LA Times Book Fest Travel Panel


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Leslie Berestein, Jim Benning, Elliott Hester, Don George, Me – Jen Leo

Around the World in 60 Minutes: Travel Writing at the LA Times Book Fest, was one of the better panels I attended this weekend, and I’m not just saying that because it’s one of my favorite subjects. I was just as eager to attend the the panels on book biz topics. Travel Editor for the LA Times, Catharine Hamm, chose her “dream team” for the panel. Don George of Lonely Planet, Elliott Hester, and Catherine Watson. The best part of the panel was how Catherine seamlessly led the flow of questions between the panelists based on their experience and knowledge. Instead of just asking a question and letting the panelists go down the line with their answers, she selected specific questions for each panelist and gave a spin on the topics so that each panelist could answer from a different perspective. Magic.

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The hardest part about speaking on a subject for an hour is covering as much ground as possible. There is no way that someone can teach you everything there is to know about travel writing in an hour, but they gave great samples of stories that they’ve had published, critical elements to the process of travel writing, techniques for being a good travel writer, and much more.

Here is a shortlist of advice that I was able to jot down:

What Makes a Good Travel Story?
Elliott: A good story should give a sense of place, and be both educational and entertaining.
Don: The most important thing is that the writer knows what they’re writing about and ask themselves, “What’s the point of this story?” It should also be entertaining, illuminating, contain a lesson or kernel of truth, and leave the reader enriched.

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What are your Cardinal Rules for Travel Writing?
Catherine:

  • Look for details all the time.
  • In a large group, big event, protest, etc — watch the people who are not talking and look at things from their perspective.
  • Stay till the bitter end. Some of the best moments come after everything is over.
  • Be patient in conversations. There is a reason that person is there talking to you.

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    Elliott: The lead is critical. Learn how not to fall in love with your own words.
    Don: I try to break my experience down. What is it all about? What did I learn? How did I learn it?
    I like it when stories go back to where they began.
    Catherine: Keep a list of good lines and good leads.

    If you want to learn more about travel writing, and these authors, read their books:

    Don George: Lonely Planet Guide To Travel Writing, The Kindness of Strangers
    Elliott Hester: Adventures of a Continental Drifter , Plane Insanity
    Catherine Watson: Roads Less Traveled