Posted in #MyGlobalLife, Reading Material, Travel

Travel Narratives

In my travel shop, amongst the postcards, luggage, journals, posters and maps, will be a section devoted to travel narratives. I love this section of bookstores, though I am finding them to be shrinking in size, if a store even has one. One of the reasons is probably because many travel narratives crossover into other genres: non-fiction, outdoor, fiction, history, even children’s literature. Navigating the definition of travel narrative can be subjective. It’s easier to just have a section of guidebooks.

Well, in my shop, I’d use my own broad definition of travel narrative and reclaim the stories and have them all in one place. Bill Bryson would be next to M. Šašek, which would be next to Jack Kerouac, which would be next to Robert Louis Stevenson. But in alphabetically order, of course. I want someone coming into my shop to see these book and allow these authors to instigate curiosity, trigger memories, pique interest, further research, challenge assumptions, and induce warm fuzzies.

With this section of my future travel shop in mind, I started a list of those books that have done the above for me. You can check out what I have entered so far on my new Reading List page.

As I am always looking for new books to read, please please please comment with some of your favorite travel narratives.

Posted in #MyGlobalLife, Housekeeping, Quests, Travel

Putting It All Out There

I’m going to put it all out there. I just need to do it. Or else I won’t.

I want to do something more with this blog. My prior writings and musings have served their purpose for me (though I’ll keep them archived for you), but now new travel thoughts, ideas and struggles swirl around in my head and it’s time to let them out.

I want to start a travel business. I envision it catering to women who want to make that first trip – ever, since a divorce, since a major life change – and who don’t want to be herded around on a bus with a bunch of strangers, but don’t want to travel alone. I would be their guide and be fortunate enough to be there while they have these new experiences.

I want to write a children’s story for my niece. It would be a historical fiction piece about an imaginative young girl and a lost little boy in Trafalgar Square. I want my mother to illustrate it. And I have thought about making it a series with the lead character traveling across Europe with her family and new found friend.

I want to open a bricks and mortar travel shop. It would be a gathering space in the community for those with wanderlust. My stock would include, but is not limited to, my beloved postcards, posters, travel narratives, guidebooks and maps, travel art by local artists, specialty luggage and bags. I also want to offer workshops to travelers on topics pre-departure and post-return.

I want to really make progress on my personal quest to visit each of the state capital buildings. I have visited two since I last posted on this blog (stay tuned for their postings). I had not set this quest intention until after reading Chris Guillebeau’s book “The Happiness of Pursuit” and now I just want to go go go!

I want to live a more global-minded life. Cate Brubaker of Small Planet Studio, a resource I definitely needed, but didn’t have, when I returned from all my study abroad and travel adventures, has started the #GlobalYou365 Challenge and I’ve fallen way behind on answering the questions she poses for each day. I want to make this fun, nostalgic and mindful challenge a priority in order to help me figure out those ways that work best for me to keep feeling global even when I’m not traveling.

And finally, I’ve always had this crazy notion of selling pre-written postcards for “the traveler too busy traveling.”

There. It’s done. It’s all out there. The universe now knows and can help the muses help me. As for the first item on my list, having finally posted again after so long, the hardest part is now over. Look for changes here as I move forward with my goals and pursuits. Please share yours with me too as we all try to figure our traveling selves out.


Posted in Study Abroad

Class Assignment: Haiku

While organizing my parents’ basement over Memorial Day weekend, I came across my papers from my courses in Dublin, Ireland. The program was through USIT and my group was comprised of students from the Universities of Wisconsin and Michigan. In the mandatory module taught by a faculty member from the University of Michigan we talked about haiku as another way to express our experiences while in Ireland. As I had been casually writing rhymes and raps for years I actually looked forward to completing this assignment of writing our own haiku. I remember being quite proud with how mine turned out.

I wrote some of these while sitting on the green at Queen’s University, Belfast. These first haiku were describing what was happening during the lunch break that day.

She tries to juggle fruit
Practicing the toss she fails
Even with two fruit

He can do it well
Juggling is his forte
She still fails at it



Hearts was the card game of the summer. Games could get very competitive, tempers flared, and tantrums were known to be thrown. One girl, in particular, would bring out the anger “Claw” when a certain card would be played that she had to pick up.

Pass them left then right
Queen of spades and hearts are bad
Many points are bad
Rage comes with the Queen
His eyes wander card to card
He has shot the moon



A group of us liked to shake our groove things every now and then. These two haiku are about one night out in Belfast when I was giving a dance lesson to a fellow classmate.

Dancing at the Globe
Sex on the Beach fills me up
Move hips side to side

Did you drop something
Here, let me get that for you
Doesn’t that feel good



What poetry exercise is complete without some tale of love, or, in this case, a crush.

His eyes tell a tale
Places haven’t seen not touched

Says he has seen me
Hands on my shoulders, warm, new
Fades into the east




Posted in Souvenirs

Ode to the Postcard

The first postcard I picked up while studying abroad was as a reminder to myself to see the Swedish film Together. The film was playing at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin and I wasn’t going to be in town to see it. The act was as innocent as that. My interest in postcards was piqued.

It wasn’t, however, until I was studying in the Netherlands that I somehow became postcard obsessed. I think this was due to fact that there were so many free postcards available – everywhere. Now I have a collection of a few hundred postcards, free and bought.

Prior to studying abroad postcards had a pretty rudimentary use for me. They were bought to send to a friend or family member. But somewhere between the hostel staying, the bar hopping, and the museum visiting, I would return home at the end of the day and find my bag full of these 3×5 cards advertising anything from water to a film festival to a many myriad of things I couldn’t always tell what exactly. It really didn’t matter what was being advertised on these free cards. The only requirement was that it caught my eye.

Soon I began picking up postcards for with purpose as I found them to have other uses than just to send to a friend. They, like the Together postcard, may be picked up for the purpose of reminding you of something, be it a place you want to visit, an event you want to attend, or of a person you want to remember.

Don’t forget they have a blank flip-side, which is perfect for writing down details that aren’t covered on the front. Or you can write a memory of the day you got a particular card. Or share with yourself a funny anecdote associated with the card or what the card represents – why you picked that one.

Postcards are also a great way to buy art cheaply, very cheaply. At the Mucha Museum in Prague, I bought a book of one hundred postcards of Alphonse Mucha’s work. I hadn’t heard of him before, but really liked his art nouveau style, and now I have a compact volume of his work.

Other postcards are used to supplement photographs of a trip, particularly in spaces where cameras aren’t allowed or were visited at night or that were covered in snow – such as Zermatt was when I popped in for a visit.

I, personally, love travel posters. I love the ones that are a combination of place, almost traditional photograph style, mixed with art. One place I hit up for a large number of postcards was the London Transportation Museum. They had a wall of postcards of their many ad campaigns. If I had the space for full sized ones and the money for it, I would have gone that route but as a student I had neither. And that’s why the postcards were perfect!

Postcards are fantastic pick ups while studying abroad and traveling. They travel well, are cheap (or free), photo collection-enhancing, “for future reference”-keeping, memory-conjuring, tactile souvenirs. For me it all started with a reminder postcard to see the film Together, which I finally saw this past year after I came across that postcard. What will be first in your collection?


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.

Posted in Souvenirs

Generation Z: Unplugged

I know this generation is plugged in almost 24-7, updating friends and family on social media sites, playing online games, and texting, oh the texting. While away, these outlets can be important touchstones for students. Also, a number of schools now host sites for students to blog about their time, issues that come up, daily life, and things learned. This is a great tool for urging students to observe, reflect and report on the experiences they are having, not to mention being great advertising for the offices running the programs. Despite this technological move forward, I think there is still a place for good old fashioned pen and paper journaling.

Blogging wasn’t as prevalent when I was studying abroad. I kept a journal. I found it a way to unwind from the stresses of school, of annoying flatmates who never remember to buy more toilet paper, of a recent encounter with culture shock, or of just needing to download my thoughts. And it was a place to share breakthroughs, happy moments and memorable events.

I was already spending so much time in front of a computer for course work that the thought of typing up a journal didn’t bring the same feelings of comfort and release as having the pen and leather-bound journal in my hands. The silence except for the turning of the page was and is much more soothing than hearing the keys being tapped. My mind could reflect more deeply in the quiet. If I was angry, the situation was more private in order to let loose. If I was über-happy, I had a place to keep that moment all mine, and mine alone.

This idea may seem a bit romantic. And I’ll admit that it may be, but so what? I know that if I’m traveling out of a bag for a weekend, I’d much rather carry a journal with me than anything that might get broken or crushed or wet, or prove to be taxing due to the worry about it getting broken or crushed or wet. Plus, I can’t imagine the calluses on my thumbs from typing on a phone, for example, let alone the cramping of fingers.

Before two of my programs my mother bought me a journal and wrote a little note of encouragement to me in the front. I still have both of them and I take them out from time to time. Being able to read them now offers the same unplugging benefits as when I was writing in them. They also remind me of forgotten memories and provide me with insights as to who I was and how the experience away changed me.

The University of Iowa’s Office of Study Abroad has some helpful comments on journaling about your experience. What I particularly like about the page is that they discuss journaling prior to your departure and after your return. I think these are very key components for those wanting to capture their entire abroad experience as the preparation to leave and the re-entry shock are just as important as the time away. There is no better way, in my opinion, to get the most out of your experience (at the time and down the road) than to journal.

If you are also interested in travel writing/travel journaling, stay tuned for my post about Dave Fox’s Globejotting; How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip).