Was it really a 'breathtaking' view? Really?

Machu Picchu offers breathtaking views ... but only because it's literally hard to breathe up there.
Machu Picchu offers breathtaking views ... but only because it's literally hard to breathe up there. Photo: Reuters

You do it, and I do it. In this age of group emails and Wordpress blogs, everyone's a travel writer. We're all recording our worldly experiences for other people to enjoy; some of us are outrageously fortunate enough to make a living out of it.

And in these missives that clog up the cyber world we're all guilty of the same thing: clichés. You can try to avoid them like the plague, but travel writing seems to lend itself to liberal use of clichés. You do it, and I do it.

We swan around the world being humbled by authentic experiences in breathtaking destinations. We step back in time in cities of contrast. We're charmed by bustling markets.

Getting the idea?

"A breathtaking view"

I can only think of one view that really was breathtaking, and that was of Machu Picchu – and you could argue that it wasn't the view causing my lack of breath, but the altitude, and an embarrassing lack of fitness. Most other views leave me impressed, but breathing just fine.

"Like taking a step back in time"

Australians are particularly prone to this, given we come from a country where "old" buildings were erected by people who are still alive. Send us anywhere with cobblestones and a couple of 300-year-old shacks and we think we're in Back to the Future.

"It's paradise"

Incredibly overused, and usually in a fairly patronising fashion. The concept of "paradise" is characterised by beaches, palm trees, sunshine, and desperate locals scraping by on subsistence living and the occasional tourist dollar. There's no healthcare, but plenty of political instability. It's paradise, but, you know, you wouldn't want to live there.

"Bustling markets"

If they're not bustling, they're going to be pretty average markets.

"A truly authentic experience"

Mostly used by those with something to prove. Or those with the suspicion that they've just done the same thing every other tourist does in this country. Or they went to a restaurant with no English menu.

"A rich blend of old and new"

Um, no kidding. Unless progress was completely halted 100 years ago, or the city simply emerged out of the desert in the time it takes most places to grant a single building permit – hi, Dubai – then it's obviously going to be a blend of old and new.

"Humbled by the experience"

What does this even mean? And why are people being humbled over and over again? After your first humbling, aren't you then forever humble? Or do you go back to your normal state of non-humbleness and require another humbling later on?

"Charming"

This is travel's version of real estate agent speak. You know the tiny studio flat that's "cosy"?

"Off the beaten track"

Used to describe any place or attraction that didn't make it into the Lonely Planet. Or was at least tucked away towards the back of the book.

"Friendly locals"

Face it, the only people you've spoken to in your 24 hours in country X are a couple of cab drivers, a hotel check-in clerk, and the bored waitstaff at the restaurant downstairs. But they all seemed so nice!

"A cultural melting pot"

Another one travel writers love to trundle out to describe any place that's not a complete monoculture. So that'll be most places. These mysterious pots can usually be found in "cities of contrast" – they're also the sort of thing you look out for when you can't think of anything else to write about.

What are your favourite travel writing clichés? Are you guilty of using them? Post your comments below.

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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