If you’re interested in travel, exploration and understanding the world, then you have probably come across National Geographic Magazine. Their award winning journalists traverse the planet to give us a first-hand view on new discoveries, artefacts and provide the inside story on our ever evolving world. They push the boundaries of exploration, furthering our understanding of the world and inspiring us all to generate solutions for a healthy and sustainable future for generations to come.
Renown for their unique and powerful storytelling, you can find no better mentors if you are interested in travel writing, investigative journalism or tips to improve your journaling skills. Here the National Geographic Editorial Team share their tips and tactics on how to be a travel writer. Enjoy!
Make it personal
I avoid objective observations as much as possible. Everyone knows Table Mountain is a tall mountain and that it’s shaped like a table but most facts like these can be gleaned from websites or press releases. What I find most useful — as both a writer and a reader — are personal, individual notes on something. So, instead of describing Table Mountain’s table-like appearance, say something like: “The snowy tablecloth cloud unfurling over Table Mountain covers mostly gentrified neighbourhoods that can afford it” — it’s lyrical descriptions like these that wider thoughts can be spun off.
Zane Henry, Project Editor
Use Photography to your advantage
If you can’t spell something and there’s no time to ask, take a picture. If you’re dining somewhere wonderful and you’d like guide prices of the food, snap away. If you find yourself unsure of directions, or maps, take a snap and refer to it later. Alongside a notebook and pen for the more detailed thoughts and ideas (always better in written form for me) this is my top tip. And, of course, if you have a camera, you can also take pictures of the views and the people (and a few selfies) which come in handy when you sit down to write your piece.
Maria Pieri, Editorial Director
To get good quotes in your feature, it’s essential to chat to as many people as possible. I like to find out something about the area that’s a little controversial or unusual, so I know it will be a talking point: for instance, on a recent trip I knew there was a controversial art project in the city I was in, so I went for a drink in a bar nearby and once I’d got talking to a few people, asked them what they thought. I got some great quotes — which I then wrote down as quickly as I could because it’s really easy to forget exactly what people have said. It helped me understand the character of the city and made the feature more interesting, too.
Jo Fletcher-Cross, Editorial Manager
Connect through the senses
Your senses have an extraordinarily powerful way of evoking a place. Colours are hugely suggestive: do the red tones of this New Hampshire forest remind you of something? Fire, copper, blood, perhaps? They conjure a far more interesting image than just ‘red’. And then there’s your sense of smell: what can you smell in this Bangkok market, for example, and how does it make you feel? Disorientated, curious, hungry? Mere observations — the ‘this is here, that is there’ sort of thing — can be helpful in setting a scene, but if you really want to transport a reader, use your senses and plunge yourself into a destination.
Connor McGovern, Assistant Editor
Transcribe your notes. After a trip, I sit down with my scribbles and voice recordings and dutifully type them up in one document. This may seem arduous (and it is), but the process helps refresh my memory and plunges me back into the destination. I always record much more information than I use so this is a good way to see it all at once and pare it back to the core components. So, once I review my notes, I bold the quotes, descriptions or observations I’d like to include in my piece. And voilà — a story is starting to take shape.
Stephanie Cavagnaro, Deputy Editor
Get in the zone
When it comes to writing the story, the most important thing for me is getting in the zone. The first thing I do is put on music from wherever I just visited, whether it be Bosnian turbo-folk, Spanish flamenco or Ukrainian pop. This helps to take me back and brings the copy to life. I then look through all my photos and videos, and write down everything at the front of my mind, and come back to it later to make sure it makes sense.
Farida Zeynalova, Contributing Editor
Review your notes
Read through your notes first, before you begin to write anything. Circle the most interesting quotes and observations and start thinking about how to begin/end and structure the story from your most vivid notes. This is why noting down everything as you travel, from the way things smell, taste, and sound, to place names, key facts and colourful quotes from locals, is crucial, even if it seems a bit unnecessary when you’re out in the field. It’s often the most innocuous observation that ends up sparking an idea that will help weave your story angle together.
Sarah Barrell, Associate Editor
I usually end up writing lots of fully-formed paragraphs in my notebook as my thoughts take shape. The trick, though, when you come to writing the trip up, is not to use these paragraphs exactly as you wrote them. This is because as you go along, your thoughts are in the moment, and you’ll only have an overall perspective of the piece at the end once you’ve got it all out. So instead of trying to shoehorn these paragraphs in as they are, let them inform you and lead you rather than shaping the direction and style before you’ve started.
Pat Riddell, Editor
Proof. Read. Repeat
It goes without saying that you should read over whatever you’ve written before you submit it – fail to do so, and you’ve no real hope of maintaining any standard. But I think writers should go one stage further and reread their work aloud to themselves. In my experience, this is the best way of flushing out mistakes, and it’s also a good way to identify any inelegant phrasing. You’ll be surprised how often a passage of text which sounded OK in your head, sounds clunky or rough in your own voice.
Glen Mutel, Executive Editor