It’s very difficult to side-step reverting to travel writing clichés. Even the format of many UK travel articles is a cliché in a way. I liken it to someone catching a bus. Initially they think they’ve got lots of time, so they saunter along, looking in shop windows, stopping for a coffee etc. (in writing terms that involves setting the scene, using anecdotes and descriptions – getting in a lot of detail). Then, when they realise they don’t have as much time as they thought they did, they break into a jog (the pace of the article picks up, not so much word space is spent on referencing places and experiences). Finally, they see the bus pull into the stop when they’re still some distance away, so they have to sprint to catch it (the article ends by breathlessly racing through a list of locations in the featured destination to notch up as many as possible before the word count runs out).
When it comes to what words and phrases are considered clichés in travel writing circles, that often depends on the eye of the beholder. I know which ones I don’t like, even though I’m sure I’ve used most if not all at some point. But, hey, you learn as you go.
I thought it would be interesting (for me at least) to compile a list of the most reviled travel clichés from the first ten travel writing websites that came up on a Google search. The outcome surprised me. It was wildly varied, with some occasionally confusing legitimate descriptions (in my view) for cliché. Sometimes, ironically, that seemed due to a lack of knowledge of travel.
Over ten websites, there were 65 different travel writing clichés listed. Many only featured on individual sites. But there were travel writing crimes which popped up again and again.
These are the 12 top travel writing clichés in order of most reviled first.
Fair enough, it’s a travel writing no-no – tired and overused. Just about everyone agrees on that, except those who still use it.
God, I’m guilty of this one, and I even know it’s a cliché when I use it. Although, I think I tend to use slightly adjusted versions instead – ‘steals your breath away’ for example.
It doesn’t matter whether it refers to bustling markets or bustling anything, many consider it a cliché. The trouble with this is bustling does conjure up a certain type of scene. In my head I can immediately see what a bustling market looks like. So, in some ways, it is the mot juste.
A variation of this features on a lot of cliché lists, whether it’s crystal-clear seas or azure/cobalt/sparkling waters. In truth, there is not a lot left to use when writing about the sort of colour of water that has us dreaming of diving in which isn’t a cliché.
Off the beaten track
Four out of ten sites considered this a cliché and I’m taking issue with them. There are places which are ‘off the beaten track’ – places that aren’t visited by many tourists/travellers … call them what you will. I agree it’s overused, and not always used appropriately. But I don’t agree it is necessarily a cliché.
This and ‘friendly locals’ were considered clichés by some. Like ‘off the beaten track,’ I’m not so sure. There are places I’ve visited (and lived) where the generic friendliness of the locals has stood out. Tenerife’s tourist tagline at one point was Tenerife Amable, and it was deserved. On the other hand, there have been places where, generally speaking, ‘locals’ didn’t make me feel so welcome.
I agree with this. At one time, when travel and immigration wasn’t so mainstream, maybe it was fair to describe places where different cultures and nationalities met as a melting pot. Not now.
A cliché maybe, but it is a way of telling people that something is a major attraction (I guess you could just say that without sounding as though you’re imposing your view). Another thing to consider is the limitations of word count. Must-see is concise and gets the point across without using up precious words.
Stunning anything really. Or awesome. Or incredible, fabulous, fantastic. Like writing about sea scenes, writing about views that impress involves a lot of head scratching to come up with a description that isn’t a cliché but still gets across that the view is out of the ordinary.
I’m sure I’ve used this, and cringe thinking about it. What is a quaint village?
City of contrasts
See melting pot above.
This appeared in just one of the ten websites researched, and yet it must be one of the worst travel writing clichés going, which is why I’m including it. If it pops into your head when writing about mountains, call in a priest immediately and have it exorcised forever.
The last entry, deserved though it is, illustrates the high levels of subjectivity when it comes to what is and isn’t considered a cliché in travel writing. As with any writing, if something works, it works. I don’t subscribe to being a slave to rules.
On the other hand, you can easily spot when a generous smattering of unspoiled gems, quaint eateries, charming hostelries, secret corners, hidden villages, and pristine beaches is used to beef up a lack of first-hand knowledge.