Welcome and Syllabus

Have you ever had to sit through a Powerpoint of your Uncle Jimmy’s trip to West Palm?

Have you ever had to read (or write) something called “What I Did on My Summer Vacation”?

Have you ever gotten a souvenir puffy-paint sweatshirt, a lava ashtray, or a bell shaped like a cow (get it — more cowbell)?

Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, you just should have been there”? 

If so, you already know everything good travel writing isn’t.

Which is a great place to start, because place really is everything. 

This semester, we’ll learn — through hands-on practice, craft lectures, readings and more — how to write engaging travel pieces about the places we call home. We’ll tap into our adventurous sides and experience the world around us. Every class meeting, we’ll venture into Greensburg, Pittsburgh, and the surrounding areas to discover new things and engage with new people. We will celebrate new experiences, do research, and read writers who inspire us.

And we’ll write about it all.


You’ll keep a travel blog where you’ll post your stories, photos and videos, as well as reading responses to our texts. You’ll read and analyze different kinds of travel narratives and place-based books. You’ll learn how to craft and publish your own travel pieces. You may even publish your work in a national or international publication before the semester ends. (Pittsburgh made National Geographic’s list of 19 Cool Places to See in 2019, so you’re exactly where you want to be right now to write stories people want to read.)


This course is designed for anyone who’s flexible, open to new experiences, curious and independent, and who’d like to try their hand at travel writing for targeted audiences. It’s especially helpful for writers who would like to prepare for a career in magazine writing, publishing, freelance work, or general content writing. Also, travel is good for you. Trust me.

Prereqs and Other Things

ENGWRT 0550/Intro to Journalism, ENGWRT Intro to Creative Nonfiction, Comp II, or instructor permission

Course Learning Objectives

After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Research a travel destination
  • Travel to destinations you’ve researched and report on the experience
  • Write travel narratives and use digital-storytelling techniques to add new dimensions to your work
  • Create and maintain a travel blog
  • Critically read and analyze a wide variety of travel narratives
  • Have a better understanding of travel-writing markets and audiences
  • Have a better understanding of our cities, towns and neighborhoods and use that understanding to craft travel narratives for a variety of audiences
  • Be able to generate fresh ideas for magazine articles and identify target markets
  • Be able to research and craft various kinds of travel articles, including how-to pieces, reviews, feature articles and reportage, food writing, essay/columns and more
  • Understand the importance of revision in the writing process
  • Understand the ways digital storytelling techniques (including photography, videography and more) are used along with traditional prose to enhance travel narratives. You will produce digital content (photo essays, illustrations, video or audio supplements) to accompany your individual stories. 
  • Be able to write a query letter/pitch to an editor
  • Understand the way news values and audiences shape travel narratives
  • Demonstrate craft skills, a mastery of basic Associated Press style and good grammar

Required Materials

You will need access to a computer or tablet, both at home and in class. I-Pads are available for loan from our campus library.

A video/camera/recording device (a smartphone is fine)

Reporter’s notebook/pen

Required Texts:

Moon Pittsburgh (ed. by Emily King) — Guidebook

Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (Oakland, Pitt)

American Childhood by Annie Dillard (Pittsburgh)

Fences by August Wilson (The Hill District)

Out of this Furnace by Thomas Bell (Carrie Furnaces/Steel History)

The Teeth of the Comb by Osama Alomar (City of Asylum)

The Pittsburgh Stories by Willa Cather (Pittsburgh history)

The Trolleyman by Bob Pajich (The Electric Valley)

Highly Recommended: Extra Reads

Tomorrow & Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch (Futuristic ‘Burgh)

Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan (Squirrel Hill)

Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children by Dave Newman (Oakland, Braddock, Trafford and the Electric Valley)

All books for our class — required or recommended — are available at the campus bookstore. Most are available just about anywhere, including Amazon.

Course Expectations & Requirements:

  • Assignments and Projects:

At the beginning of the term, you will set up a blog. You’ll use your site to post your assignments for class, and as a space where you can generate and share ideas and research findings. 

You’ll set up your site during our first class. You’ll be free to use whichever blogging platform you’d like. (I use WordPress and recommend it. Wix is also super-user-friendly). You’ll share your site address with me and I will post a link to it here, on our class site.

In terms of writing assignments, you’ll average one article for every class meeting, plus two additional blog entries that will focus on our readings. You’ll have a total of seven articles and 14 other general blog entries by the end of the term. 

In between deadlines, you’ll revise your work and update your articles based on comments you’ll receive in workshop. Your articles will vary in length, but most will be between 500 and 900 words. All articles and revisions and general blog posts are due at the beginning of each class and should be live on your blogs by then.

University Policies

Students in this course will be expected to comply with the University of Pittsburgh’s Policy on Academic Integrity. Any student suspected of violating this obligation for any reason during the semester will be required to participate in the procedural process, initiated at the instructor level, as outlined in the University Guidelines on Academic Integrity. This may include, but is not limited to, the confiscation of the examination of any individual suspected of violating University Policy. Furthermore, no student may bring any unauthorized materials to an exam, including dictionaries and programmable calculators.

Disability Services

If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and the Director of the Learning Resources Center, Dr. Lou Ann Sears, Room 240 Millstein Library Building (724) 836-7098 (voice) or los3@pitt.edu as early as possible in the term. Learning Resources Center will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.

Copyright Notice

Course materials may be protected by copyright. United States copyright law, 17 USC section 101, et seq., in addition to University policy and procedures, prohibit unauthorized duplication or retransmission of course materials. See Library of Congress Copyright Office and the University Copyright Policy.

Statement on Classroom Recording

To ensure the free and open discussion of ideas, students may not record classroom lectures, discussion and/or activities without the advance written permission of the instructor, and any such recording properly approved in advance can be used solely for the student’s own private use.

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