Posted by: Ginny Prior | January 8, 2013

Lonely Planet’s Don George kicks off travel journalism class with his textbook

Jeffrey, Don, Sam and Declan

Jeffrey, Don, Sam and Declan

By Sam Salzinger

Over sixty countries, six hundred articles, and numerous features in anthologies, Don George is an expert travel journalist and editor. It was truly a privilege to have listened to his discussion.

Don began his career as a journalist in 1980 with the San Francisco Examiner (now known as the San Francisco Chronicle) writing its travel column. At the time, the staff was operated by only a handful of people, so Don considered this opportunity extremely fortunate. He was able to progress as an editor and never looked back. He worked for the paper until 1997.

At the forefront of journalism, Don joined, one of the first online magazines. There he wrote and edited articles for the travel portion titled Wanderlust until 2001.

He then moved onto work as the Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet. The company is the world leader in travel guidebooks and digital media publishing. He sat as Lonely Planet’s leading spokesperson while continuing to write and edit. Don has had great success with his yearly anthologies and book, Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing. He is currently finishing the second edition of his book as the world of travel writing has changed considerably. Don also edits for three online blogs; Recce, The Adventurous Traveler, and Gadling

There were several key points Don covered in his lecture. He started by defining travel journalism into two parts. The first, emphasizing that the writing is nonfiction. The words should be true, which leads to the second goal of illuminating a place. A good travel writer can portray a valuable experience to his or her readers. One must convey something essential so that the reader feels as if they have been there.

Don continued to discuss the types of stories travel journalists tend to write. There is service journalism, which tends to list and describe the best destinations, restaurants, and other various topics. The second is a destination story. This is when a one goes to a place, explores it, and recreates a story for the reader highlighting its qualities.

The hardest part of traveling writing is the lead. “You’ll paralyze yourself if you stress over the lead,” Don described. He advises writers to skip and come back to the lead because it’s easier to get to the heart of an article.

Don described the structure of a travel article like that of any other story. There is a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning tells the reader where you are and why you are there. The middle focuses on what is happening, sharing experiences with the reader. Lastly, the end should display the meaning of the story.

Knowing the point of a story is particularly important. Don emphasized the need to sense the theme, and then turn your attention to what you want the reader to know. Every step along the way should relate to the main point. It is imperative that travel writers ask themselves these questions. What was the essence of the place? What and how did I learn? What steps led me to this knowledge? What steps were of most importance? After coming up with solutions, a writer will recreate these steps.

Don gave us some final tips to become successful travel journalists. One was to keep a journal. Writing down memories is beneficial to provide specific details in writing. Don calls details “the building blocks of stories”.  One must gather information and live well and then put the major points into a story.

I found Don’s discussion very inspirational. He preaches travel writing because “you get to relive your trips over and over again.”



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