These NatGeo Traveller Competition Winners can improve your travel writing

National Geographic Traveller Travel Writing Tips

The best way to become an engaging travel writer is to read travel writing books and travel articles, and take a critical look at what makes the content draw you in. There is so much generic travel writing out there on the internet, so competition is getting fierce and it’s harder to attract an audience.

National Geographic TravellerNat Geo Traveller (UK) recently announced their travel writing competition winners. Back in March, they tasked their readers to submit a great piece of travel writing to discover the best of British talent. The challenge was to write a focused piece of 500 words that captured the essence of a destination alongside National Geographic Traveller’s defining features: immersive travel and authentic storytelling.


Alex Thomson: Austin, Texas – with a piece on Austin, Texas that won him a 10-day trip to Greenland with Quark Expeditions. You can read his full article here.

After a week of live music we’d wanted to find a beer away from the hiked prices of Sixth Street. We’d taken a Ride Austin driver at their word — 30 years an Austin native, almost unheard of in a town of mostly new arrivals.

Way out in the north end of town, the Little Longhorn Saloon sits alone, gathering dust — like most places seem to around here. A bit of old Texas, tucked away on the fringes and completely uninterested in what’s happening downtown.

Rather than focus on the SXSW music scene and events, Alex went off the beaten path to experience another side of Austin. He ventured away from the main action and painted the picture of a location that was close by, but also a million miles away culturally from SXSW. Part of being an effective travel writer is to discover the unexpected and present something to the audience.

TRAVEL WRITING TIP: next time you’re visiting a well-trodden destination, try and find a different angle to write about. Think about a personal slant, or write about a topic from a different perspective. Surprise your readers with something new and different.


National Geographic Traveller Runners Up

Denica Shute: Vietnam – explores a Vietnamese national park with the help of a rowing seamstress. You can read the full article here. Here’s the opening segment.

Rice stalks — green at the moment — spread out before us with the evenly spaced rhythm in which they were planted. They unfold until they can’t anymore, to tickle the bases of the limestone giants that dominate the skyline, sleepy in the humidity. The bleating of goats rolls in and out of earshot. We follow the reflective surface of the river, a teetering path guarded by the rice swaying lazily in the water.

Ba, the woman rowing our sampan, isn’t a guide nor does she work in tourism. She’s one of Vietnam’s many seamstresses and she comes down to the Tam Coc National Park once a day, five days a week, to wait for her number to be called. The number gives her a turn to row tourists through the famous gem of the Ninh Binh province, and back again.

What I loved is that the description of the surroundings automatically transports you to this location,  and the introduction of Ba provides that personal perspective to the story. These two paragraphs drew me in and I wanted to read the rest of the article to find out more about the place and the people.

TRAVEL WRITING TIP: next time you’re writing about a destination, look at how it impacts those people who live there and experience what you’re experiencing for the first time. How can you paint a picture of their world through their eyes?

Stephanie Pope: Guatemala – discovers Guatemala’s Holy Week is a barrage of colour and faith. You can read the full article here.

I am, however, even more struck with the expression on the faces of the men carrying the float. Some grimace under its weight; in the left hand of one, there’s the temporal solecism of an iPhone. Most, though, are impassive, staring ahead at their destination — as if the distraction of the crowds has no effect on them. 

There was a whole procession and event going on around Stephanie, but what drew her attention was the faces of the man taking part in the procession. She depicts an element of detachment that is so eloquently described in her piece.

TRAVEL WRITING TIP: next time you’re writing about an event where there is so much going on that it would assault the senses, balance out the story by looking at an element that makes times and action stand still. So the your readers have something to pause and reflect on. Something that allows them to imagine was it would be like to be a player in the scene you’re painting.

Lucy Charlton O’Connor: Canada wrote about a chance encounter with a Canadian moose that left her at one with nature. You can read the full article here.

We make our way through the path towards our tent. All is quiet. A snap disturbs the silence less than five metres away and my breath catches in my throat.

Through the canopy of the trees a little moonlight glows on a large shadow. Our bodies stand frozen to the spot, not wanting to draw attention to ourselves. The body of the beast is awkward, huge with great big antlers. It’s careful not to scrape them against the bark of the tree as it bends down to munch on something in the moss. When it’s extraordinary head lifts it sees us gawping ungracefully back at him. We are held together in that instant and it feels significant: woman and beast caught in a staring contest at the end of the world.

Another example of being transported to the moment that made an impact to the writer, and succeeds in creating a mirror-experience for the reader through words and the sentence structure to create tension.

TRAVEL WRITING TIP: create tension in your writing. Go from movement to stillness, noise to quiet. Take your reader on a journey that isn’t one-dimensional.

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