People you meet while traveling make your experiences memorable. A conversation with a Frenchman at a Paris café or a Maasai dancer in Kenya will be the event you remember most from a trip. That conversation is the memory you will find yourself repeating to others when you return home.
So when you write about your travels, add those special person-to-person encounters to your account of what you saw and did. Take the time to make the people you met come alive again as you tell your story. Here are some techniques you can use:
- Describe people physically
What did the person you met look like? – Tall? Dark hair? Middle-aged? Wrinkles? Smile? Write down what your remember about the person’s demeanor and dress. How did the person move or talk? Rather than give a descriptive list of physical characteristics, describe the person in the context of telling the story.
- Recreate the dialogue
It’s OK to recreate a conversation even though you don’t remember the exact words, as long as you stick to the essence and intent of the words spoken. Write a dialogue of your conversation as you remember it, using quotation marks, going back and forth between the two of you.
- Show how the interaction made you feel
What did you learn about yourself from talking with this person? Did you feel a kinship even though you came from different backgrounds? Were there humorous misunderstandings due to language and cultural differences? Did you share a laugh?
Here is an example from my travel memoir, of meeting a woman who became my friend, on my first trip to Easter Island:
A large woman made her way toward me through the crowd, her wavy black hair and pink- flowered, Tahitian-styled parieu flowing behind her. She had apparently spotted me as the foreign student who was to stay at her pension, with my blonde hair, UCLA tee shirt and blue jeans.
“Ola, tu eras Kay? Habla Espanol?” The woman, (Lucia), wanted to know if I was Kay and if I spoke Spanish.
“Si. Poquito,” I stammered, trying to recall the phrases I needed from my college Spanish I class.
“Donde esta su equipaque?”
Where is my luggage? I looked over at the bags lined up on the concrete floor of the small thatch-roofed airport. Mine wasn’t there, yet I had personally placed my tagged bag on the luggage conveyer belt in Tahiti.
Seeing the distress on my face, Lucia marched me over to Juan, the airport’s baggage handler, who happened to be her cousin. She pointed at the huge jet sitting alone on the runway and told Juan that I needed to check the baggage in the hold of the plane to make sure mine wasn’t still there. The plane was to leave for Santiago, Chile in less than an hour.
“No, no,” Juan said, his eyes wide and hands gesturing in the air. “No es posible.”
“Si, si,” Lucia brushed past him and signaled me to come with her. I followed her pink dress across the runway to the tall metal stair-step ladder that still leaned against the open door of the baggage compartment in the bowels of the big plane.
“Ariba,” she said to me, pointing the way up the stairs.
I knew that the next plane from Tahiti wouldn’t arrive for one more week and I thought about going without my clothes and toiletries for that long on an isolated island with a few tourist shops. I looked at Lucia, her legs planted wide and arms pointing up to the plane. Her certainty gave me courage. I took a deep breath and bounded up the stairs, two at a time, aware that Juan was on my heels, protesting in a frantic voice…
Kay Sanger is the author of several travel guidebooks and most recently, Easter Island: The Essential Guide, published by The Easter Island Foundation. Find it on Amazon or at www.islandheritage.org