Posted in Souvenirs

Travel Writing 101

“Am at Ponti’s in Co Garden. No more Tri Colore for Julian. May have miss ordered. But really can’t recall. So don’t feel entirely bad. My nose is running from being so cold. I am not sitting close enough to a heater to really feel any relief. I can hear the street performers entertaining a good-sized crowd…The only words of the performer I can discern are Are You Ready?! – otherwise he could be speaking in a foreign tongue…My desired sandwich having arrived am wondering why the ciabatta has [not] broken its way completely into the US…”

I wrote this lovely bit of text while in an outdoor eatery in Covent Garden, London in late October a few years ago. I was trying out one of the techniques suggested in Dave Fox’s Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip). And the bad spelling, abbreviations, and poor grammar are completely acceptable, practically required.

Shortly before the trip, the Wisconsin Book Festival descended upon Madison. Looking through the large number of offerings, a talk on travel writing caught my eye. As I have always wondered if I could write about my travels in an interesting way, I went to check it out and see what I could learn.

I arrived early (as I usually do to things, sometimes way too early) to the local bookshop and came across Dave’s book on display. Knowing my trip to London was coming up I was really hoping this book would deliver some great ideas that I could put into use immediately. The humorous cover and title looked promising. I bought the book.

My first travel journal was for my first study abroad experience – six weeks in Ireland. The style of writing was basically a catalog of the each day’s events.

“…then I got ready for class. I ran into Sandy and told her she was going to be late for class. Then she reminded me that class was at 1:30, not one. So I went and sat at the track and field area on a bench…”

Thrilling stuff! Though the format was about the same each day, more often than not, interesting stuff did happen – I swear. So, for obvious reasons I wanted something different for my upcoming trip.

Dave’s book definitely pointed me in the right direction. The book is funny, light, and gets to the crux of issues people face when wanting to keep a journal of their travels, namely, time and self-censorship. His answer is speed journaling – having a preset amount of time, usually 10-15 minutes, and throwing all grammatical caution to the wind to capture the trip in bite sized nuggets.

My favorite ideas from the book pertain to ways to narrow your writing focus while speed journaling, such as focusing on themes, captioning, and verbal snapshots. The passage at the beginning of this post about Covent Garden is my first attempt at quickly jotting down what all my senses were receiving and perceiving at the moment of writing and what thoughts were running through my mind. When I read it now I remember that day, how I felt, what I was doing, and I remember other details not in the entry like how I couldn’t seem to find enough napkins for my runny nose let alone find enough to stash in my pockets to make it beyond lunch. I was quite frustrated.

To practice each of his suggestions Dave has “Flight Simulators.” These are brief exercises to help you find the technique that will work best for you. What I think is especially unique is that he has a number of simulators for writing pre-departure to address concerns that might impede a successful journaling experience while traveling. It also gets you in the mode of writing so you aren’t starting cold turkey. Dave also has suggestions on how to turn these speed journal scrawls into more fully developed entries and potentially entries you’d like to share with others.

If you’re interested creating a fantastic keepsake from your travels without the headache of having to write hours upon hours, Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip) by Dave Fox is worth a look.

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