GUILTY! 15 Travel Cliches We All Use (But Shouldn’t)

yeah right...

Clichés…

You’ve used them. I’ve used them. We’ve all used them.

Which sucks.

Look, I love words.  I mean I love words… especially English words (mostly because I know what they mean).

But some words get used up… dried out… and ultimately mean nothing.

Did you know there are over 900,000 words in English? Close to a million words, just waiting for you to smash them together for your reader’s entertainment. So why, dear reader, bother using them in such tired, predictable ways?

What follows are fifteen clichés which make you look dumb…

#1. “The most beautiful in the world”

A terribly subjective phrase pretending to be objective. Sort of like Fox News. Look, you’ve never seen everything of anything, so don’t  presume to make such grandiose claims.

Sure, you could qualify it with “one of…” but you’re still stuck with a flabby, lifeless cliché.

#2. “A trip back in time…”

Ugh. You know, if you look hard enough, everywhere is a trip back in time. Hell, a retirement home is a trip back in time… but it doesn’t mean you want to spend your vacation there.

And neither do your readers.

#3. “There’s something for everyone…”

You’ll find this is true for anywhere worth visiting. Of course, as a travel writer your destination piece should have an angle which you FOCUS on throughout the piece. Stick with it.

Look, steakhouses have one vegetarian plat, right? Does that mean the restaurant has “something for everyone”? In one sense, yes… but in a broader, more accurate sense, they don’t.

Nor should they.

#4. “Nestled in the…”

Every time I read this (or write this) I want to rub my face against a cheese grater. Let’s just kill this one now: instead of “nestled” here are five synonyms you can replace it with:

  • Burrowed
  • Bundled
  • Engulfed
  • Situated
  • Surrounded

#5. “Friendly locals…”

Ah, Lonely Planet. You’ve seen it… I’ve seen it… hell, we’ve probably all written it one time or another.

It’s a cold, lifeless phrase which – like the living dead or Ke$ha – will not die.

Look, if you’ve traveled abroad you probably believe most locals are friendly… so why mention the obvious?

Instead, talk about locals’ idiosyncrasies. How do Thais mention to always smell so good? Why do Guatemalans dress more conservatively than Nicaraguans? Why is Central America latin on one side and black on the other?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Earth is a world of contrasts, yada, yada...

#6. “A city/country of contrasts…”

Now I’m getting fired up for two reasons.

One, is that this is the biggest pile of donkey dung in travel writing. Of course cities contrast… that’s why they’re cities.

Jam several million people together, mix different ethnicities, cultures and architectural styles and what do you get?

Drumroll please… contrasts!

But what really fires me up is… this cliché works.

It’s a guaranteed way to engage your reader.

Even if they’ve heard it before, they still wonder “OK, how does it contrast? Young and old… black and white… modern and colonial?”

Raising questions in your reader’s mind – and answering them immediately – adds power to your writing.

Therefore, I’m almost inclined to give this one a pass. What do you think?

#7. “Charming villages…”

Hay-Zeus. Unless applied to a certain Disney prince, the word “charming” should be marched straight to the firing squad… with not a blank among its executioners.

“Charming” represents words which have lost all meaning. Like Albert Camus characters.

And you know what happened to them, right?

#8. “Colorful/bustling markets…”

Either of these words work in other contexts. For example, “colorful stir-fry” or “while vendors bustled about” are perfectly acceptable phrases.

But when attached to “markets” they lose everything faster than Paul McCartney’s divorce proceedings. So please, please, please don’t use them together!

example of vibrant headlines

Now that's vibrant.

#9.  “Vibrant culture…”

This is the go-to phrase for Caribbean islands, Latin America, Asian cities and just about anywhere outside New England.

Of course, New England has “vibrant autumns” so I guess it balances out.

#10. “Rich in history…”

One of the most overused phrases ever. On a lark I searched for it in Google and found over 15 million pages which use this phrase.

And guess what? Many of them are (gasp!) travel sites.

Instead, try “riddled,” “bursting” or “jam-packed with history”.

#11. “Quirky art galleries…”

Yeah, we get it. Artists are quirky. But does that mean every gallery without long-dead white artists is “quirky”?  Is this somehow a universal truth we’ve overlooked?

Methinks not.

Art galleries can be lots of things. Highbrow. Irreverent. A complete nuthouse. A total waste of effort, resources and real estate. So why, pray tell, does “quirky” lead the pack?

Why does this seemingly harmless phrase steal the limelight from other equally viable adjectives?

Why indeed?

#12. “Lively nightlife…”

It seems – to travel writers, at least – that nightlife is an either/or proposition. It’s either “lively” or “dead.”

Your writing’s got Heidi Klum legs if you describe nightlife in different terms. For example: “neck-snapping beats,” or “get shaken up with alcohol infused barflies” are a helluva lot more original (but you can probably do better).

#13. “Crystal clear lakes…”

This one’s been beat to death. Try “translucent”, “unclouded”, “luminous”… anything but “crystal clear.”

#14. “Panoramic views…”

While not as bad as others on this list – it does after all, say something – there several varieties you could run with.

How about:

  • 360 degree
  • complete
  • birds eye (borderline cliché but still useful)
  • all-encompassing
  • far-reaching

#15. “Majestic mountains…”

I saved this particular monstrosity for last because it’s as worthless as widespread. Seriously. How many times have you read this phrase? It’s almost as omnipresent as a byline… but unlike a byline, it carries no real purpose.

There are hundreds of ways to actually describe mountains. Here’s 50. And here’s some more.

5 Bonus Clichés: Bad, But Not Worth Assaulting

  • #16. “Golden beaches…”
  • #17. “Quaint villages…”
  • #18. “Snow-capped mountains…”
  • #19. “Off the beaten track…”
  • #20. “Undiscovered…”

Which crimes-against-writing did I miss? Add your own motley crew in the comments below!

About adamcosta

Adam Costa is co-founder and Editor in Chief of both Trekity.com and TravelBloggerAcademy. He currently lives... um... somewhere.

Fill out this simple form and gain INSTANT access to Travelblogging 101: The Ultimate Guide to Building & Running a Profitable Travel Blog!

Comments

  1. Any discussion of the sunset, though its much worse if the writer tries to pull it back on topic by describing what the sun is setting over. I can pretty much imagine, sitting here on my sofa, what the sun setting behind any given skyline looks like. Call me jaded…

    • Nice add with the sunsets 😉

      You’re definitely not jaded. Lazy writing is lazy writing.

      What other types of content would you like to see here?

      • O'reilly says:

        You’re talking rubbish, seriously. Why should everyone confine to you’re way of writing? and yes, you are asking them to… a real cheek to call being yourself ‘Lazy writing’…

  2. I think I write far too often “delicious” when it is about food. “First we had a delicious breakfast with a delicious fresh presse juice and then there was that guy who sold some delicious …… ” (not that bad but still bad enough). I try to improve and I guess I have written some of the 15 (+5) cliches already. Thanks a lot for advise, I’ll put them as a sticky on my desktop and read them every time that my internet shuts down or firefox crashes 😀
    Great tips btw as well this one as the others (didn’t read all yet, but many).
    Just subscribed for mails!
    Good job,
    Annika

  3. Oh dear, guilty as charged on a number of counts… and a few more, like traditional culture, traditional/colorful costume… exotic food/taste… must-see… bustling market… I could go on… but I’d feel even worse! Thanks for the reminder Adam…

  4. Hahaha guilty!! Especially Crystal clear…don’t forget “white sandy beaches”, “paradise” etc! I will ave to keep these in mind when writing my next post!

    Love this website by the way, so incredibly useful…all your headlines are so engaging that I now have about 10 different tabs open, ready to read them all and I’ve subscribed to the course! woo!

  5. Damn us being new bloggers and guilty on nearly all accounts.

  6. Very helpful and a great reminder. I think “a local secret” is also a cliche.

  7. A theasurus is a writers best friend.. languid sunsets dancing over a golden horizon make this untouched and unique landscape Hawaii’s best kept secret… 😛

  8. Good advice, sometimes “guilty as charged”, but I would also like to say that when I see descriptions that seem to be a bit over the top and trying too hard, they can almost sound pompous and be a bit of a turn off. I think “keeping it real” and sincere in the context of the entire content is important.

  9. Oh no. Very guilty. I have them on my titles, too…quaint village of …traditional village…more but am changing those to better descriptions.

  10. This is great content, Adam. I’ll add hustle and bustle…typing that makes my teeth hurt a bit.