How a Trip Journal Can Help You Write a Travel Memoir

IMG_8351Many of us keep a journal when we travel. At the end of each day, we try to jot down where we went and what we saw, recording names of the places we visited and new information we learned. We tend to write about what impressed us most, but we don’t often say why.

Back home when we want to write about the trip in more depth, we turn to our journals and often are disappointed. Our notes are sketchy. Memories have faded.

How can you write about what you felt when you saw the Taj Mahal for the first time if you neglected to record your original, raw emotions? How can you describe the interior of the Palace of Versailles and its effect on you if you didn’t take detailed notes?

To improve your travel memoirs in the future, think about taking more time to record your experiences in your trip diary when they are fresh. Here are three suggestions to think about as you write your notes each day:

1. Write detailed descriptions of the places that really impressed you. Even if you only write in phrases, capture the specific characteristics as you remember them including the sights, smells and sounds.

For a castle in Portugal, I jotted down such items as: “stone brick façade inlaid with green, pink and yellow tiles; deep bell chimes each hour; mosaic ceilings made of stones, shells and tiles; second-story cobblestone porch with view to the sea and smells from the sea carried by breeze; six-foot-long bathtub in fully tiled bathroom.” These details later helped me describe the incredible castle and the eccentric king who built it, making the story of my travels there more compelling.

2. Write about how you felt when you were there. What were your emotions? Later, when you are home and writing your memoir, you can tap into those emotions and perhaps see more clearly how they may have changed and inspired you. Travel is about more than just where you went and what you did. There is an inner, parallel journey going on too, and that is the most valuable aspect of travel.

I recently walked the last 70 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with six friends, all of us around 70 years old. Along the trail I spent some time meditating about how the trail was a metaphor of life, with its ups and downs, never revealing what lies on the other side of the hill.

As I walked, I felt the wonder of traversing the same worn path where thousands have passed since the 11th century. I thought about the last years of my life and how I want to approach them with courage and grace. The swinging of the huge incense burner at the Santiago de Compostella cathedral at the end of the walk made me gasp and choke back tears as I realized the symbolism of the smoke carrying my aspirations to the heavens.

3. Write about the people you met who influenced or impressed you. What did you discuss? What did you learn? After you return home, you may see these personal encounters as the most enriching events of your trip.

During my walk on the Camino, I met people who told me about their lives. One woman talked about the two children in Ethiopia she was sponsoring by sending money for clothing, school and food. A man from Guatemala described the orphanage he ran there. A Swedish woman shared how she worked to save the elephants at a reserve in Botswana. After a while, their stories ran together in my mind. I’m happy I wrote down the details soon after our encounters.

The next time you travel, take along that trip journal and write in it each night, but take more time to think about the details, emotions and insights that can turn your jottings into a meaningful memoir of your travels.

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