Travel writing

Start with an exercise in writing about you in a place: You do not exist abroad

Store that one in your den like a squirrel for a moment while we break down travel writing as a concept and  an industry, supplemented by excerpts from Don George's Travel Writing.

Travel writing

Travel writing is still writing, and even the most fantastic trip or experience cannot carry itself in a poorly crafted article.

imageIn my humble opinion, high school is where one lays the foundation for their writing skills. With hard work, desire, and great guidance, one can become a great writer. Especially when inspired by such unique experiences, you have the potential to write about travel in a way that moves people and accurately reflects your sentiment.

Thoughtfulness and Synergy, as you remember from our core values, lead us to desire sharing and reflecting those unique experiences to the world, to those who do not have the great fortune of witnessing these parts of the world firsthand.

Also, memorializing your trips, first times, impressions, and lessons taken from the world pays off exponentially into the future. You are processing as you translate sensory and conceptual information into written word that others can take in.

What is travel writing at TGS? By the end of this unit, we should be able to define what travel writing is at TGS. Here is a definition from wiki-world:

Travel writing is a genre that has as its focus accounts of real or imaginary places. The genre encompasses a number of styles that may range from the documentary to the evocative, from literary to journalistic, and from the humorous to the serious.

Pre-assumptions

imageYou come into a new culture, country, or experience with pre-existing assumptions of what you will experience. If you're able to wrangle that crazy brain of yours, maybe you are able to mentally wipe your slate clean and go in completely fresh. Either way, you have the tendency to expect certain things out of something you have yet to do or see. Be mindful of these pre-assumptions.

One way to be mindful is to do a brain purge before an experience and write down everything you already assume. Pocket this until the end of your trip, and when you come face to face with that new experience, challenge what you previously thought you knew. Use these thinking exercises on yourself.

I used to think...Now, I think...

What makes you say so?

Connect what you see to what you thought; extend your understand to what you've experienced, and challenge what you know now.

In the moment vs. retrospective writing

While it might be easy for the lucky few to process the world only inside their minds, others need the process of pushing thoughts onto paper (or the screen). Writing in the moment that you are documenting is wildly fruitful and produces very different results than writing from memory.

In the moment writing can better enable writing about your surroundings, the beautiful and site-specific details, what you are sensing, and the questions or realizations that ebb and flow throughout the experience. In the moment writing savors the very present you live in.

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Retrospective writing tends to put pressure on having a conclusion from an experience, whether you had a full experience with lasting wise takeaways or not. Sometimes you write more sweeping generalizations than accurate details, or maybe you produce romanticized versions of what you remember rather than honest depictions.

What do you think is better? Does it depend on what you're writing about? Either way you approach writing about travel, be sure not to fall victim to Travel Writer's Catch 22!

Optimism bias

Try this exercise:

Describe your feelings about a day at your school a year ago in 100 words.

Now, describe your feelings about a day at your school today in 100 words.

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While this exercise might cause you to be overly conscious of your word choice and tone, you might notice your sentiment is different between the two paragraphs. We tend to view the past with a sense of nostalgia. For some reason, it feels more romantic than today...maybe because it's unattainable and therefore desirable.

Travel writers do well for themselves if they can identify their own tendencies to see time with tinted glasses. Actually, I would make the argument that all people would benefit grately from understanding how they perceive the time periods of their lives.

Analyze your own lasting impressions of notable periods in your life. Thailand...Stockholm...Tiputini...when compared to your current state, do you find a difference in how you experience vs. how you remember?

Google "Live-in-the-moment" quotes, and you will find a slew of famous people and writers who have waxed poetic about how the only thing we have is the now. Truly capturing your experience of the now will lead to you finding your unique voice as a travel writer.

"Reflection"

The benefits of travel writing have to do with coming to a better understanding of the world and of oneself, of learning and more sharply what one can appreciate about home, and what one is lacking there, of being able to see life as a pilgrimmage and journey in which no answer is ever final and one is really moving from question into deeper question, from one way station to the next.

imageDo you see that correlation? Travel writing is reflection. Sometimes we at TGS ask you to "reflect" on the experience you've previously had in the world. Post-weXplore, what do you tend to write in your moleskin? Maybe you wonder what should go online as travel writing and what should stay in your moleskin:

Writing about everything you did on holiday should be kept strictly between you and your diary; you need to find the theme that will interest [the reader and yourself]…Ask yourself this question: what most impassioned you? …What’s the first story that comes to mind [from your trip]? Focus on that story, because for some reason your internal filter has decided that that particular story embodies the quintessence of your trip.

Are you like me? When I write about travel, I tend to focus too heavily on my inner landscape, my mentality during the trip, and how I responded to the place of my physical presence. Though this can often be useful insight for a piece, it has the potential to also take away from the most interesting meat and potatoes of a trip that would interest a stranger, not just your mother.

If you take into account your pre-assumptions, write in the moment, and stay mindful of how you experience the now, your reflections will help you process the world around you and ultimately transform into beautiful travel writing that will beneficial for everyone.

TGS tips for good travel writing

If you felt like skimming the above content for the barebones of travel writing at TGS, just follow these points:

  • Be accurate, both in your descriptions and facts.
  • Use dialogue, describe characters and bring all senses to life.
  • Find your voice and master it.

Here are tips from some notable travel writers:

Fred Mawer: develop a few niches/specialities; write notes on the spot, not at the end of the day (or trip); don't make yourself the focal point of the piece, it's the subject matter that should be the focus.

Rolf Potts: be familiar with good writing (not just travel writing, but creative nonfiction, novels, and poetry), and try to recognize what makes it work; your travel writing should emulate the best techniques of fiction; bad writing comes from bad traveling - and bad travel is unimaginative, uninformed, and unoriginal.

Analyze your own "travel writing"

Now that you've read this breakdown of travel writing, take a look at your own response to You do not exist abroad. Meditate on your words and consider the following:

  • What do I consider as "travel" or "abroad?"
  • Am I viewing the world through a filter of my own pre-existing assumptions?
  • Do I tend to write in the present or the past?
  • Am I romanticizing the past, or do I have a strong grasp on reality in my writing?
  • When prompted to respond to or reflect on travel, what do you normally focus on? Is this your strength?
    Nick Martino 2292 days ago

    This is great Lindsay, thanks! 

  • Guillermo Machado (Banned)
    Guillermo Machado 2292 days ago

    I need to study this carefully and start playing around with it.. thanks Lindsay real useful resource : )

    I really liked the secondary links posted too. Gracias

  • Lindsay Clark (Banned)
    Lindsay Clark 2292 days ago

    Thanks, guys! Let's do some inspired writing!