Travel/Write – Why Write While Traveling

For writers who travel and love to write.

Mom at a temple in India

Mom, avoiding the trampling elephants

Travel writing sounds so glamorous; get paid to see legendary places, sample unusual food, sleep in exotic hotels, all on a magazine’s expense account.  Wow right?  Except there are maybe four writers who get to work that way.  The majority of travel writers pay for their trips, write up the experience and work hard to publish those articles on a blog, newspaper or magazine and often receive about  $1,000 for their efforts.   So why bother?

Because Travel and Writing are in your blood and your blood is made of part oxygen, part helium, and part ink. Like all obsessive hobbies, writing about travel is pointless, costly and fun as hell – it can be found listed in the same category as water skiing, sky diving, or gourmet cooking, there is no why there is just expensive equipment.  The goal and you hope, ultimate outcome, is huge, massive satisfaction rather than any product.   Often my only takeaway after three weeks in a foreign country is a small ceramic elephant and a clutch of poorly rendered postcards.  And it’s all worth it.   

Travel will extend your year and extend your life, not those crappy years at the end, but next week.  Spent on foreign soil, next week will last much longer than usual.

But you know all this. There are blogs and blogs and blogs about the joy of travel: climbing Mt. Everest, hiking through North Korea, building schools in Afghanistan.  You can find all those missives, read them, believe them or not.

I love that travel is not a competitive sport. I don’t need to have a count or see “more” than another traveler.  I don’t need to stand in 100 countries.  In fact, that 100 country contest?  I actually counted the countries I did want to visit and arrived at 80.  What countries of you want to visit?  Five?  Ten?  Travel to where you want, not to rack up a number, because no one cares.  Most travelers will not ask your score.

For me, part of the adventure, of you can call it that, is traveling with my elderly mother.  ( I get to call her elderly because it’s my blog).  At 81, mom is no hiker.  She walks like one of those wind-up toys that teeter along,  half step after half step eventually falling off the edge of the coffee table.  So scaling Kilimanjaro is out.

But ushering her across the streets in  Mumbai was pretty damn exciting.

I know it was exciting because I made a note in my journal –  almost killed mom today.    I don’t edit while writing, but I do edit and editorialize on behalf of the blog or in telling the story to friends. With each telling, the traffic becomes denser, the street wider and mom slower.  It’s my story and I’ll enhance if I want to.

What about you?  You may be traveling this summer, do you think you’d like to write down some impressions, take a few notes, write up the draft for a poem that includes the bright summer sky, three new birds and your elderly parent?

All you need is a notebook. (See, this activity is already cheaper than base jumping).

Yes, you can make notes on your phone. Of course, you can.  When I pass by one of you doing this, hunched over, studious chimping away at the world’s smallest keyboard using just your opposable thumbs, I am amazed, impressed and can’t help note that more time is spent figuring out the keyboard and checking that the notes are correct rather than enjoying the surroundings.

Look up (especially if you’re writing about birds).

Bring the phone, but also bring a notebook.  Notebooks free you from the distraction of technology and encourage spontaneity.  Plus, no roaming fees. A good travel notebook is large enough for ephemera:  tickets stubs, postcards, coasters, business cards from the hotel, and small enough to fit in a pocket or purse.  Ideally, you can carry your notebook while wandering through a museum or sitting at a tiny cafe table.   

Don’t spend too much money on a fancy notebook,  it will just terrify you, you won’t want to deface it with your pen.

Pens, don’t assume pens. Take the pens you love and take more than just that one.  As soon as you think, oh, I’ll just pick up a pen at the airport or I’m sure there are pens available in Albania, there won’t be.  Take four or so, and scattered them through your luggage because a cluster of pens rubber banded together makes TSA personnel nervous.

Take a backup notebook.  Sure you found the perfect one, but just in case, throw another into the bottom of your suitcase, that way you won’t restrain your writing just because you have three pages to the end of the notebook, but four days left on the trip.

Should you aspire to create a Pinterest-worthy notebook?  Nope. I follow those boards and am amazed and impressed with the level of talent and creativity scuttling around the world.  I collect them on my travel/write board, but I cannot do it myself. Journals are filled with perfect square writing and elegant watercolors.  Stunning works of art. Impressive, impossible.

If you are worried about your mother pitching off the end of the felucca, you won’t have much time or bandwidth for stunning and beautiful.

But you will have time for notes and impressions.  Embrace the messy notebook, revel in creating something that will never be ready for its close-up.  The fun of a notebook is making the notes. Write a poem around the paper napkin filched from the trendy restaurant.  Make a couple of notes in your lap while your travel partners finish their coffee.

Record the sound of a bird, describe a tree.  Travel.  Write.

And join us on Facebook – Travel/Write.  A group of unrepentant writers and travelers.

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