Flip through any travel guide or industry magazine and you’ll likely spot them immediately — flowery words and cliches describing destinations as “hip” and “hot,” or “a fascinating blend of the ancient and modern” with hotels “nestled in cosy hillsides.”
Chuck Thompson, a longtime professional travel writer and former Travelocity magazine editor, rhymed off those examples of overused hyperbole in a recent interview, admitting that while they make him gag, they also come from his own published articles.
Even when the humorous American wordsmith has tried to avoid using such phrases, they’ve been inserted into his copy by editors trying to satisfy their advertisers.
“You turn in your story that you think is good and crisp writing and meets your own standards, and then it comes out in the magazine and there is the sun-dappled barf sprinkled all over your copy that you thought was so beautiful,” Thompson said on a recent stop to promote his new book Smile When You’re Lying, Confessions Of A Rogue Travel Writer (H.B. Fenn and Co.).
“There’s people above the chain that are going to edit your copy, they’re going to do what they want with it, they are going to impose the demands of their publication and their advertisers onto your copy and that’s just how it works.”
Thompson’s travelogue — he calls it “a memoir masquerading as a travel book” — is his way of revealing how biased and lazy travel journalism can be. He tells the offbeat, funny and salacious vacation tales that his editors either rejected or snipped out of his copy for fear of turning off advertisers.
Readers will laugh out loud and cringe as they learn of Thompson’s teenage years in Juneau, Alaska, and of his journeys as an English teacher and travel writer who gets swindled and seduced on several continents.
Thompson, who lives in Portland, Ore., and Juneau and still does freelance travel writing, says while all the stories in the book are true, those in some of his other travel literature aren’t.
“That’s one of the problems with travel writing, and it is a challenge faced by all travel writers,” he said.
“You want to have the sort of organic experiences, you want to let things happen naturally. When you’re on assignment for one week or two weeks in Ireland or Venezuela or wherever it may be, you kind of do have to force the issue a little bit. You have to create things to be written about.”
So what are vacation seekers to do when they can’t trust the glowing articles they read in magazines, newspapers and guidebooks?
“The best resource is your own chutzpah, man — just getting out there and buying a ticket, looking at a map and figuring out where you want to go. Seriously, it is. That’s how I’ve done it a lot,” said Thompson.
Having visited 35 countries and counting, Thompson does offer some travel tips and opinions on certain destinations.
London, England, and the Philippines are among his choice areas to vacation. Latin America “needs a good PR agency,” while Belgium is the “most underrated country in Europe,” he writes. Graceland, Las Vegas, Baltimore, Florida, St. Tropez, France, and the Caribbean are among the most overrated places in his eyes.
Thompson makes clear his affection for Canada, writing that those wishing to visit New Zealand should “save (themselves) the time and visit British Columbia instead.”
He closes the book with this line — “Just when you think you’ve seen the best the world has to offer, there’ll always be Canada.”#