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.
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!
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.
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.
Journaling is a fun and easy way to record your travels, understand your experiences, and reflect on your learnings. You don’t have to be an experienced writer to start journaling too, find out how with these tips from a nomad.
So, you’re thinking about starting a travel blog and you want someone other than your mom to read it? Amy Palfreyman, winner of our 2010 Travel Writing Scholarship shares her top tips.