I’ve mentioned it here before, but I am currently working on a full-time Master’s degree in Creative (Non-Fiction) Writing. I also have a job that mostly involves writing and editing. I also have this blog, and other freelance assignments, so… you guessed it, more writing. Across the board, everything I write has some sort of connection to travelling. While I hesitate to call myself a travel writer – that’s not exactly what I do – I sure as hell do a lot of travel writing. And the more I do, the more I realize I’m not very good at it all the time. The more I do, the more I see just how often I rely on the most overused words in travel writing.
Over the last year and a half, my degree and my job have taken up most of my life. I have sadly had to let this blog slip behind a little bit, which breaks my heart. I love writing blog posts. Sometimes I go back and read old blog posts for inspiration for the book I’m writing, and once in a while I feel really proud of what I’ve written. A lot of the time, however, I cringe. I’m totally guilty of doing some really lazy travel writing. Lock me up and throw away the key, because I have definitely described a city as a “fascinating blend of the ancient and the modern”.
So, mostly out of sheer self-shaming (in the hopes that I never blog/write using these words again… or at least minimise my use of them) here are the words I think are overused in travel writing and travel blogging. This list is purely my subjective opinion, snark and all, so I’d love to hear your thoughts and your additions in the comments!
The Most Overused Words in Travel Writing
1. Amazing… and all those other superlatives.
I wrote a strange introduction to this art museum in Cyprus in which I describe how often I use superlatives. I’m sure many of us are guilty of it. Think about it: how often do you say the words amazing, cool, awesome, or brilliant?
And in writing, how often do you use the words fascinating, interesting, fantastic, stunning, gorgeous, wonderful, terrific, and the best? I don’t think that using these words in travel writing is awful… the problem occurs when they’re the only words that are used at all. I’ve read so many pieces about places that – if literally taken word for word – would mean that that place is undoubtedly heaven on earth, it is so mind-glowingly amazing (see: half my blog posts).
Now what I do after each blog post or article I’ve written is a word search for words I know I’m guilty of overusing. I recently wrote an article only to discover I’d used the word beautiful six times in eight hundred words. Okay, yes, the place really is ridiculously beautiful, but using that word that many times is just being negligent.
Be creative with your vocabulary choices, but don’t go overboard with the thesaurus, either. If the reader can’t immediately figure out what it is you’re trying to say or trying to describe, he’ll tune out completely.
The bottom line? Big words don’t equal great writing.
My home office
I find this word a bit patronising, as if you’re patting the town you’re describing on the head. I’ve used it before on this blog: “My favourite places are tiny Pai and quaint Popayan, sleepy Kampot and relaxed Mendoza.” Whoops. It just strikes me as a lazy word, though I understand the desire to use it – there aren’t that many words that mean the same thing that aren’t as overused in travel writing, too. Picturesque? Charming? Whimsical??? Yikes.
3. Hidden gem.
From my searches on this blog, and through my (shaky) memory, I am pretty sure I’ve never written the words hidden gem on here. Why? I think it’s a phrase that once carried a bit of weight, but now seems quite clichéd and overused in travel writing. I recently saw an article that listed Florence as a hidden gem. What?!
This is the kind of phrase that should make a writer use their imagination: how else can this idea be explained? Off the beaten path falls into this category, too.
I have nothing against using this word to describe food. Food can indeed be very delicious. The problem I have with this word is when it is used to describe something other than food. Same goes for scrumptious, tasty, and for… *and I gag*… yummy. Whoever first uttered the phrase yummy mummy should be forced to never eat anything scrumptious, tasty, or delicious again.
I found this list of words that can help describe food (it also has a good list of synonyms for the dreaded “amazing”).
I’ve always found this phrase to be a trifle bossy. Oh really? I simply must see it? Or what?? To be fair, I’ve used it on this blog before: “The best places to see street art in Berlin are Mitte, Kreuzberg, and Friedrichshain; another must-see is the alleyway off of Rosenthaler Straße, where many different artists have worked together to create a spectacular, ever-changing gallery.” I definitely could have come up with another phrase there.
To describe something as exotic, by pure definition, means that the thing you’re describing is from a foreign land. Pretty simple and straightforward.
I’ve used it on this blog before: “One Friday I walked through Antigua Market, caught in the chaos and the exoticism: the ripening fruit spilling into the aisles, the fluttering paper wisps of piñatas, the air perfumed by bunches of lilies and fly-covered meat.”
The problem I have with this word is when it is used to describe a person. “Exotic locals” don’t exist. Similarly, I despise when people describe a person’s looks as “exotic”. No – you’re just presupposing a shared cultural context. Technically speaking, if you’re in a foreign country, you’re the exotic one.
I can’t stand when people say they’ve discovered the “real” Thailand or the “real” Paris or whatever it is that people think real means. If you’re in Thailand, you’re in Thailand. Whatever you see around you is real, and whatever you see around you is now a part of the Thai culture.
Just because something doesn’t suit your assumed image of a place doesn’t mean that it isn’t real. I also shudder when I read or hear the word “authentic”, which I wrote a whole blog post about here.
Did you meander through that quaint village that was nestled in the countryside?! It just comes across as quite clichéd to me, and is such an overused word in travel writing. When I write, I try to think if I would use that word in an everyday sentence.
Yes, okay, I’m guilty of writing it: “We head back to the beach to finish up yet another novel. We meander back to the hotel room, have another cold shower, put on our best clothes (the best meaning the least wrinkled from our backpacks). We walk back along the water, searching for happy hour deals and barbecued fish.”
I use the word love so much on this blog that it shows up in a search on thirty three pages with an average of ten posts per page. Damn. A rough count saw that I have used the word love in the title of over thirty posts. I just really love a lot of things, okay guys??
But yes, I should try to cut it back. We can’t truly love every place we visit, just like we can’t love every single person we date. Besides, the opposite experiences usually make for the best stories anyway… both with places and with dates.
I recently read Stephen King’s On Writing – a book I recommend for all writers, fiction and non-fiction alike – and one of the things he emphasised was to cut out as many adverbs as possible. I had heard that before, but for some reason it stuck with me this time. And it’s true… why do we need to say she sprinted quickly, or that he shouted loudly, or that she pleaded abjectly? These are all presumed by the verb you used.
This is also connected to that classic adage in writing, show, don’t tell, which I try to implement in my writing every day. Don’t tell us how she felt… show us, through her body language and her dialogue.
Oh yeah, and I’m also trying to cut out almost every “very” and “really” from my writing. I’m not really angry, I’m furious. I’m not very happy, I’m elated. Here are a few more good ‘feeling’ words to use.
Just a few edits to go through
Bonus overused words in travel writing:
Epic, sun-dappled, nestled, friendly locals, bucket list, foodie, magical (I’m totally guilty of that one), “I’ll be back one day” (also guilty of that a lot) and, let us not forget, a “fascinating blend of the ancient and the modern“. I vow to never write that line or anything like it again.
One of the best books I’ve ever read on travel writing is Smile When You’re Lying by Chuck Thompson. Gritty and hilarious, it will make you think twice about using some of these words in travel writing again.
What do you think? Do you agree with this list of overused words in travel writing? What else would you add?
you forgot ubiquitous!
I don’t mind that word!
I HATE the expression “must-see”. It makes me want to be contrary and not see the place. Though I definitely am guilty of superlatives and loving everything… I just feel superlatively in love with every place that I visit! But yes, that should probably be toned down.
Ha ha… I’m with you! I feel the same way.
You forgot AWESOME!!
Unfortunately I think I use all those words too often..eekk. But now I will consciously try not to! Great piece!
Yes, I think that is definitely overused, too! I say it a lot but rarely write it. Thanks for the comment!
This post makes me laugh. It can be difficult to come up with anything unique in travel writing anymore when everyone’s doing it and we’re all reading each others’ writing. I would love to read On Writing and Smile When You’re Lying, I’m sure I could learn a lot from those.
One particular phrase I wish would wither and die is “an incurable case of wanderlust.” Gag me. The word “wanderlust” by itself grates on my nerves anymore. Along the same lines as your paragraph about the word “real,” I think “authentic” is overused and so completely subjective that it almost has no meaning.
I still really love the word wanderlust, as I don’t really know another way to describe what I feel (“itchy feet” isn’t a favourite phrase of mine, either). I agree that the word “authentic” is extremely subjective!
Amazing post, I am really guilty of using the best of these words in my ‘brilliant’ blog 😉
Feel the need to be more creative… And you’re making me want to do this masters more!!
I think you’d love the program! Let’s get together soon to chat about it…
Le sigh… I am so so so guilty of the above. Especially love, must-see, magical, and the superlatives. Thanks for the motivation to get a touch more creative. The world could always use more imaginative writing.
We’re all guilty of them, don’t worry!
Great Post Brenna!
I have struggled so much starting out with my blog when it comes to descriptive words, and know I’m guilty of overusing so many of the cliche redundant ones. I agree with what you said about ‘you’ being the exotic one!
Stephen King’s memoir on writing is brilliant- (I feel like this is a time this word is definitely allowed!) so many great tips. I know I will come back to this post from time to time to help with my own writing- thanks!
Also, need to get my hands on that last book you mentioned by Chuck Thompson, sounds like a good read!
Yes, there are definitely times some of these words are allowed… but never yummy! Ha ha. I love Chuck Thompson, another of his called To Hellholes and Back is also brilliant. 😉
“Bustling marketplaces” is one I feel like I see a lot (and am guilty of using too)!
I’ve definitely used that one… and you’re right, it’s overused!
This was a great read! I’m definitely guilty of overusing all these words, especially when it comes to superlatives. Just reading “yummy mummy” made me cringe, ha. I hate when people use scrumptious and yummy to describe a person!
Ha ha, thank you! Glad I’m not the only one…
the overused cliche i hate the most is”off the beaten path”. I refuse to read anything with that phrase in it. It makes me want to stab something with a spork
I don’t think I’d ever refuse to read something just for using a certain word, but I agree that there are some phrases that really make me roll my eyes!
Haha I use a lot of these but I try not to overuse in each piece I write and use alternatives when I can. I hate must-see as well as everyone has different things that they are into, I also hate ‘You can’t miss…’ – same reason. I am sick of reading ‘Digital Nomad’ or anything Nomad really
I’m with you on “digital nomad”… again, just so overused. I am also not a fan of anyone calling themselves a guru, ever.
Haha, I love this post, and yes, I’ve been guilty of most of these, too.
The one I hate the most is ‘friendly locals.’ Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I know that more often than not, there are loads of not-so-friendly locals, too – let’s hear about them as well!
Yes, it’s such a cliché to say “friendly locals”!
I’m guilty of so many of these! Thanks for the link to the food words, actually putting together another food post right now so will refer to that instead of using delicous a hundred times 🙂
Oh great, glad that it will help!
Yup, beautiful is definitely up there for me. I use ‘unfortunately’ rather a lot too. Haha!
Ha ha! I definitely overuse “beautiful”…
Ha! I read King’s _On Writing_ several years ago and have struggled with adverbs ever since. I know I over-use them, but I just. Can’t. Stop. Maybe seeing the rule here again will help!
I know, I need to constantly remind myself of it when writing!
Oh man, this made me laugh. I do some travel writing too (at The Culture Trip – I think we did a piece on you recently? I really hoped they’d include you when I saw the topic!) and I am guilty as charged of 90% of these.
I’m guilty too, don’t worry. And yes, I was featured on the Culture Trip recently, thank you so much!
This is so true and I can’t say I’m not a part of it. I keep working more and more on improving my vocab, but I have to admit the years of not writing much has increased not the words that I know but the ones that I go to instinctually. I like to think I keep improving but I plan on continuing to work on it. Do you have any tricks?
The only things I’ve found will help are to read every day and write every day. That’s it. It sounds simple, but it’s the best way to become a better writer and expand your vocabulary!
Awesome, amazing and delicious are too big ones for me. Interesting, funny post! Can’t wait for the book
Good thing I am not a travel writer…I feel like I use the word amazing so much 😉
Ha ha – there are many words I say out loud that I can never actually write in an article! “Super awesome” 😉
Oh, this made me laugh. It’s so true and I’m so guilty. Feeling like I can’t share a travel experience without using a whole lot of cliches is one reason why my blogging has decreased so much over the past few years. I’m amazed that you can write for so many outlets and still find new and interesting ways to express yourself. A true testament to your talent.
Glad I could make you laugh, Jill! And thank you so much for such a nice comment, I definitely struggle with cliches every day, but I look at it as a challenge to push my writing to be as best as it can be.
Oh no I pledge guilty with almost all those that are listed above 🙁
[…] The Most Overused Words in Travel Writing hit my inbox in April. I’m doing a significant amount of content writing for a client and tips like this are always interesting to me. I was disappointed to be an offender with some of them (Hello, “Must See”). I thought she had some good points and am actively working on banishing a few of these words from my personal writing. […]
A lovely post – I am guilty as charged your honour. Will try harder I promise!
Ha ha – this is just my own personal opinion!
Hahaha! What a great idea for a post! And yes, that Chuck Thompson book is such an excellent reminder of how some words just get thrown around without a second thought just because they suit the genre. I like the idea of using more appropriate words rather than adding “very” and “really” in front of the wrong word. Just another reason why I cannot wait to get my hands on your book!!!! 😀
Thank you so much, Kerri! You were the one who introduced me to Chuck Thompson, so thank you for that, too. 😀
made me laugh ) I agree with all of them except “Real” .. sorry darling, but if you’re staying in a 5 star resort in Kenya and being flown to Masai Mara by a private jet, I have the right to tell you, you did NOT see the REAL Kenya!! But that’s just my small opinion on the matter. Same goes for Cuba and other places.
I booked marked this, so I can try to improve with my writing! ; )
[…] of his childhood and first forays into writing. The second section is about the act of writing, and I found his advice to be invaluable – often harsh, but invaluable. Whether you’re writing a book, an essay, or a blog post, […]
This article goes straight in my bookmarks! 🙂
Aw, thanks Riccardo! Ha ha 😀
It was fun to read your post. How come I didn’t find this ‘hidden gem’ before today? I hope I don’t pepper my copy with too many clichés. It’s certainly something that all writers need to think about.
Hahaha, I had a good laugh at this! I always imagine some snails when i hear “meander”, it´s some weird association I have. So definitely not using it! Actually, i´ve never used many of these (guilty of a lot of thesaurus googling, oops) – maybe because i am not a native speaker and i am more guilty of directly passing my own language clichés to English than using the original ones! I use more picturesque than quaint – I´m not really sure what quaint is supposed to mean.
Oh, and I´m a “bucket list” hater. Since when it became clear that it is a “must” to have one?
Hm. When I think of it now, I sometimes mischievously use French words and phrases when I can´t come up with something fitting in English. (No, French is not my native either ;-))
Ha ha – we all resort to them at one time or another! I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Karin. 🙂
Don’t you think, you should have added a few words like scenic, serene and tranquil and snow-capped?