Writing about Travelling

As you may have noticed, I am posting things again on Write with Lightning after the successful conclusion of yet another journey overseas. I’ve travelled a lot, and I am always tempted immediately after a trip to write about it. I had less inclination to write a narrative of my time in Ireland because I already wrote it in my Wanderlust Ireland blog, but I still wanted to write about travel in general and my experiences as a world traveller—that is, the customs I absorb and the people whose lives I visited. I don’t have anything more profound to tell you about the famous sights I’ve seen than anyone else who has also seen them. The Eiffel Tower is brown. The Circus Maximus is a beer bottle littered field. Oscar Wilde’s grave is covered in lipstick kisses. Angkor Wat is old. Bethlehem is a slum.

I thought my plan to kiss his grave was original…

My real stories are about the people I’ve met, but how could I present these in a narrative? It would be a constant stream of minor characters rushing from one side of the stage to the other, briefly delivering the few memorable lines I recorded in my journal after meeting them.

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset had an excellent solution to this problem. Pick one city, one day, one pair of travellers. Present their dialogue in real time. Include sex. Have an open ending that leaves people craving the sequel…and its own open ending.

The problem with the narrative of travel is that there is no satisfying conclusion. The plot (in my case) is: man leaves home to see sights, man sees sights, man returns home. I didn’t go overseas to do anything. I didn’t have a ring to toss into a volcano or a space station to destroy. I just went to Ireland, met interesting people, saw beautiful scenery, drank delicious beer, sorted out some things in my head, and returned home. The “sorting things out in my head” part sounds promising, but there is still no narrative. And I like story telling. Writing a memoir of my travels and philosophical experiences is rather presumptuous of me. True, I load my stories with my philosophical beliefs, but I don’t always want to be the “I” in my stories. It’s tempting, because I have experienced enough to be my own Byronic hero, but I’m not what I always want to write about. Sure it is easier and I do have difficulty giving up my starring role—of giving my experiences to another character (I’m possessive of the things I’ve done because I’m proud of them)—but that takes all the imagination out of things. The fantasy. The magic.

Me, with a moustache and a funny hat

I was considering all of this while lying on my back in a swimming pool in the sweltering heat wave that is currently crashing across Canada, and I realised I don’t need to write a travel narrative. Not yet anyway. For now, I am going to keep writing what I love to write.


(it makes sense if you know me)


About writewithlightning

I'm a published Canadian poet and fiction writer, posting haiku daily @writelightning on most social media sites. Please like and comment so that I know you're reading. It means a lot to me! View all posts by writewithlightning

4 responses to “Writing about Travelling

  • 105

    p. j. o’rourke wrote the cynical “holidays in hell” about some of his funky travel experiences, from south korea to heritage u.s.a (a theocracy that’s fun for the whole family). cynical might not be your flavour, but something else might be. try a special flavour.

    the circus maximus is a field of empty beer bottles? thanks for killing the romance. :O i might as well just visit a junkyard and imagine that it’s encircled by a colonnade. i’ve heard worse stories about trying to see the mona lisa. (apparently it’s behind glass and velvet rope. you have to stand way back, which is horrible since it isn’t a very large painting anyway. chances are, you’ll see more of the backs of people’s heads than that damned, attention-whoring, 500-year old floozie on the canvas.) then again, i’m sure many people excitedly come to see the c.n. tower, but to me it’s just a ho-hum, unavoidable edifice poking up from the horizon.

    you can treat the people you’ve encountered as characters in a short story–short lifespans, but they still have souls. focus on that, maybe.

    just some advice. 😀

  • Christiane McInnes

    Sometimes it’s the story you haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about (or writing) that’s the most profound. But I understand completely. Just remember – this is, after all, YOUR blog. Narrative or not, take your time, write what you like/ what comes, and try not to put too much pressure on yourself.

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