Reburying Hidden Gems: On Travel Writing Sloth

...and this one!
Check out this gem...

Who isn’t a travel writer these days? With so many blogs, websites, books, magazines, and other publications out there, everyone and his (or her) uncle can write about travel. The general requirement isn’t a degree in journalism or even expertise in, well, writing. Mostly anyone who goes somewhere and does something can write about it as an expert (or “expert” if you will). But even that’s not a given anymore. Am I complaining? Not at all. Multiple points of view are, plainly speaking, awesome.

Destination writing, however, is often as much about getting clicks on a website or getting invited to press events as it is about sharing information and helping our your fellow traveler. Whether it’s a blog, a tweet, or a thoroughly-researched in The New York Times, travel writing has exploded with social and other online media, and few of us can remember what it was like in the days when guide books were the only recourse. Ah the simpler times...

But all of this potential and power has made travel writers, dare I say it, lazy. While updating a travel guide recently, I think my track changes feature on Microsoft Word was about to blow a fuse. Aimless litanies of useless information, adjectives like “great” and “nice” splattered everywhere, and passages written by someone who doesn’t have a solid command of Paris geography (let alone the English language) were feeling my wrath.

Of course I was also deleting every travel writer’s best friend (and every good travel writer’s worst enemy), the repetitious references to “hidden gems” all over Paris. This city is apparently full of “hidden gems” that no one has ever found – and for every “gem” out there, we’ll find a lazy travel writer who doesn’t care to tell us what the place is or why it’s actually important. There are plenty of great things to discover or rediscover in Paris, but why can't we manage to describe them in coherent, precise prose?

If writers are so careless with their language, it forces us to question then what they are actually publishing. Are such poorly written blog posts, book passages, and magazine articles really helpful or accurate? Even Condé Nast Traveler was pitched a curve ball when one of their bloggers cum travel writers made a faux pas about New Year’s in Paris. The article, though now amended, still bears its scars in its comments section. If we can’t even trust the big name brands to do basic fact checking, then nameless TripAdvisor contributors or even detailed-oriented bloggers are more worrisome still.

What a nice place!
Such a pretty place!

But in the end, no one’s perfect, and not everyone will get it right. I am human. You are human. Bloggers and journalists are human (usually). But then who do we look to if we want the right info? Can we at least cross our fingers that writers will steer away from vague, cliche language and towards concrete, useful descriptions that actually mean something to those traveling?

We can play majority rules with TripAdvisor and Yelp, or we can hope bloggers are always being straight with us. But in the end, nothing beats good old fashioned first-hand experience, finding our own “hidden gems” and deciding upon much, much more appropriate names for them.