A Perfect Example of Worthless Travel Writing
Good travel writing inspires. You rip the article out of the newspaper or magazine and start planning for that dream trip. In some rare instances, a great writer will pan a destination or type of travel, like David Foster Wallace critiquing his luxury cruise for Harpers Magazine. Then there are the articles that are just plain laughable and not because they intend to be funny. On Saturday, the Boston Globe published a real dud simply titled “Road Trip Time.” It’s such a wonderful example of uninspired dribble that I can’t wait to bring it to students this semester at Emerson College when I talk about the art of travel writing. Here are 3 examples on why this piece should have never been seen by the public:
There is no angle to this story—It seems as if the writer is just cruising, taking a hike here, stopping for a lobster roll or a microbrew there. But there’s very little description of any of these experiences, leaving us with a list of random places. In great road trip stories, the writer should introduce the reader to a scenic route, preferably one that most readers don’t know, which unfortunately is not the case with the Kancamagus Highway. He had more than ample chance to discuss the majestic peninsulas that dangle down from Route 1 in Maine that leave us at Popham Beach and the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, but instead chose arbitrary destinations.
He assumes the reader knows nothing about these destinations—The Boston Globe chose to print this road trip story on the White Mountains, the Berkshires, and the Maine coast. That’s very risky because 99.9% of the readership knows these locales exceptionally well. So don’t start your White Mountains entry by stating, “Two and a half hours north of Boston is the unassuming hamlet of North Conway, N.H., the gateway to the White Mountains.” We’re from Boston, not Tuscaloosa. We know where the White Mountains are and we also know that North Conway is not an “unassuming hamlet” but a commercialized home to more outlet stores than any other spot in the state. Nearby Jackson and its serene village green might fit that bill.
End a road trip story on a highlight—Lubec? Really? You chose to include the Maine coast, one of the classic road trips in America, and you ended the trip not in Acadia National Park, not in Camden, but Lubec. I happen to like Lubec and its historic sardine canneries, but if you’re creating a realistic itinerary for readers of the Boston Globe, the trip ends in Bar Harbor. If you want to add another 2 hours to that drive, then you might as well keep going to the far more charming town of St. Andrews by-the-Sea in New Brunswick.
I spent a quarter-century writing about New England so it’s far easier for me to spot inexperience from a mile away. But the readers of the Globe are not stupid and they deserve genuine travel expertise, especially when you publish a story on New England.