One of the most beneficial aspects of writing about travel is that it forces you to focus on stories instead of things and places. Don’t get me wrong, things and places are important; I would never advocate going to Paris and NOT seeing the Eiffel Tower, but you start to think about places as settings instead of the purpose for your story. Let me explain.
In 2018, Julia and I traveled to Belgium because it had been a bucket-list item of mine to drink Belgian beer in Belgium. I got that wish and celebrated my 51st birthday in beautiful Brugge, drinking a hearty Trappist Ale while enjoying a bulging plate of Moules et Frites (mussels and fries, the local delicacy). After Brugge we were tossed about what to do next. Paris loomed, but I also wanted to explore Canada’s role in the First World War, since much of it was fought in and around the town of Ypres. The date was also significant in that it was the 100th anniversary of the end of the so-called “Great War.” I was also searching for good story, and World War I had largely faded from our collective consciousness. Instead of doing the day tour, we rented bicycles and spent two days exploring the battlegrounds and sublime cemeteries throughout the pastoral countryside around Ypres and Passchendaele. You can read about our bicycle ride through the Ypres Salient here:
Another symbiotic relationship between traveling and writing is that once you start writing about your travels, you start to seek out stories. I read about the cave city of Matera while browsing a Maxim Magazine at work (full disclosure, I was sitting on the toilet) and it seemed like an interesting place to visit, a place largely unknown outside of Europe, but steeped in history and providing what I hoped would be a good story. A few months before our trip to Ireland, I wondered if I could find the infamous house were the Irish comedy, Father Ted, was filmed. Not only did “Craggy Island Parochial House” exist, but on Saturdays people could visit for tea. I emailed them directly and booked tea at Father Ted’s. The thing was, having tea at Father Ted’s wasn’t the real story, it was our frustrated efforts to find the house, which is buried deep in the Burren, Ireland’s most “craggy” region with terrible signage.
Sometimes stories just happen, both good and bad. Southern Italy was a constant source of frustration for us, while downpours and insect bites marred the first few days of what we thought was going to be a relaxing, do nothing, Antigua vacation. Our trip to Mangaia, Cook Islands brought constant wonderful surprises, despite early trepidation. Don’t worry if your vacation isn’t perfect, nobody’s vacation ever is, but sometimes the juiciest stories come from the worst experiences. Also don’t forget that characters are integral to any story, so make sure you write about yourselves and about the interesting people you meet along the way.