Travel and the Writer

I love to travel.  To see the world, and everything that it holds.  My brother is someone who’s content to stay in his section of the world, and not wonder what else might be out there, but not me.  My insatiable curiosity has me wanting to know exactly how hot it feels in Egypt, not just read about it.  Someone telling me about the Whispering Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London has no real meaning to me, other than being a cool concept.  But, actually standing in that dome and hearing something loud and clear that had only been whispered from across the chasm, WOW . . . that was an experience.

I dreamed of visiting Paris my whole life.  I sat glued to the TV whenever a Pepe le Pew cartoon came on.  I knew I’d be taking French in high school, not Spanish.  However, none of that, nor the movies I watched that took place in France, could’ve prepared me for the actual experience of strolling along the Seine.  Or the enormity of La Tour Eiffel.  Even more amazing was noticing that, aside from The Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, no building in the older section of Paris was much taller than six stories.  It’s been a while since I’ve been back, so my memory may be fuzzy, but I seem to recall most of the buildings being the same height – especially along the Champs Elysees.  Those are all things that could make my writing seem even more real if I were to use them in a story.

Traveling can help broaden you, because of the different people and cultures you encounter. Your experiences could be inserted into a story or character.  Maybe a foreigner could be erroneously accused of murder, just because he happened to be visiting at the very time that the crime took place.  If you’ve been to, say, Scotland, you might describe the different lilt or cadence in his/her speech.  Or maybe your foreigner is from a small village in France, and was drawn to this town because it reminded him/her so much of home.  If you’ve been to that small village, you can bring your readers there too, by describing the streets, or the distance between houses.

I think it’s great that people can write about  settings based in cities where they don’t live.  Or even the people who can create whole new worlds, like Tolkein or CS Lewis.  But I find that my best stuff actually comes from experience.  Maybe it’s because my imagination isn’t as vivid as others, but, for me, there’s a tangible quality that gets inserted into the writing.  If I were writing about someone driving from London to Wales via Salisbury, I would be able to describe the breathtaking moment of cresting a hill along the A303 to see the huge pillars of Stonehenge looming up ahead, nearly two miles away.  That’s something that I personally wouldn’t have been able to pull out of my imagination.  I had to see it for myself.

If you got to visit the Washington Monument when they allowed visitors inside, you would be able to describe in detail the exhaustion that takes over you around step number 453, knowing that you had at least another 400 steps to climb to the top.  How cool would it be to incorporate the feeling of riding a camel?  The smell, the texture of their skin, the bumpiness as they trot along . . . heck, even the soreness in your body after your first ever ride.  These are all things that can be done well by just using your imagination, but I feel there’s an added oomph when you’ve experienced it for yourself.

Many people take photos on vacation so they can look back at them with fond memories.  Writers can take that one step further and write down the memories.  The smells, sounds, textures of wherever you’ve been, can help bring your settings and characters much more alive.

What vacation experiences have seeped their way into your writing?

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kaye George
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 09:43:36

    You’re describing me and my husband! I’d drive us to the poor house traveling if he didn’t put a damper on me. 🙂

    My son was in the Washington Monument a couple months ago. It was raining and they were the only people there–except for a homeless guy.

    Reply

    • Alyx Morgan
      Mar 18, 2011 @ 09:47:50

      LOL Yeah, finances are probably the main thing that keeps me from seeing the world quicker than I do. But, it’s nice to come home too & relax.

      How awesome to have that structure all to oneself (or group)! I like walking, but I don’t know if I’d be able to do nearly 900 stairs!

      Thanks for stopping by, Kaye!

      Reply

  2. Kaye George
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 09:50:13

    There’s an elevator! I don’t think they even let you climb the stairs. I’ve been a couple times and it’s always been crowded.

    Reply

    • Alyx Morgan
      Mar 18, 2011 @ 09:54:52

      Yeah, it was crowded when I went a few years ago. It was too long, & I believe I was on a budget for that trip anyway. Which is cool in DC, with all the free museums! :o)

      Reply

  3. Dana
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 09:59:36

    I took a trip to Europe the summer before sixth grade and it changed my life and my perspective on the world. Loved it… and those memories still cling and have made it into some of my writing. I love traveling and don’t do enough of it, but even the drives I make back and forth between SF and San Diego or L.A. inspire me with locations/ideas for some of my books. And, btw., I nearly got pushed off the Eiffel Tower stairs by a big fat tourist who wasn’t paying attention. THAT would have made for story fodder!

    Reply

    • Alyx Morgan
      Mar 18, 2011 @ 10:04:12

      YIKES! That had to be scary, what with all the girdings & open space there!

      How cool that you got to have your perspective broadened at such a young age! My first trip out of the country didn’t happen until I was 30 & I made that my birthday present to myself.

      Thanks for visiting, Dana. :o)

      Reply

  4. E. B. Davis
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 12:32:47

    I used to travel quite a bit globally, but now my travels are closer to home in this country. The setting for most of my stories is the Outer Banks, since we vacationed on the islands. Now, we own a house there and it’s become a second home. Knowing a place well enables you not only to describe a place, but include characters based on the people you’ve met. I’ve become familiar with a few personal histories, which I will include in my writing.

    Reply

    • Alyx Morgan
      Mar 18, 2011 @ 13:03:08

      That’s cool, EB! I had never heard of the Outer Banks (or maybe, once, in passing), but I went to Google to check out some images. It looks very beautiful & serene.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply

  5. Mom
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 13:36:40

    If I had my ‘drothers’, I’d rather be traveling than anything else I can think of. It’s always been a source for learning, and sooo much enjoyment for me.

    Reply

    • Alyx Morgan
      Mar 18, 2011 @ 13:40:42

      Yeah, traveling is a lot of fun. But I do find that I get tired of eating out every meal, or miss sleeping in my own bed after about two weeks. So, I don’t know that I could travel for months at a time…though, it’d be fun to give it a try! 😉

      Thanks for posting, mom.

      Reply

  6. Kathy
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 14:38:49

    I inherited my love of traveling from my folks. Although they limited their travels to the USA, I have visited Europe several times and last fall went to South Africa. Quite a trip.
    All three of my WIPs are set in places I’ve visited, not at home. Maybe home seems too prosaic? My first takes place in the Oregon Cascades, the second in the desert outside Tucson and my third in Wyoming. That one has proved a lot of fun, letting me stay on “vacation” for the year I spent writing it.
    Unfortunately, I doubt I’ll use my SA trip. Everything was so different there, I’m not sure I could do it right.

    Reply

  7. Alyx Morgan
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 15:22:36

    That’s cool, that all your works are places you’ve visited. I can imagine how it must seem like an extended vacation. 🙂

    Maybe you wouldn’t have to incorporate everything from your South Africa trip, but maybe have a character from South Africa or something. That would be a nice way to bring some of that realism out into your story, while also giving couch travelers a chance to visit SA through your character’s eyes.

    Thank you for stopping by.

    Reply

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