A land of contrasts – travel clichés we love to hate

Just like real estate agents – OK, maybe not exactly like real estate agents – many travel writers can’t help themselves when it comes to describing places, hotels, restaurants and bars.

Feel free to play ‘Travel Writer Bingo’ next time you read a travel feature, and see how many of the following crimes against clear, inspiring writing you can spot.

“A land of contrasts”

The old favourite, used to describe anywhere with some mountains, say, and a coastline, or lots of big cities and – hang on, that’s unusual – lots of small villages as well. Or rich people and – well, darn me – poor people too. Let’s face it, everywhere is a land of contrasts, from Belgium to New Zealand – frankly, my back garden is a land of contrasts.

“Something for everyone”

Or – as a wise person once said to me – “nothing for anyone”. We’re all different, we don’t all have to like the same things. So don’t send me to a museum that my 5-year-old or my granny will love, because I probably won’t. Harrods, conceivably, has something for everyone. The Open-Air Farming and Vintage Doll Museum doesn’t.

“Step back in time”

Apart from the cars, and the satellite dishes, and the people with cell phones, and the window frames with actual glass in them, and the concrete, and the traffic lights. You mean it’s mostly pretty and mostly pretty old don’t you? Probably medieval, if in Europe. Probably 19th-century, if in the US. Just describe it instead.

“A family-run restaurant”

There was an old guy in charge wasn’t there? And a woman of about his age working the stoves out back? And the waiter was the age their son would be, if they had a son? Basically, I want to see birth and marriage certificates if you’re telling me it’s family run. And then I want to know why you think a familial relationship makes them cook and serve any better?

“Hidden gem”

Allowable if, Indiana Jones-like, you abseiled down a thousand-foot cliff, crossed a fraying rope bridge and swam across waters teeming with barracuda to discover a medieval walled town ringed by a pristine white sandy beach. Not allowable if you got somewhere quite nice on the bus. Also not applicable to a backstreet restaurant where you happen to be the only customer.

“Quirky, spartan and ramshackle”

Does your quirky accommodation boast majestic, nay breathtaking, panoramas or vistas? But does it also have a spartan restaurant and a ramshackle bar? Ah, you must be staying in the Hotel TravelWriter – which, I’d like to bet is unique (or possibly, and actually impossibly, ‘quite’ unique)? If it’s also nestled in a verdant park, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Seriously – who else, except a travel writer, says nestled, vista, ramshackle or verdant?

Do you have any favourite travel-writing clichés of your own? Let’s hear them!

Oh, and believe me, I know – there’s no point in going through my blog, books, features and articles and trying to catch me out. I am guilty, guilty, guilty, as charged. My work is truly a collection of contrasts with something for everyone.

 

 

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8 Comments
  1. I’m definitely with you on all this – especially the ‘nestling.’ Who ever says that in the real world? No doubt they’d be the same ones who said they were ‘alighting’ the no.56 bus …

    Hidden gems – ah yes, another. I’ve even heard people describe Northumbria that way. Personally, if I come across anywhere that would fall remotely in that category – and this includes pockets of on street parking with no meters, let alone entire counties – I tell no-one.

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    • I’m sensing a kindred spirit! This is turning out to be my most tweeted blog-post, so I figure I’ve hit a nerve. Luckily, I’ve unearthed a few more hidden gems and will be following up soon with another compendium of clichés that I found nestling in a hideaway location far off the beaten track…

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  2. Good point John! To be fair though, there are only two allowable descriptions for restaurants in travel guides – ‘cheap and cheerful’ or ‘worth a splurge’. And they can either be ‘bustling’ (busy) or a ‘local secret’ (empty).

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