Recently I’ve been re-reading old journals for one of my book projects. It’s exciting to remember people and events I’ve long forgotten but I wince at some of my banal turns of phrase: ‘the view was breathtaking, the landscape beautiful.’ Yuck!
Keeping a travel journal for yourself or your family—they might be incompatible—helps keep your memories alive. Looking back on my own early attempts, I wish I’d followed a few simple rules to make them more compelling.
Here are some tips. For an entire book and website dedicated to the art, look for Dave Fox’s Globejotting (thanks Graham for the link).
Write as you travel. Quick notes, short sentences are fine, just get the impressions down as immediacy generates sharper writing. I have a small pocket notebook handy and a bigger journal for longer writing at the end of the day.
Aim to write about different aspects of your trip. One day focus on people. Note facial expressions, the fabric of their clothes, distinct mannerisms. Jot down snippets of conversations—both with the Gujarati bangle seller in the bazaar and the couple arguing next to you on the train. If you don’t speak the language, listen for catchphrases to add authentic voices to your prose.
Think how to paint the countryside with words. Pay special attention to the trees or geological features. Chose different aspects of nature to bring to life.
Show don’t tell. Instead of writing ‘the view was breathtaking’—which means very little—I could have described what the view was like. Did it shimmer like a mosaic? Was the landscape sculptured by the winds?
Note down the names of key towns you pass through as it can be easy to forget on a road trip. If in doubt, look at the map, ask your guide or a fellow traveller.
Describe how places make you feel using the five senses. How you respond to your environment is a way to situate your writing. If you walk into a cave and prickles crawl down your spine, write it down.
Don’t forget facts. The date of a medieval citadel; the temperature at 9 am; how many hours it takes to reach your destination. Facts help anchor descriptions and make the writing less impressionistic.
Keep a page at the back of the journal for questions. I always have a list of ‘things to know’ and if I can’t find out at the time, I go back later and do the research.
Most of all have fun. Doodle, sketch, stick things in. Sometimes have a splurge about what’s going on internally for you. Let the pen decide what to write, bypass the rational mind and play.
Leave a Comment
Posts by Tag
- travel writing technique (2)
- ethical travel (2)
- northern territory (1)
- travel blogging (1)
- literary travel blogs (2)
- writing (3)
- research (1)
- travel memoir (2)
- LA Times
- New York Times:
- London Review of Books
- Granta Magazine
- The Guardian
- Sydney Morning Herald
- The Book Show, ABC Radio National
- Gotham Writers Workshop, New York
- Fiction Addiction
- Soul Food Cafe
- Literary Feast reading group
- Phoenix Rising Books
- John May
- Suzanne Leal
- Charlotte Wood
- Michael Amendolia
- Barbara Ann Weibel
- Julia Thomas
- Jane Walker
- Nicki Kempston
- 25 Travel Book of the Moment
- 30 Hot Tip: How to Keep in your Story
- 14 Travel Saturday - The Responsible Traveller
- 18 Last Seen... In Bamurru Plains, Northern Territory
- 02 Last Seen... With Shackleton's Helmet
- 09 Travel Book of the Moment
- 13 Quote of the Week
- 16 Last Seen... Finding Allies
- 16 Writing Ally of the Moment
- 30 Last Seen... In the Clickstream
- 30 Literary Travel Writing Sites of the Week
- 03 Travel Content Site of the Week
- 10 Last Seen... Among the detail
- 17 Writing book of the moment
- 21 On tonight! Watch out for Jennifer Byrne Presents: On The Road
- 08 Last Seen... Finding Objectivity
- 08 Coming up! Hunt for Red Lily talk next Tuesday 12 October
- 20 Last Seen... Curving the Arc
- 20 Places left in new travel writing workshop in Melbourne 28 October
- 07 Last Seen... Listening to Isabel Allende
- 14 Last Seen... With my Writing Buddy
- 20 Last Seen… Ditching the Research
- 29 Last Seen... Creating Characters
- 05 Last Seen... Keeping Quiet
- 11 Last Seen... Staying Focused
- 19 Last Seen... Having a Blurt
- 26 Last Seen... Writing Between Jobs
- 02 Last Seen... Exploring Genius
- 09 Last Seen... Journaling
- 16 Last Seen… Feeling Confident
- 30 Last Seen... Knowing your Audience
- 07 Last Seen... Finding a Voice
- 22 Last Seen... Creating Scenes
- 29 Last Seen... Choosing the Direction
- 19 Last Seen.... How to get Back to Writing after the Holidays
- 25 Last Seen... Renewing our New Year's Writing Resolutions
- 02 Last Seen.... Trusting Your Own Voice
- 09 Last Seen.... Learning to Love my Kindle
- 16 Last Seen.... To Blog or Not to Blog
- 23 Last Seen.... How to Hook your Reader from Page One
- 29 Last Seen.... Reading Travel Memoirs
- 07 Last Seen.... Squeezing the Lemon
- 16 Last Seen.... Learning About Self-Publishing
- 23 Last Seen.... Celebrating the E-book of Last Seen in Lhasa
- 28 Last Seen... Figuring out Effective Writing Strategies
- 10 Last Seen.... Celebrating the Launch of Growing Old Outrageously
- 16 Last Seen.... Mastering the Art of Dialogue
- 24 Last Seen.... Pursuing the Non-linear Narrative
- 31 Last Seen.... Weaving together a Story
- 04 Wordstruck - Three Stages of Editing
- 10 Wordstruck - How objects breathe life into your story
- 18 Wordstruck - Do you write to be read?
- 25 Wordstruck - Making the leap from non-fiction to fiction
- 04 Wordstruck - Why you need Writing Allies
- 08 Wordstruck - 6 ways to start a new writing project
- 16 Wordstruck - What happens when you hit a wall with your writing?
- 25 Wordstruck - how to write about other cultures
- 01 Wordstruck - Give yourself permission to write rubbish
- 08 Wordstruck - How to say more by saying less?
- 16 Wordstruck - Longform stories in print & online
- 22 Wordstruck - How to hook your reader from the first line
- 29 Wordstruck - Why you always need a notebook
- 05 Wordstruck - Meeting the Bookwallahs
- 13 Wordstruck - What it takes to research a book
- 19 Wordstruck - What stops you writing?
- 27 Wordstruck - How to write about place
- 04 Wordstruck - Take a risk with your writing
- 17 Wordstruck - How to banish the procrastinator
- 24 Wordstruck - How writing can reduce your stress