How do you write a useful travel review? To celebrate the debut of one-off reviews on the site (you now have the option of writing a review without creating a journal!), we posed the question to IgoUgo writers—and added a few ideas of our own.
zabelle: I always carry a notepad with me. I prefer a small one with a pocket in front to hold ticket stubs and brochures. I take a lot of notes, especially of my impressions of things. You can always look up facts but your feelings are difficult to remember if, like me, sometimes it can take a couple of years to write a journal. I have a collection of 25 or more pads that I look at from time to time to reminisce about my trips. In all honesty, I took notes even before I started to write on IgoUgo in 2000; a traveler always likes to relive her trips.
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baroudeur2004: Give useful information (prices, location, opening hours) in an entertaining and exhaustive way, without hesitating to provide a personal opinion on the place visited.
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barbara: Imagine that you are at lunch with a good friend, relaying all the information that he might need to make a decision about whether or not to include an attraction in his precious holiday itinerary. This is your buddy we're talking about! He trusts your opinions! Relay the good, the bad, and the ugly you've personally experienced, complete with the practical information of how much time and money you think he'll need to spend to have a good time. In other words, as you're talking to a friend, keep your reviews conversational rather than didactic.
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stomps: Before joining IgoUgo, I was terrible at writing journals on holidays. I have a ridiculous number of journals that document the first two days of various vacations before I ran out of time and just gave up. Even in the time that I've been an active member on the site, I haven't written many full journals while on vacation, since I prefer to go out rather than sitting in my hotel and writing for hours each night. However, I've found that taking quick notes while on a trip takes much less time and is incredibly useful when I'm back sitting at my computer, trying to remember that funny story the tour guide told us about hoop snakes or that interesting factoid I learned when kayaking in a bioluminescent bay. Yes, it does mean that I carry around a little notebook and sometimes look like a bit of a reporter...but it only takes me about 10 minutes at the end of each day, when I talk to travel partners and jot down anything interesting and funny that might later come in handy, and it helps me to add a personal touch to the typical guidebook information about each destination.
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Drever: Make every word count. Write in the active voice and write tightly. This includes only using essential adjectives—using more will weaken your prose. Also avoid the use of words like “beautiful” which have essentially lost their meaning through overuse.
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Carmen: If you reference another journal that you've written (perhaps you do a multi-city tour and mention the different cities in an overview), provide a hyperlink to that journal! And make them personal. I can read about these things in a travel book; I want to know what YOU thought of it.
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JayBroek: Make it personal—include reference to you or your travel companions in a way that helps the reader project themselves into the experience rather than just being lectured about it. And if something amusing happened—well, even better.
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MichaelJM: Relive the experience and write from the memory rather than trying to complicate the travel experience with TOO much factual information. I always like to understand how and why people have enjoyed their travel experience, and that's what I try to weave into my travel journals.
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phileasfogg: Tell stories. People generally love to hear what others feel (even if it's about how unbelievably rude a particular waitress was, or how you felt visiting a place after two decades). Build emotion into what you're narrating. Talk of joy, disappointment, sorrow, frustration, fury—whatever! Other than personal experiences, anecdotes of places and people make for great writing. A little-known story about how a place got its name, how a particular battle was won, or a completely crazy or exotic fact about a destination can be the perfect way to grab a reader's attention. The last little addendum to that: Steer clear of fiction, and bring in the travel angle. The story must be fact and not fiction; it must be evocative and interesting; and it must have a plausible and definite connection to the place you're writing about. Some of my favourite stories from IgoUgo include SkewedStyle's brilliant Sometimes Always: Heartache on the Road; Shady Ady's funny-romantic-adventurous A Million Boobies and a Destroyed Environment; and GB From Devizes' The Moonrakers Legend.
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girlfromals: The best tip I can offer is to just be yourself. Develop your own voice. If you look at the top writers who contribute to IgoUgo, you will notice that every one of them tells unique stories. Some weave incredibly descriptive tales of their travels. Others tell of very personal family experiences. I do things a little differently. I believe that in order to truly get to know a place, you have to know something about its history. (My history teacher father would be so proud!) I weave in a lot of historical details about destinations I visit or places I have lived. It only makes sense to
me to tell the reader something about the characters who inhabited that castle, or something about the battles depicted in the paintings displayed at the local museum. There is room for all types of stories at IgoUgo. Find your own voice and work with it.
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MoDean: Give it personality. Factual details and tips are great, but I want to know more about the person who’s writing the review. I want to know who’s giving me the advice. Giving your reviews personality makes them more readable and, ultimately, more useful to other travelers!
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midtownmjd: Take notes while you’re traveling, but drop your notepad in a second if there’s a choice between recording impressions and engaging in the moment. Then, when you’re writing, be opinionated, creative, humorous, and precise. I also think comparing activities to other things you’ve done, giving the reader a frame of reference, strengthens reviews.
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MojoGoes: As travelers and writers, we constantly have our senses tuned to what’s going on around us. Our ability to simply notice things, digest them, and turn an experience into words is our MO. One of the important things about travel writing is to be mindful of the things that you might not necessarily be interested in. If you’re writing for other people, their tastes will vary by vast degrees. In other words, keep your mind open, not only when traveling, but when writing your review as well. Try to draw on those particular events or details which maybe meant little to you when they happened or when you saw them, but might entice another person to visit that place or to keep reading.
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Valerita: The best advice I can give you when writing a review is to walk a mile in the reader’s shoes. Think of what your fellow readers want to know about the place you visited. Pour a cup of useful information in a bowl, add slowly a cup of personal experiences, mix it well, and you are ready to write!
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