobody else is doing what we’re doing, so we stop. Thus you learn not to applaud every time your airplane lands (unless you’re in some third-world countries), or eat spaghetti with your hands.
This was my “Bono” moment. If I could convince Cho that his incessant honking was unnecessary, not only would I be saving him from eventual carpal tunnel syndrome and hearing loss, but moto drivers and bicyclists, who might well be startled by one of Cho’s sudden shrill outbursts, would be safer, too. Not to mention that getting Cho to stop leaning on the horn would reduce the entire city of Da Nang’s noise pollution by roughly 50%.
And then – who knows? Maybe Cho would go out with the zealousness of a religious convert and talk to his fellow drivers: “You know, we don’t have to honk every five seconds. It sounds crazy, Comrades, but it’s true!” Chapters of Honkers Anonymous would rise up shortly thereafter.
But I elected to wimp out. I didn’t know whether Cho would understand me – either language-wise or philosophically. It was, I had to admit, unlikely that my question would hurl him into an existential review of his noisy habit. “WHY do I honk so much? Because I Am!” I imagined Cho saying. I suppose part of me thought Cho’s honking in some way contributed to local “color,” and if the residents didn’t like it, they could confront Cho themselves.
So when we arrived, I just got out, wordlessly, my opportunity to improve the quality of life in Da Nang, gone. Cho took my luggage out of the trunk, got back in his car, and tooted twice, to say goodbye.
[Stan Sinberg is an award-winning humor columnist. His travel pieces have appeared in publications ranging from the Chicago Tribune to South America Explorer to Indy Men’s Magazine. He has been a satiric radio commentator on San Francisco’s “World Class Rock" station, KFOG, and is co-creator of the long-running musical-comedy revue, “For Whom the Bridge Tolls.” Today Stan freelances for many humor publications, including MAD and the gonzo supermarket tabloid, Weekly World News.]