Too much “I” and “we” — the most common mistake I see in articles by new travel writers. It’s not that you shouldn’t tell your own story from your point of view. Successful travel writers do that regularly. In last Sunday’s Travel section of the New York Times, for instance, six of the seven feature articles are told in the first person, that is, using “I” and “we.”
But those seasoned writers practice something budding writers don’t always: restraint.
Less About You, More About What You See and Do
Imagine you’re a real estate broker showing a house. While you’d certainly want to call a potential buyer’s attention to the view through the front window or to the brand new appliances in the kitchen, you wouldn’t walk backwards 1.5 feet in front of him into every room in the house and keep insisting he talk to you.
You’d let the house show itself. You might trail along at a respectful distance and suggest he take a look at how big the closets are or tell him to pop his head into the attic, which would make a perfect boy’s room.
But really, you’d stay out of the way and let the house — cast in the positive light you’d throw — sell itself.
Now do that when you write. Allow your reader to appreciate a place as you see it. But don’t stand in front of him, block his view, and then simply tell him what it is you see.
Example 1 — Too Much “I” and “We” is Distracting
Here, the reader doesn’t see the place. He sees the writer and his companion in the place:
When we arrived at the site for the glacier ride, it was raining. We wondered if we would be able to see anything. We climbed into the helicopter, fastened our seat belts and off we went soaring high into the clouds. The ride was as smooth as silk. We rose from sea level to alpine ridges in a matter of seconds. The rain didn’t prevent us from viewing this incredible journey beyond civilization. We flew over deep crevasses and around jagged spires. Our pilot described our glacial journey through individual headsets that we wore.
Finally, we landed on Mendenhall Glacier and had the opportunity to explore this unique environment. Expert guides were waiting for us on the glacier in a white tent with an American flag next to it. We felt like we had landed on the moon when we took our first steps on the uneven terrain with its rocky crevasses and aqua surface pools of water. We were dazzled by the bright blue color of the glacier. Our guides also provided us with raincoats to protect us from the rain as we walked on the glacier. We also received special boots. Our guides explained that the glacier moves two feet each day, but we couldn’t detect any movement as we walked on its surface. The Mendenhall Glacier Helicopter Tour was an experience of a lifetime and we would highly recommend it if you travel to Alaska.
Example 2 — An Improved Version:
The Writer Gets Out of the Way
This revised version is better. The author still tells the story… but he gets out of the way so the reader can see what he’s talking about.
Rain poured down as we climbed into the helicopter for the glacier ride, and we wondered if it would hinder the views. But smooth as silk, the helicopter rose from sea level to alpine ridges in a matter of seconds to reveal a dramatic display of the icy landscape’s deep crevasses and jagged spires. Along the way, the pilot pointed out things to look for and offered interesting tidbits about the region.
On Mendenhall Glacier, expert guides waited in a white tent, an American flag planted to its side. It might as well have been an outpost on another planet. A dazzling blue, the glacier’s terrain is uneven, with rocky crevasses and aqua pools of water on the surface.
Nevertheless, we walked — protected by raincoats and special boots we’d been issued in the tent. The glacier moves two feet a day, but its progress is too slow to notice on the surface.
Four Ways to Get Out of the Way When You Tell Your Story and Remove yourself from your Travel Article
Practically speaking, here are four things you can do to ensure that you’re telling a travel story readers will envy, a story more about journey and place than about you:
1. Avoid recounting your every thought and reaction. (You still make judgments and offer opinions, but let them stand on their own. Give them their own authority.)
Instead of: “The high, four-poster bed piled with a feather-filled comforter and soft pillows covered in rich fabrics — large and square, small and round — made me feel like a queen.”
Say: “The high, four-poster bed piled with a feather-filled comforter and soft pillows covered in rich fabrics — large and square, small and round — was fit for a queen.”
2. Go easy on “me” phrases.
Instead of: “The bartender told me it had been the quietest season he’d experienced in the last decade.”
Say: “The bartender said it had been the quietest season he’d experienced in the last decade.”
3. Try not to use “I,” “me,” “we,” or “us” more than once or twice per paragraph. (This is by no means a rule set in stone. But if you use it as a guideline, you’ll force yourself to cut back to such an extent that you’ll naturally get out of the way of your story.)
4. Turn to “you” when you’re looking for a fix. (In other words, think about what your reader would want.)
Instead of: “We discovered that with another meal plan we could have dined at five other nearby restaurants, to which Round Hill would arrange transportation.”
Say: “Another meal plan allows you to dine at five other nearby restaurants, for which Round Hill can arrange transportation.
[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.]