In travel writing, endings matter. They are the last words the audience will read and, when done well, they have a tendency to linger. A good ending is the feeling or image that survives, the thing that keeps the story alive and kicking in the reader’s mind long after they’ve finished the article.
In our last writers’ blog, we dealt with the all-important opener. This time round, we’re turning our attention to the equally important conclusion. It may come last, but the ending should never be an afterthought.
Travel writing endings need to not only alert readers to the fact that the story is over, but they also need to reinforce the main points of the article. The chronological end to your experience is usually not the best choice (embarking on a return flight does not make a good finale); you’ll need to come up with something better. Anyone who regularly reads travel content will be aware that the quote has become a fairly standard way of wrapping things up. And although a juicy end quote can be extremely effective, it’s a trick that is fast becoming overused.
With that in mind, here are three other travel writing techniques that can help spice up your finale.
1. Reinforce your point with a memorable fact, a detail or an image
The ending should reinforce what has gone before and reiterate the central point of your travel article, yet you shouldn’t just repeat what you’ve already said. Instead, try using a memorable image, fact or anecdote that helps summarise and demonstrate all that has gone before it, while simultaneously hammering home the main point.
In this Wall Street Journal article on climbing Sri Pada in Sri Lanka, Henry Wismayer ends by conjuring up a striking image of grandfather and grandson — one that continues to resonate after reading: “The bell was still tolling as I headed back down the stairs. Rounding the first corner was the man from Galle, a grandson at each arm. Together they stood and breathed in the dawn.”
David Sedaris employs a similar trick in this ‘Journey Into the Night’ essay for the New Yorker. Having told the story of a first-class passenger crying over the death of his mother, he wraps it up by accentuating a memorable situation: “Here we were: two grown men in roomy seats, each blubbering in his own élite puddle of light.”
2. End with a lesson, a discovery or a revelation
What have you learnt? Has your travelling experience given you any new insight? Has it changed the way you view something or the way you think about it? If so, tell your audience and save it for the end. These discoveries are the things readers want to know.
For example, in this travel piece on Fukuoka, Japan, Pultizer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz finishes up by telling us what he has learnt about yatai (Japanese food stalls that serve home-style cooking): “Sit in a yatai, shoulder to shoulder with locals and, yes, with tourists, and what you will hear, smell, taste, and participate in will be nothing less and nothing more than the simple magic from which nations like ours are born.”
Writer Danielle Henderson also uses this technique in this article on Macau for Afar magazine, which ends: “Back in my hotel room, I thought about my relationship with Macau, a misfit traveler trying to cobble together an authentic experience in a city that keeps a poker face, and how the closed culture had guided me into quiet, reflective moments you rarely get when you travel. That, I thought, as I packed my bags and munched on another order of french fries, is a gift.”
Alternatively, you can end with a revelation. It can be shocking, surprising, humorous or amusing. In this chucklesome travel piece from Vice, the writer makes sure the final words of the article won’t be quickly forgotten. They read: “Although, if you are really looking for a reason to leave an angry comment, I did eat a dog in Vietnam like three weeks later.”
3. Return to the opening
Another useful travel writing trick is to tie your ending to the opening. Return to the story you began with — a nice, neat circular narrative. In this article for The Telegraph, Patrick Symmes goes searching for the mythical kingdom of Shambhala in central Asia. He opens with “I won’t tell you where it is,” goes on to describe his lengthy quest to find the elusive and fabled paradise, then concludes with this gem: “I tell you, I was there.”
Ingrid K. Williams also uses this method in this recent Frugal Traveler article for the New York Times, where she opens with the following: “White truffles from Alba and red wine from Barolo are not usually part of the frugal traveler’s diet.” She then goes on to describe her frugal food travels around Piedmont and concludes by circling back to that opening sentence:
“In our kitchen that evening, Dave uncorked a bottle that I’d purchased at Il Bacco: a barbera d’Alba from G.D. Vajra, another small producer that Eric Asimov had recommended. It wasn’t Barolo, but it was delicious to drink while preparing dinner: thin, ribbonlike egg pasta called tajarin that we buttered and topped with generous shavings of our white truffle. Surrounded by the wonderful aroma of truffles, we sat down to an indulgent meal that, before exploring Piedmont, this frugal traveler never imagined she could afford.”
So next time you’re fretting about how best to structure your travel content, try using the above techniques (for the ending) and these helpful tips from our previous blog (for the beginning). We’re afraid the middle’s up to you!
Do you have any other secrets for writing a captivating conclusion? We’d love to hear them. Share them with us on Twitter. To see some of our travel writers’ own expertly-crafted endings, check out our latest projects.