By DAVE FOX
A well-written travel journal can be your greatest souvenir. Many people struggle, however, to capture the full spirit of their journeys. For some, their journals seem like bland, step-by-step accounts of their days. Other people simply can’t find time to write in the middle of an exciting trip.
Journaling doesn’t have to gobble up precious vacation time though. When done well, it can enhance your travels and bring you more deeply in touch with your experiences. Follow these tips and watch your words come alive:
1. Write Fast
One of the greatest mistakes beginning journalers make is trying to create their best writing as they travel. There isn’t enough time. Think of your diary as a place to collect as many memories as possible. Spill your thoughts and impressions onto the paper quickly. Don’t try to be organized. Don’t try to write well. You’ll be amazed how much detail you can splash onto the page in a 15-minute writing blast if you just go for it. You might not end up with your greatest writing ever, but when you go back to read your journal one, five, or twenty years later, your diaries will contain far more memories than if you had labored over every word.
2. Be Selective
Rather than trying to document everything that happens in your day, pick a few key moments. “I woke up and had breakfast,” for example, is something you probably do every day, so skip it. Instead, choose one to three highlights each day and cover them in detail.
3. Be Descriptive
Follow the old adage, “Show, don’t tell.” Here’s an example: People cruise the fjords of Norway and write, “The fjords are beautiful.” Well, duh! This is not a news flash. The fjords have been beautiful for thousands of years. We know they’ll be beautiful before we ever see them. Avoid empty adjectives like “beautiful,” or “incredible.” Paint a picture with your words instead. Write about the dark granite cliffs that plunge into icy, turquoise waters; the scruffy, maroon farmhouses that freckle the land; seagulls that squawk as they chase your boat; the engine sounds and diesel fumes that intrude upon this pristine nature. Descriptions like this will help you remember the details of your experiences – and if you share your journals with others, it helps them picture where you’ve been.
4. Scan Your Senses
Different senses are dominant in different situations. Gazing at a rainbow, listening to a symphony, swimming in the ocean, or eating a gooey slice of chocolate cake each evoke a different dominant sense. Often, however, our less dominant senses contain hidden stories. Walking through a spice market in Istanbul, my sense of smell was most profound. But when I paid attention to what I was hearing, I found a powerful story. The Muslim call to prayer bellowed from a mosque across the street. Meanwhile, Madonna’s latest CD was blaring from a spice vendor’s boombox. These two sounds together created a powerful image of modern Turkey – a mix of traditional Islamic ways and a desire among many Turks to Westernize.
5. Journal in Your Mind
As you go about your day, make mental notes of things to write about later. You won’t have time to write down everything that comes to mind, but when you do sit down to write, you’ll already have a sense of what you want to cover. Your writing will flow more easily. In addition, paying attention to your different senses and the subtle details around you as you explore will bring you more intimately in touch with your
6. Weave Together Your “Outer” and “Inner” Journeys
Don’t just focus on what’s happening around you. Write about what’s happening within you too. Travel evokes new insights and emotions. Use your surroundings as a backdrop for self-discovery, and write about the thoughts and feelings that arise as you explore.
7. Try “Theme Journaling”
Choose a different topic each day. It can be absolutely anything: transportation, children, language barriers, toilets, food, clothes, money, music, accommodations, other tourists, etc. Write about that topic within the context of your entire trip, not just an individual day. You can also write a “people journal.” Choose one person you’ve encountered each day and write about him or her. It might be someone you had a three hour chat with, but it could also be someone who spent 20 seconds selling you a bus ticket, or a random stranger on the street who caught your attention for some reason. Describe everything about them: How they looked and talked, their mannerisms, and so on. And don’t forget your inner journey. How did this person make you feel, and why?
8. Write Someplace Fun
There’s nothing worse than being cooped up in a hotel room when you want to be out experiencing things. Surround yourself with local culture while you write – in a café, pub, park, or museum. You can take this a step further and write a “verbal snapshot,” a live report of everything happening around you in that moment.
9. Caption Your Photos. Most people rely on photography to document their journeys. It’s quicker than writing. There is so much a camera can’t capture, however – sounds and smells, stories people tell us, challenges we face, and our own emotions. Often, photographs tell only part of the story. A great thing about digital cameras though is we can review the pictures we’ve taken on the spot. So pick a favorite photo each day and write about what was happening around you and what was going through your mind as you took it. Note the photo’s file number in your journal so you remember later which picture you were writing about. You can also leave space in your diary to paste a printed photo later.
Your time to write while traveling is limited, but once you’re home, you have plenty of time to hone your “rough draft” journals into polished stories. This is a fun way to relive your experiences after a journey is over. Take all of that wonderful, messy scrawl you threw onto your pages while traveling, choose your favorite excerpts, and turn them into travel tales you can share with others.
Our vacations might be short, but trips are investments in memories that we get to keep for the rest of our lives. We accumulate stories and knowledge as we travel, but our memories can grow fuzzy over time. Writing about your experiences as you travel will keep your memories strong for years to come.
Dave Fox is the author of Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals, and the founder of Globejotter Tours, a company specializing in international, small-group tours that include travel writing classes along the way. You’ll find more of his journaling and writing tips at www.traveljournaling.com.
Feeling spontaneous? There’s still space left on Dave’s Vietnam trip starting October 17. Readers of Travel Blissful can jump on board for just US $1,995, a $900 discount off the usual $2,895. (Price does not include airfare. Single supplement is $350, or solo travelers can avoid the supplement by sharing with another solo traveler of the same sex.) Interested? Contact Dave via Globejotter Tours. The next upcoming trip is a writing safari in Botswana from March 1-11.