You’re in the jungle, on the ocean, conquering a tundra, storming a city. You’ve snapped pictures and shared snippets on social media, but you need to get this experience down. On paper (or the digital version). But every time you pick up the pen, put your fingers over the keyboard, go to write your epic travel story; it just doesn’t work.
The problem is we can all effortlessly read, but we can’t all effortlessly write. And good writing reads just like that: effortlessly.
Despite what your English teachers told you, there isn’t a right way to write. I’m throwing the rules out the window for you and giving you some gentle guidance. Everyone has a story and yours can be told by you. Here’s how:
This is for you!
A blog/journal is uniquely you. There is no one else in the world that experiences exactly the same thing at the same time that you do. There is no one else in the world with your history, your thoughts, your knowledge and your passion.
Write about what you’re drawn to, not what you think people want to read about.
This can be anything and it goes to the heart of why you travel. The intricacies of planning, palm trees in the breeze, faces in the crowd, hiking to untouched spaces, gorging on street food, perfecting the family vacation– the topic options are endless and can be as specific as a blog rating tap water in Florence, Italy.
There’s no wrong answer, but that leaves too many possibilities. You’ll become frustrated if you try to write about what you think you like, and it doesn’t work. Looking through your photos can help. You’ll take photos of what interests you. That could be your kids posing in front of monuments, portraits of people around the world, stonework, tacos, crowds, subways, mountains– again, there is no wrong answer.
The process of finding a topic or a motif might not be a conscience one. In fact, it probably won’t be. Most likely, you’ll sit down to write about something cool– and that is a good way to start. But, if you can’t seem to get the experience down, it might be because it’s not a good topic for you.
For example: You’ve seen the tip blogs and you want to share your travel tips, you got a good deal on plane tickets after all! But, after an hour of trying to gather your thoughts, you have nothing but a jumbled beginning that bores you to read. You give up and your blog sits, vacant.
Travel tips aren’t you’re thing, and that’s fine! But what is? Well, the hunt for your amazingly cheap plane tickets was fun. Write about it. Make it a hyperbolic adventure where every mouse click is tension filled, or a sports-like play-by-play, or your internal thoughts about plane ticket prices complete with foul language and a snarky tone.
There’s no need to follow convention. This is your story.
The weeds can catch you
Countless times, I’ve fallen down the google rabbit hole looking for something I couldn’t remember, only to come back to my writing having forgotten what I was trying to write about.
Don’t interrupt your flow.
For many writers, sitting down to write is a ritual. Creatures of habit, we have our favorite place to write at, things we need around us (notes, tea, snacks, a pet etc.) and specific computer settings or pens, pencils and notebooks.
Find what setting makes you most productive and then resist the social media urge.
Picking up my phone is like a tick, a crutch I lean on when I need to think. It’s habit for me to reach to my phone when I look away from what I’m writing, but doing that stifles my best ideas and interrupts and then ultimately stops the writing process.
Erroneously called multitasking, jumping quickly from task to task actually slows you down and worse, stops your thought process. You’re filling your head with social media news and that doesn’t help you think through what you’re writing.
What can you do so that you don’t get lost in the weeds?
First, put your phone away. I mean away away. Put it somewhere safe but hard to get to like a different room in your house or a zipper pocket in your backpack. Shoot a message to your close family and friends that you’re working and won’t be available for an hour. You don’t need your phone close by. If you do actually need it because you’re waiting for an important call (job interview, wife’s having a baby, family member in the hospital), then it’s probably not a good time to write.
Turn off your wifi. Like your phone, you don’t need it. If you need to look up something you forgot, like the name of the town you were in or the restaurant menu from the cool place you ate at, make a note and get to it later. I usually just plop a note in all caps in the middle of whatever I’m writing. Something I’m writing might look like: “While traveling through TOWN’S NAME, I stopped at NAME OF RESTAURANT, a quaint eatery with doilies, crumpets and tea served in delicate porcelain cups.”
If you need your wifi on so that you can listen to music, make a conscience decision to use your internet access for music only. No facebook. No email. No random google searches.
Once you stop writing and switch tasks, it’s difficult to get back into the thought process that got you writing in the first place. Do everything you can to keep focused on the task at hand.
That being said, you don’t have to write something with a beginning, middle and end in one sitting. Hell, you don’t have to write a beginning or an end, or even a middle. Sit down, write about anything, and when you hit a natural stopping point, stop. You can come back later and finish it or leave your writing how it is. You’ll be amazed at how blips you wrote have the power to transport you back to a moment during your journey.
Right now. Ok, not this very moment because you’re reading this (and you should keep reading). But, don’t wait to write down your travel adventures. Write while you travel.
You can write in whatever form you want. Don’t feel pressured to write full stories or slick blog posts. Jot down observations in bullet points. Get down ideas and names in a google doc or lengthy descriptions in a file on your desk top devoted to the trip. You’re better able to capture what you see and what you’re feeling in the moment than weeks later, after you’ve returned from the trip.
Writing becomes more difficult the longer you’ve been in a place. Week 1, everything is new and exciting, you’ll want to document it all. By the end of week 2, you’ll be pretty comfortable with your surroundings. Things aren’t as exciting and you won’t feel as much of a drive to document your travels. Keep writing! Things might not be as exciting or new, but you’ll forget the experiences you’re having if you don’t get them down.
To grammar or not to grammar
Grammar is awful and here’s the secret about it: there’s no correct grammar.
Grammar’s sole purpose is to make your message clear. Don’t get caught up in what’s correct or proper grammar.
There are 2 easy ways to check if your writing is clear.
Way 1. Read it out loud. You’ll catch phrases that don’t make sense. You’ll also catch misspellings, awkward phrases and things that you forgot to add.
Way 2. Phone a friend. Send your work to a trusted human and ask them to point out anything that doesn’t make sense or reads weird. (Side note, if your trusted friend always sends back something like “Looks great!” with no suggestions, choose a different friend. You want someone that will criticize you with love.)
Finally, be consistent. If you choose to start new paragraphs by indenting, then always indent. If you like the oxford comma, then always use the oxford comma. If you choose to capitalize every word in your title, do that for every title. Readers like consistency because it helps them focus on what they’re reading instead of what you wrote.
A travel journal or blog is a great way to document your experiences and reflect over what your experiences mean. Share your travels with friends and family (or anonymous strangers on the internet) or keep your thoughts intensely personal. Whatever you do though, make sure you write. You won’t regret the time you took to write things down when, years later, you read over and remember the details of your journey.