How to Improve Your Travel Writing While on the Road

There's nothing worse than getting ready to pen the ultimate travel story, only to experience writer’s block. Travel writer Annapurna Mellor shares 3 simple exercises you can do on the road to help you get started and let the creativity flow.

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Whether you're an aspiring travel writer, keen blogger or just someone who loves telling stories from their travels - we've all had that moment when we come back from a trip and pause with writer’s block! What was that guide’s name? What was that quote from the tuk-tuk driver? Where were those incredible temple carvings I saw?

We have the most incredible time traveling and stories buzz around our heads, but when we sit down to put it all together - there are too many gaps. 

I’ve been there too, and over time, I’ve found different travel writing exercises which help me to piece together those moments, put a memorable story together, and ultimately make me a better travel writer.

Taking Notes

One of the most important travel writing exercises you can do is taking notes. Find a small notebook which easily slides into your pocket and carry it everywhere. 

I write down what I call ‘trigger words’. This could be the names of the people I've met, short sentences or adjectives to describe how you felt in a certain moment, or any markets, streets, or places I feel I might not be able to research later.

I also love writing down quotes from people I have met – as I find speech adds an extra sense of place into my travel writing.

Don’t forget that you don’t need to have your head in your notebook the whole time. As a travel writer, it is important to immerse yourself into the sights and senses of a place, but taking notes doesn’t have to be an intrusive exercise – it can simply be a few seconds just to make sure your memories are intact. You’ll thank yourself later when you start to put together stories!

Collecting Memories – From Leaflets to Photographs

Another travel writing exercise I find extremely helpful when away on assignment is to actively collect memories.

Tangible memories could be collecting business cards from an amazing cafe you went to, or the leaflet of a tour company. I keep these stashed neatly in the back of my notebook, and if I ever forget the name of a restaurant or museum, there’s a chance I might have a little keepsake from the place in the back of my book.

Intangible memories can be things like taking photographs - something which you are probably already doing!  But I don’t mean just of beautiful landscapes – photographs can also be used as a travel writing exercise to trigger memories of a place.

I often take pictures of restaurant or hotel signs. If I don’t have a moment to write a name down in my notebook, I can take a picture of the sign and reference the photo later when I’ve forgotten the name! I also find taking photos of menus really helpful, so that if I decide to talk in-depth about a specific restaurant, I can mention a few of their signature dishes.

Another way to record intangible memories is to record interviews on your phone. If I happen to stumble across a really interesting character who has great insight on a place, I will ask them politely if I can record our conversation. Later on, I can listen to the recording and get accurate quotes and information.

Putting Down The Story

When you’ve tried these travel writing exercises on a trip, you’ll come home with notes, leaflets, photos and a couple of recorded interviews - so what’s next? It’s time to pen the story! 

Look for unique angles in your notes, or perhaps find some descriptive words of a place which really blew you away. Listen to your interviews and maybe you can start a whole story based on a quote from a character you met. Or maybe a photo of a food menu will send your taste buds into overdrive and have you writing a piece about an unforgettable restaurant you visited.

Try these travel writing exercises on your next trip – you might find they help you develop into a better travel writer, and help you to pen stories you are really proud of and which others love to read.

Are you an aspiring travel writer? Keep an eye out for our next Travel Writing Scholarship in 2019!

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2 Comments

  • Weslley said

    Hi!
    Thank you for these tips, I will try to always keep a small notebook by my side to note the quotes. I think this was a great idea.

  • Howard said

    Reading this article while waiting for winners to be announced. I would like to add, though it may be heresy to writers, liberal use of cameras. Not just beauty shots, I take pictures of signs, odd items, menus, you name it to jog my memmory. Cameras are also video recorders and video also includes an audio component for quick recording of comments. I use video/photography as a working tool beyond gettinge shot. Oh one can take snapshots of notes written on napkins or drawn in the sand too for use later.

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