Last Thursday night, FlipTrip.ph hosted a travel writing workshop at Lizzy Latte (Salcedo St., Legazpi Village, Makati) featuring Travelife Magazine Writer and Editor-at-Large, Gabby Malvar.
He and his partner Ginggay Hontiveros started TV documentary Island Insiders—a show approved by both National Geographic and the Department of Tourism, which debuted in 2012. He is very passionate about travel writing, which was evident when he said that it took three months(!) for him to write his article “Gyrating to the Rhythm of Ati Drums” for Travelife Magazine.
Technology and the Rise of Social Media
Today’s ease of travel and commercialization has lead to difficulty in finding ‘special’ places to visit, said Gabby. In the 1970s, travelling from the Philippines to Kenya would induce surprise and astonishment, while today, booking a flight to any distant country is possible. This makes it especially challenging to write about ‘special’ places because it is difficult to find a place no one else has been; chances are there have been many visitors before you.
He also expounded on social media’s effects on society’s perspectives of travel and writing. Twitter’s 140 character limit has taught people to expect stories to come in small packages and has therefore shortened attention spans. Writing about your experience in a certain place definitely takes more than 140 characters and perhaps even 140 words. This expectation makes it necessary that you hook your readers in the beginning or else they won’t bother reading the rest of your writing.
Facebook and Instagram have made it easy to share photos to everyone in your network; surely, it must be easier to take a ‘jump shot’ near the Banaue Rice Terraces than it is to explain how you witnessed the engineering mechanism that distributes water and ensures they are at a specific level for the crops. That photograph may have shown what a joyful trip you had, but does it give justice to your distinct experience and understanding of the Eighth Wonder of the World?
Social media has made it possible for anyone to reach a large scope of people, and with this power comes responsibility—the responsibility to teach, educate, and be an exemplar. Not everyone may carry this duty, but travel writers and bloggers should take on this duty to help their audience learn more about travelling.
How to be a Responsible Traveller
Gabby describes Boracay as a prime example of tourism has led to the desecration of nature instead of the appreciation for it. Known for its white sand and pristine waters, Boracay has welcomed many tourists local and foreign. Its high potential for tourism has led to rapid growth of Boracay—stretching from end to end with resorts, restaurants, and nightlife. However, this has led to an unwanted over-development, which is responsible for all the pollution. The people that are accountable for this, aside from institutions, are of course the travellers. Gabby adamantly points that it is the responsibility of the traveller to respect both the natural and cultural heritage of the destination.
“Christ the Redeemer on Jesus Mountain,” said Gabby as he quoted an unnamed travel writer, and the audience laughed. The mountain on which Rio De Janeiro’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue was obviously not called ‘Jesus Mountain,’ and Gabby was quick to highlight that this author did not research about the destination and was lazy—a quick Google query could have told the blogger that it was Corcovado Mountain. In a short and delightful way, Gabby highlighted the importance of acquainting yourself with key details about places.
All these points of discussion Gabby Malvar brought up are not filled with spite, but instead with intention to educate aspiring travellers to be responsible, respectful, and cultured individuals. You could feel the energy and vigor from his speech—a true indication of his love and passion for travelling. All of these—whether you have read about, know, or respect the place—reflects on yourself as a traveller and as a person.
How to Write with Passion
Nowadays anyone can run a travel blog. The rise of the internet has no doubt affected travelling by making it easier for people to access information regarding destinations and making their itineraries.
If you’re thinking of visiting Baguio, a quick Google search can link you to hundreds of blog posts on the best taho, must visit places and other recommendations. These are certainly helpful, but you see these everywhere and don’t invoke deeper though. In order to amass a following, you have to be unique. What can you do to give the readers something fresh? Insert yourself into the equation! Use your interests and passions to filter your experiences into a different angle that your readers haven’t seen before.
Before you choose what to write about, ask yourself: What appeals to me? What made the trip so meaningful? What did I learn? Given the many elements that make the journey what it is, the refining process is what determines the craft.
Travel writing is not simply transcribing your itinerary. In order to become an effective writer, you must give life to the experience in the article. The end goal is to always transport the reader to the destination with a vivid account of your experience there; your readers must feel as if they were there themselves, travelling alongside you. One trick is to leave out photos and read through your work—can your words, with the help of your imagination, easily paint pictures in your head?
According to Gabby, there are many important elements you must consider when crafting a captivating travel article. Always start out by planning the structure of your article. You won’t always follow the structure you intended, but this will help you start writing. The beginning of the article must be compelling—it is the first and only chance to hook your readers. Give them an anecdote that applies to the situation, such as why you decided to go to the destination you are writing about or any stories you have heard about the destination.
The body of your article is where you should place the highlights of your experience. Use this section to replicate your experience and bring your story to life. Add fascinating characters you met; put intriguing dialogues you had; illuminate all the details. Cliché as it sounds, remember to show, not tell. While majority of writing usually shift between the two, the former is definitely more important than the latter in travel writing. Of course, you have to know which parts of the trip to highlight and when to move the story along. Writing space is limited and you cannot focus on everything. Fleeting moments, no matter the length, can be written a paragraph or two, while long accounts can be summed up into a few sentences.
Articulation is crucial; it will help the readers understand what you are trying to portray. The timing and the pace should also correspond to the overall theme of the article. Be selective when including points to your piece and limit it to what’s relevant. You must be able to build ideas on top of one another, which ultimately leads to a well written travel article that is ready to amaze your readers.
Before you end your piece, be sure that your final word gives your reader a deeper appreciation of your work. If possible, try to make ending complement the introduction, coming full circle. Think about where you started, and reflect on the journey. Keep in mind that the keys to becoming an effective travel writer are not limited to what is mentioned here. These elements are quintessential, but at the end of the day, this is your work; infuse it with your flavor and style.
“There is so much weariness and disappointment in travel that people have to open up –- in railway trains, over a fire, on the decks of steamers, and in the palm courts of hotels on a rainy day. They have to pass the time somehow, and they can pass it only with themselves.
Like the characters in Chekhov, they have no reserves -– you learn the most intimate secrets. You get an impression of a world peopled by eccentrics, of odd professions, almost incredible stupidities, and, to balance them, amazing endurances.” –Graham Greene, “The Lawless Roads.”
Note: None of us reached the fourth element, so we skipped it…
Please find more photos of the event on our Facebook: www.facebook.com/FlipTripPH
Find your next adventure on www.fliptrip.ph today.
Mario See is an undergraduate student at Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT), currently interning at FlipTrip.PH. He is passionate about Philippine politics, education, culture, and social issues. He hopes to establish a start-up and become a software developer in the near future.
Pat Rivera is an incoming sophomore at the Ateneo de Manila University. She is an avid enthusiast of film and the arts, and is currently further developing these skills to take these passions beyond mere