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So you’ve picked up a new assignment and are now tasked with writing a travel blog for a city. However, one minor problem exists. You’ve never been there! As a content writer for hire, you need to come from a place of confidence and authority. These tips should help you on your literary voyage.
Image via Flickr by Laineys Repertoire
Deadlines are never fun. Admittedly, some people work well under stress — but these folks are about as rare as albino unicorns. Instead of procrastinating, look over the instructions and style guide immediately and begin brainstorming right away. When the article is already mulling around inside your mind, any free time you have can be used to think up ideas for later use. On hold with the DMV? Stuck in a long post office line? Pretending to pay attention to a neighbor’s inane babbling? Use the time constructively!
Often, your best ideas can manifest when you’re not sitting at your computer, so carry a notepad or recording device to capture those fleeting thoughts until you find time to organize them. A digital voice recorder goes everywhere I go, except perhaps the shower. While your cell phone likely has a feature or app that fulfills this purpose, I find it easier to use a recorder since most of my ideas come when I’m behind the wheel. Fumbling with a cell phone while driving is unsafe, not to mention illegal.
Generic regional parks and sports venues named after corporations are not exciting reasons to visit a city, so give your article a unique spin by approaching your article with an agenda in mind. Writing from experience is best, so choose an angle that fits both your personality and your target city.
Everyone loves food, so a good place to start is by exploring restaurants, farmer’s markets, and similar places of interest. No matter what your preference, an appropriate food angle can almost always be found. From vegetarian to BBQ to diners, your target city most likely has a culinary specialty of some sort. If you’re covering Austin, for example, try a Google search such as “Food Austin is known for.” Next, use Yelp to find the most popular places.
Beverages run a close second to food. Asheville, NC has an amazing craft beer scene. Seattle, WA is globally recognized for its coffee. Long Beach, CA has tremendously fun dive bars. If it can be quaffed, it can be blogged upon.
Outdoorsy activities are popular as well. Perhaps your city has an unusual amount of bike paths or greenways. Nearby mountain ranges, rivers, and national or state parks can provide exciting activities such as rafting, kayaking, and going over waterfalls in a barrel à la Bugs Bunny. I’m a big fan of those free outdoor gyms found in some public parks. Part fitness center and part playground, they’re a fun and eco-friendly way to use your own gravity and physical resistance to keep in shape.
If you don’t have the luxury of driving hundreds or thousands of miles to visit your target city, the Internet is the next best thing.
Avoid generic searches like “must-see places in Phoenix.” This is because the top results on a major search engine such as Google or Yahoo! are the result of carefully planned (and expensive) SEO strategies. Thus, your first few pages of results will route to big-money websites that can afford to hit the top of your search results. If they can afford this, they’re probably hiring writers to create their content, who are also likely to have never visited the city you’re researching.
Instead, find user-driven sites such as Yelp, or locate user reviews via search engines. A local blogger can also lead you to interesting non-touristy spots worth visiting.
Once you have some downtime, transfer those notes you’ve been gathering and begin building your article. Don’t worry about putting things in order. Just write what comes to you and organize it later. Nothing causes writer’s block like trying to come up with a first sentence, then a second one, then a third, like beads on a string. A free-association writing strategy will always produce the best content with the least amount of stress.
I’ve read and edited scores of travel blogs, most focusing on hotels, and there are only so many ways to describe a mediocre continental breakfast of canned juices and plastic-wrapped honey buns. “Fuel up at the…” and “Start your day on the right foot with…” can get mighty tedious after you’ve run into the phrase for the 100th time.
Avoid the obvious. We all know that one “cools off” in a swimming pool — they really serve no other purpose — so why phrase it as such? “Stay in touch with friends and family with free wireless Internet” is a needlessly cumbersome way to describe what is essentially a very basic service. “Work off your stress at the 24-hour fitness center” is not only canned, but presumptuous as well. The need to work out may actually be a source of stress for some people.
“Best-kept secret” is a complete oxymoron, and if it was secret before you blogged it, then it’s certainly not a secret anymore. “Hidden gems” are perhaps best reserved for cavers. And with such savory linguistic selections such as “epicure,” “gourmand,” and “connoisseur,” why relegate anyone to the substandard rank of “foodie?”
When writing from a position of knowledge and authority, it’s tempting to use phrases like “The best ____ in town can be found at…” or “Since summer is always ____, be sure to…” Most writers believe this level of confidence will encourage trust between the author and the reader. However, readers are notoriously skeptical and will do just about anything to prove a writer wrong, so I find it best to avoid such statements. Remember that you’re providing opinions most of the time, not facts.
Blogging about a place you’ve never been can be quite entertaining and educational for the writer, and may even encourage you to take a road trip to visit all the places you recommended. So relax, enjoy yourself, and dive right into that pool of unknown depth. You may just discover a pearl beneath the surface!