How to write a compelling travelogue
Most travelogues, whether in short story or book form, follow the narrative archetype defined by Joseph Campbell as the Hero’s Journey or Quest. The story is about how the hero—that would be you—is inspired to set out into the unknown and, through challenges and temptations (inner and outer), experiences a transformation.
A lot of the fun of reading a travelogue is the two-fold journey. The first is the obvious outer journey toward some quest, whether it’s motorcycling through China, sailing to Hawaii, or driving your family across Spain.
If all goes well, great trip, terrible story; maybe you can salvage it for a travel article. But if the station wagon you rented breaks down in the Pyrenees and your husband confesses that his VP embezzled all the money from his business and you’re going to lose your house, or your boyfriend breaks up with you via email in the middle of China, or your mainsail mast breaks in a storm, then you’ve got something. Disasters and setbacks, and how you get out of them, make for great scenes and the associated potential for personal growth is what makes your story a travelogue rather than a travel article.
If the journey did not provide the required elements of a hero’s journey in the proper sequence, you’re going to have to structure your story so that it does. In my first book, I completely failed at creating a classic narrative arc because I arranged my scenes sequentially and not thematically, causing a reverse narrative arc with all the action and strife in the beginning and petering out in the end. I probably should have slowed down and fleshed out the more exciting parts in the beginning of the trip and summed up the last half of the trip in one or two chapters…