Travel memoir writing isn’t what you typically read in the Travel section of a newspaper, or in many glossy magazines. When you write a travel memoir, you aren’t compelled to lavish superlatives upon a beach resort or trendy city. You don’t have to recommend the restaurants where you ate, the museums you visited or the hotel where you stayed, although you can certainly describe these places if that suits your story.
In travel memoir, you write about what it really felt like for you to be in this new place, at this time in your life. With that focus, all sorts of questions emerge: what drew you to this destination? What did you expect, and what did you find? Who did you meet? What was the landscape like, and how did it affect you? What did you hear when you woke up every morning and when you went to sleep? How did people treat you, and how did you treat others? And, most importantly: what did you learn and how did you change?
Many of us have been on meaningful journeys, and the things that made them meaningful probably weren’t the luxury spa or the five star restaurant. It was who we were with, even if we were alone. It was how this place transformed our state of mind. When travelling, we shed our layers of identity and project ourselves anew into this new world. The story that unfolds as soon as we get off that plane, train or car is potent writing material.
The travel memoir essay has two aims: to describe your physical journey and your inner journey. Your task is to interweave these two, giving the reader enough personal details about you through your narrative voice and what you disclose about yourself, and enough descriptive details about the place to understand the impact it had upon you. You have many options for how to weave these journeys together: you can zoom in close—remembering that even a small encounter can hold great meaning—or give the reader a panorama shot of the landscape and your life so far. You can write about something that happened two weeks ago, or ten years in the past. You can interweave several journeys, stringing them together with a common theme. Your goal is to relay how going somewhere new has changed you, whether big or small.
In writing a travel memoir essay, the trick is finding your way in…
In writing a travel memoir essay, the trick is finding your way in. The experience of reading your essay should be vivid and personal, inviting your readers to imagine the events of your journey through their own eyes. But how to begin? How to find the meaning and the arc of your personal travel journey? Through discussing carefully chosen examples, this workshop will give you the tools to find that way in, and how to continue the writing process after you’ve left the workshop.
What are the places that moved you? Why was it so? Through writing, you can find the answer, and publish a terrific travel memoir essay in the process.
Jillian Schedneck is the author of the travel memoir Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights, which was published by Pan Macmillan in 2012. Her travel memoir essays have been published in over a dozen literary journals in the United States and Australia, such as The Lifted Brow, Quadrant, Brevity, The Literary Traveler, Redivider and The Common Review. She has taught nonfiction writing in the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, and online.