Travel Writing, the Vacation Vocation: A Review of L. Peat O’Neil’s Guide to Travel Writing

L. Peat O’Neil began her own travel writing career as a young, intrepid sixteen year-old. Now a long-time staff member at The Washington Post Magazine, O’Neil shares with her readers everything she knows on how to succeed in her chosen field. Her book Travel Writing: See the World, Sell the Story, furnishes a straight-forward and well-rounded journey through the travel writing that proves practical and empowering for aspiring travel writers. Not only does she provide the tips and tricks of her trade, including how to travel and most efficiently and comfortably, but also includes exercises at the end of each chapter to develop writing technique.<br />
Show and (Not) Tell<br />
The experienced writer who is new to this particular genre will find O’Neil’s guide an inviting one that offers fresh fodder for the imagination. Newer writers will find themselves in good hands: O’Neil’s instruction is consistent with the elements of good writing in general, exploring the dynamics of structure, pace, style, and tone. She compares the crafting of a travel article to that of making a movie. “Show the story…don’t tell it. The outline of a travel article resembles camera directions for a film script,” O’Neil advises (78). Yet because travel writing is primarily about the cultural encounter itself, she goes beyond the technicalities and draws on the wealth of her own international experiences.<br />
Sense and Serendipity<br />
Travel Writing takes a realistic look at the challenges of the traveling lifestyle, but the sense of adventure herein is so enticing one does not close such a book without having opened their own mind to new frontiers. And an open mind is needed for the travel writing endeavor, as well as an ability to take risks, follow one’s own interests, and embrace what O’Neil calls the “serendipity” which happily befalls all travelers sooner or later. Most refreshing is the author’s world-view. “I just don’t find the French rude or the Mexicans cheats or southerners slow or any of the other lame cultural and ethnic stereotypes promoted in movies and television” she writes, “Perhaps the way we are treated is the way we approach others” (49).<br />
Supplement: Travel Photography<br />
A bonus is the book’s section on travel photography, which doesn’t focus on which lenses to buy, but rather how to take the best and ultimately most marketable shots to supplement one’s writing. She covers all the bases in Travel Writing, including how to research stories and market your writing. Chapter Nine’s “10 Steps to Getting Started” provides a final challenge to anyone wondering seriously about a career in travel writing. With exercises in being more observant, enhancing memories of travel experience, and recording those memories more vividly, this book is just as much an invitation to live more fully as it is an invitation to turn a passion into profit. “Life is being celebrated every day in countless different ways,” O’Neil reminds. “The traveler is the go-between, bringing news of wondrous events to eager ears back home” (113).<br />
An inspiring and motivating read even for armchair travelers, one can only hope that Travel Writing: See the World, Sell the Story will be continually updated and reprinted, with its valuable perspective from an already seasoned writer-adventurer. Who hasn’t dreamed of vacationing as a vocation? For the receptive reader, this guide is the first-class ticket to a career switch and a life change.<br />
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