From Academic to Travel Writer in 5 Steps

March 11, 2016
From Academic to Travel Writer in 5 Steps

In elementary school, I hated writing. It took so long for my ideas to manifest into words and finally, onto paper. Why should I have to elaborate on a topic if it was already clear in my own mind? Eventually, I found myself in a PhD in Education program, faced with writing a dissertation. After months (years, rather) of moaning, groaning, and crying, my first draft was complete. Several drafts and months of editing later, the dissertation was published, and I was off to travel as a reward for the cranial strife.

As is customary during longterm travel, I started a blog that delighted my readers with amusing adventures through Australia, Thailand, and Cambodia. When I returned home, I expanded that readership by writing stories for Pink Pangea and a few other online travel publications. As my writing has changed, I’ve noticed several transitions in my style. Factors that were worrisome  in graduate school are irrelevant in the travel writing genre. As these transitions have occurred, I’ve discovered that travel writing can ease the recovery from academic writing.

From Academic to Travel Writer in 5 Steps

Citations are not required

Though I’m still obliged to cite the authors of quotes or studies I include in my writing, I no longer experience the stress of compiling the reference section of an academic paper. Academia is focused on citing others’ work until you are well-known, well-respected, and well-published enough to be the source of the citation. Scarcely a sentence is written in which the scholar doesn’t include a reference to a published article or book. In travel writing, the freedom to promote and expand upon your original ideas makes the genre desirable, both for reading and writing.

The chair of your dissertation committee won’t comb through your blog for correct APA formatting

Akin to Transition #1, much stress is alleviated with the abandonment of certain formatting styles. Though your travel writing should flow and retain an easily navigable format, an editor will not scrutinize your prose according to the rules set forth in the latest edition of a writing style manual. The travel writer has the freedom to include a graphic or diagram of his or her own creation and technique.

Casual voice trumps authoritative voice

A travel writer’s goal is to reach a varied audience–unless of course you write for a specific demographic such as solo female travellers, male mountain climbers, etc. In addition to jettisoning citations and formatting styles, your voice can assume a casual and inspirational tone. I’ve rarely read an academic journal that has prompted me to forge a deep connection with the researcher. When I reread some of my early travel stories from 2013, it was obvious I had recently completed the final draft of my dissertation. One of my dissertation committee members constantly commented that my writing was “different.” Different, but she still enjoyed it. I suppose I kept a more casual and unorthodox prose to sustain myself through the process.

Subject-specific jargon is less important

In academia, and within specialized fields, it is imperative to write so that your audience will connect your work with their own studies. As travel writers, we can paint a subtle view of a Ganga Aarti ceremony in India, or lead our readers step by step through the Louvre, in a universally understood language.

Controversial topics aside, you are creating a relaxing piece for a varied audience

Academic papers beget stress or galvanize the need to further the work, while travel writing destination pieces practically evoke an audible sigh. I realized quickly that appealing to a broader audience poses obstacles along the journey to a finished, polished story. In academia, I knew my audience already. In travel writing, who knows? I recently received an email from a former student from when I was an elementary school teacher. She mentioned that she had always appreciated the travel tales with which I regaled the class (when they were well behaved!) and was happy to see that I was now writing about my experiences. Evidently, the digital reach of stories published online knows few bounds.

While I enjoyed advancing my strengths as an academic writer, travel writing gives me a free-flowing sense of peace and inspiration. I also enjoy discussing the elements of a travel piece with seasoned travellers, and assuring nervous novices that they will understand when they experience the destination firsthand. Versatility in writing genre opens doors to new experiences, and challenges any limitations you may have set for yourself.

From Academic to Travel Writer in 5 Steps photo credits by Unsplash.

About Anne Castagnaro

Motivated by the “go big or go home” adage, Anne V. Castagnaro, PhD is a lifelong traveler who prefers to mark her life in travel milestones. A Southern California native, she makes her base camp there while pondering new adventures. While saving up funds for the next journey, she enjoys reading, scrapbooking, nature, and educational issues. Travel and other musings can be found on her blog and on Instagram @victoriatravels9

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