How to Write a Travel Novel: A Guide from Experts

Asako Maruoka's picture

Travel is a dream that many find out of reach. If you go on Instagram, it can often feel like everyone is going somewhere amazing. Vacation pictures litter the site, each more fabulous than the last. But the truth is that many people will never have the opportunity to travel to exotic destinations. While 71% of Americans have traveled abroad at some point in their lives, for most Americans, this translates to only one or two international vacations in their entire lifetimes. More than a quarter of Americans have never left the country. So, while it might seem that “everyone” is on vacation somewhere great, the truth is that most people rarely venture too far from home.

That’s one reason that so many people like to read travel writing. It helps to give them a sense of the world beyond their homes and to experience far-off lands and other cultures. As a travel writer, you need to be able to channel the experience of travel and translate it into word pictures, stories, and sensations that the audience can understand and appreciate.

How to Write a Travel Novel: A Guide from Experts

Nonfiction Travel Writing

Most travel writing is nonfiction. Articles and nonfiction books about travel are very popular and tell the reader about the experience of going to various places and what they will see, hear, taste, and feel there. Writing about travel experiences is also a popular academic assignment, and many college instructors will assign papers about students’ travel experiences. However, writing travel nonfiction can be difficult, and that’s one reason that many students pay someone to write a travel essay for them through an academic writing service like WriteMyPaperHub to get papers done online by experts. 

However, travel novels are also a popular way to combine travel writing with storytelling. Turning your travel experience into a novel can be an effective way to increase reader engagement and to allow for a bit more creativity than nonfiction writing can provide.

Giving Your Novel a Sense of Place

There are many ways you can write a travel novel, but the most important part of a travel novel is making sure that you get the travel details right. When you create a novel around a place, you need to make sure that you have visited that place and are familiar with the details of it. Travel is about the experience, and you need the specifics of the experience in order to convey to the reader a sense of place. Ideally, the writer of a travel novel will live in the place where the story is set, but being a frequent visitor can also work. Just be sure you know everything about the place.

For example, many viewers criticized the movie Uncharted because it seemed oddly divorced from its setting, taking place mostly against generic backgrounds and green screens. This led to the story feeling a bit bloodless because it could have taken place anywhere, and thus felt low-stakes. By contrast, when a story has strong and specific details, it becomes a more engaging narrative because it feels like it is taking place in the real world, and the stakes thus feel more real.

As you travel around the location for your story, be sure to take note of the sensory details. What does it feel like? Smell like? Sound like? Being able to describe the colors and the sounds will go a long way toward making your setting feel real. 

Get the Cultural Details Right

No matter where you are setting your story, it’s going to take place in a location that has a distinct culture. Your job as a travel novelist is to understand the culture of the location where you are setting your tale and to use that culture accurately and sensitively to inform the story. For example, if your story is taking place in a tropic location, the culture likely has a very different attitude toward clothing and bodies than a culture that exists in a frigid locale. Similarly, you need to be aware of the religious background and the language of the location.

If you don’t speak the language, it’s a good idea to work with someone who does to make sure you capture the details correctly. For example, Mexican Spanish and the Spanish of Spain are different in a number of ways, and you can’t count on a high school Spanish course or online translation software to capture the nuances of how a local would talk, or the slang that they would use. You want your reader to feel like they have traveled to that place, not a cardboard replica of it.

Remember to Put the Story First

It can be all too easy to forget that a travel novel is first and foremost a novel. The details of travel are important, but they shouldn’t come at the expense of the story. Think, for example, of your favorite science fiction novel. Would it be improved with fifty more pages describing future technology in scientific detail? Probably not.

As readers, we care about people, so all of the travel details in a travel novel should serve the purpose of connecting your readers to your characters. Don’t over-describe just for the purpose of filling space or showing off how much you know. Every detail should have a clear purpose and serve the dramatic needs of the story. In other words, think of the travel details as one thread in the tapestry of your novel, not the only one.