Does Writing Matter in a Travel Blog?

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Does Writing Matter in a Travel Blog?

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Jun 22, 2012

Last weekend, in Keystone, Colorado some 800 people gathered at a travel bloggers conference perched at nearly 10,000 feet in the air. On day two—downing water like a dehydrated camel—I sat in a talk entitled The 10 Steps to Writing that Better Engages (and Keeps) Your Readers, led by San Francisco Chronicle travel editor Spud Hilton and blogger Stephanie Yoder. Now, this was a break-out session, not a keynote address, so the 100 or so of us in attendance were stuffed inside a small room. 

A woman took her place behind the podium to introduce Spud and Stephanie and said the most profound words of the entire conference, ones I hadn’t heard anyone say before or after the three-day event. At least, they were the most profound to me, because she was singing my personal travel writer’s song. They were the kind of words that get people to nod their heads in approval, to utter words of agreement, and to—even—bring their hands together in clapping encouragement. 

Here’s the gist of what she said: The most important element to a great travel blog is a great travel story

And by that, she meant the writing, yes? Because how can you tell a great travel story without some great writing?

And yet I found myself the only person nodding, saying “Amen,” and clapping. Maybe a few others joined in after me, but the response was pretty sporadic. Maybe it was too early in the morning, or the group was feeling the effects of the altitude or the shindig from the night before.

Maybe—daresay—I was the one out of touch. So, I’ve decided to reach out to you, my readers, and ask you: What is it you expect to read here? 

1. Do you want to read stories? As in the narrative of searching for false killer whales off Big Island with biologist Robin Baird. Or banding Laysan albatross chicks. Or receiving lomilomi massage.

2. Maybe you prefer to read about the people of Hawaii? Say, soap-maker Love Chance, ocean paddler and conservationist Donna Kahakui, or vegan cooking chef Mark Reinfeld.

3. Do you want to read more service-oriented articles: The Top 10 Beaches in Hawaii, How to Pack for the Tropics, Where to Find the Best Fish Tacos?

4. Are you O.K. with a periodic essay that may explore a timely topic, say the future of the Hawaiian monk seal?

5. Or would you like a recounting of my travel diary—a daily recap of what I did, where I went, what I ate?

And how good does the quality of the writing need to be? 

1. As compelling as that you’d read in a glossy, travel magazine—or Spud Hilton’s San Francisco Chronicle? 

2. Or are you willing to forego craft, forgive grammar, because it’s “just a blog,” and the online world is more relaxed? Is O.K. writing acceptable? 

I know there are a few lurkers out there, those who read this blog but don't (or rarely) comment. I need you now. Please take a few minutes to share you thoughts. That includes you, Tracey, Christa, Nicki and Mary!

And does anyone from TBEX know who the woman who introduced Spud and Stephanie was? I’d love to give her a shout out.


susan | Jun 26, 2012 06:50 AM

I have an opinion, of course, but since I see your writing probably differently than your average reader I won't comment. Well, maybe I will. I like narratives and people stories and usually skip the service oriented but can understand that our visitors might be most interested in that one. I guess the answer depends on what the audience and goal of your blog is. Are you aimed at visitors or residents? Are you trying to reach the typical "go to the beach and relax" visitor or the actively encaged traveler looking for something of substance in their travels? Are you distributing knowledge or encouraging visitors to travel to Hawaii? I believe that no matter who you want to reach your writing needs to be good, the language modern but crafted. Well, I guess I gave my opinion afterall. I'd like to know what other people have to say.

diane tilley | Jun 26, 2012 11:41 AM

Kim: I love your writing. Guess I enjoy the articles about what you are up to, i.e. following the monk seals and the albatross. I don't need stories about beaches or how to pack etc. Because I am on Kauai for only half the year I look forward to your blogs to keep me up to date on what is happening.

Heather George | Jun 26, 2012 12:23 PM

Kim! I was there in that very room at TBEX, and applauded in my mind when the introducer (don't know who she is) said that this was the most important panel at the entire conference. I have been writing and traveling for years (mostly to tropical destinations, and mostly for scuba diving - my passion) and am just starting to figure out how to put them together so I went to TBEX for the first time, learned A LOT - much of which centered around finding a niche, which you seem to have done nicely here. I've been lurking since I first found your blog during the recent Outrigger win a trip to Hawaii promotion. I love your writing style and topics, and for me your posts are exactly the kind of story I want to read. My boyfriend and I bought a condotel in Kapa'a last fall and we travel there a few times a year - your writing is keeping me connected to the islands while we are here in California. I wish I would have met you at Keystone, hope to see you next year and I look forward to keeping in touch. Mahalo and Aloha.

Mariellen Ward | Jun 26, 2012 03:00 PM

Hi Kim, That was me! I'm Mariellen Ward of, and I always say I'm a travel writer first and travel blogger second. I was asked to introduce two sessions, my choice, and I jumped at the chance to introduce the travel writing seminar. I said, in my introduction, that if you don;t have a story, you don't have anything. There's such a big emphasis in blogger circles on traffic and followers, but non of it matters if you don;t have a story. You can put my name / blog in your post if you want; I'm thrilled that you liked what I said!

Kim | Jun 27, 2012 01:01 PM

Yowza! I love the connections. But, first, thank you Susan and Diane, for braving the big, scary world of blog commenting and actually leaving me a comment. Bravo. And, Heather and Mariellen, I love how paths cross--physically and virtually. I am always scouring the blogosphere for travel *stories,* and you can be sure I will be following you now. Thanks for raising your hands. Mahalo.

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