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.
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