I Can Show You the World: Writing That Adventure Called Travel

The backstreet cafe in Casablanca was for me a place of mystery, a place with a soul, a place with danger. There was a sense that the safety nets had been cut away, that each citizen walked upon the high wire of this, the real world. I longed not merely to travel through it, but to live in such a city.” ~ Tahir Shah, The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca

Travel: there’s nothing like it. To experience a true adventure away from home is a great privilege. And to put that experience into words for others to enjoy is almost as grand. Today’s article focuses on two aspects of travel writing — practical tips for writing on the road and how to capture your adventures well.

Practical: Always Be Prepared

What does “travel writing” look like? What are some ideas for jotting thoughts on the go, such as when you’re grocery shopping or commuting?

As writers and/or authors, we should ALWAYS be ready to write something down anywhere, anytime. Why? Because the muse, as they say, is finicky about when she shows up. Mine likes to visit in the 1:00a.m. — 5:00a.m. range when I’m supposed to be sleeping, or anytime I’m in the car.

Keep a notebook — digital or non — on hand for ideas. If you use actual paper, you’ll need writing utensils (at least two, because one of them WILL break, run out of ink, etc. when you need it most). I’m a fan of mechanical pencils and always take a couple with me on trips. I’ll spare you my defense of their awesomeness, but if you want to hear it, just let me know. 😉

If you decide to go electronic, I sometimes use the “Notes” app that comes with iPhones. I have over 50 notes, some with fiction ideas I’ve acquired at the store or in the car, others with article ideas and to do lists. If you’re driving, you can use the recording feature on your phone and speak your ideas.

Theoretical: How to Write a Good Adventure

Now that you’re equipped, here are two ways to capture the feel of an adventure in words:

1. Details

Record the sights. Notice tiny things. It’s a brick building, but what is it really like? What color are the bricks? Is there moss or ivy growing on it? Any broken windows? What kind of door? How old do you think it is?

Recall every sound. Again, be detailed here. Standing on the bridge, what do you hear? Traffic? Car engines? Bike spokes clicking? Tires slushing through puddles? Sirens? People speaking? Multiple languages? Accents? Water hitting the tugboats beneath you? Music from a cafe?

Notice the smells. Coffee? Sea water? Trash? Fresh air? Flowers?

Lastly — and this is what makes it your story — write down your feelings. How did this location make you feel? Invigorated? Terrified? Uncertain? Curious? Angry? And what about it made you feel this way? Is there a lot of security around (police, military, etc.)? Historical or personal significance? Why are you visiting, and is it everything you imagined? If it’s totally different, how so?

2. An Element of Adventure

Every journey is a story. Start by recounting yours chronologically — what happened, where you went, what you saw. You’ll see an adventure start to form, even if nothing out of the ordinary seemed to happen.

Fictionalize it a little. This doesn’t mean you have to add things that aren’t true (although you can if you’re actually creating a fictional work out of it). What it does mean is that you can really immerse your readers in the story by remembering the rule, “show, don’t tell.” I love this quote by Mark Twain: “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” Don’t just say what happened. Make it happen in front of your readers’ eyes. Draw them in. Endear them. Surprise them.

{To get writing tips like this sent straight to your inbox — to be enjoyed with your Tuesday morning coffee — sign up for my free weekly e-newsletter! Not only will you receive helpful info based on feedback from our readers (that could be you!), but you’ll also get fun facts and first dibs on new short stories and contests! Join our group today and receive your free ebook, Bust Writer’s Block!}

{Jerusalem, Israel; image link}