Writing Away: Wrapping it Up

The final five chapters of Writing Away provide tips for keeping accurate memories tucked inside your journal and tricks for keeping journal-writing fun and exciting.  

Chapter 9: The Sum of Our Misadventures

Spalding continuously emphasizes how important and interesting bad experiences can be.  Sometimes the worst experiences make for the best stories – once you’re able to laugh about it all, of course.  Therefore, be sure to include it all in your journal.  She seems to suggest that you seek out bad experiences, although she reminds you throughout the chapter that it’s not her point.  I remain unconvinced.  However, I will remember to include bad experiences in my journal, rather than trying to forget them (which tends to happen).

Chapter 10: Free Your Mind and the Words Will Follow

Traveling (getting away from the familiar) helps you become a better writer, which is important so that when it comes time to reread the journal years from now, the stories and experiences will be more entertaining and gratifying.  Although travel may supply you with inspiration, you still need to write to improve your writing (of course, but it’s good to be reminded!).  A few key thoughts from this chapter include:

  • don’t be discouraged if your writing “sucks” – it happens to all writers and not everything is going to be perfect the first time around.
  • avoid overusing clichés, stereotypes, and labels.
  • cut down on adjectives such as beautiful, amazing, interesting, etc. and instead explain why something is beautiful, amazing, interesting, etc. (I am guilty of this and it’s something I’m looking forward to working on).
  • to help get your mind and hand flowing, start each writing session with a 10-minute “free write” – don’t lift the pen from the paper, don’t edit, don’t stop. 
  • try writing in the present tense instead of the past.  This can help bring you closer to the event and what you are describing.

Chapter 11: Tell Me the Truth

Many adults don’t write the whole truth in their journals – maybe they are afraid that it will get lost or that family members will discover the journal and read it in the future.  I can appreciate that.  I’ve left certain things out of a journal because if I wanted to share my thoughts with someone in the future, I wouldn’t want to share that memory with them.  One way to start writing down the truth is to act as though it will never be read.  Lock it up, find a good hiding spot, or destroy it (burn it, throw it in the lake, etc.) – this may help you be more truthful in your writing since it won’t be read by someone.  Traveling can also help unleash the truth in your writing.  It may trigger a memory or open your mind.  Allow it to do both of these things. 

Chapter 12: Having a Great Time, Wish I Were Here

The title refers to a couple of anecdotes Spalding shares about travelers taking pictures and videos to enjoy later, and missing the event that’s happening in front of them.  The rest of the chapter focuses on how technology has changed traveling and how handwritten journals are becoming non-existent.  Spalding urges the traveler to continue to use the handwritten journal while traveling, specifically for private memories and reflections.  Technology also has a place in travel – digital cameras for taking pictures, for example.  However, do not go overboard, photographing every single thing.  Instead, focus on capturing the unusual or bizarre.  And finally, while it’s very easy to stay connected to the internet while traveling, use it sparingly – write shorter emails and share additional stories when you return.  

Chapter 13: Bring It on Home

Wrapping up a journal is something I often have trouble with – I’m usually so far behind and, on top of that, I think of stories and experiences that I forgot to write about.  Spalding suggests that you don’t worry about catching up before finishing.  Write a few words or sentences, or even write a “to-write” list to help remind yourself of what you plan to write about.  This is something I still need (and plan) to do for our Portugal and Spain trip.  I am still kicking myself for not getting anywhere close to finishing our first trip to Europe.  I covered Venice and the first part of Cinque Terre extensively, but kept only minimal notes about Nice and Paris.  I still don’t think it’s too late (over 3 years later) because I remember more now than I will 3 years from now.

And with that, my summary of Writing Away is complete.  Hopefully some of the advice has been helpful for those of you journaling while you travel!

Writing Away: Stepping Outside the Box

The (long overdue) second installment of my summary of Writing Away by Lavinia Spalding brings us into the creative side of travel journaling.  While I think the first 4 chapters are very helpful for getting started with journaling and motivating yourself to write, they only scratched the surface on the creativity that can be involved with travelogues.  Let me warn you: some of her ideas are definitely “out there,” but I think there are certain takeaways from each of the next 4 chapters that I can use in my travel journaling.

Chapter 5: Distance Makes the Art Grow Stronger

This chapter is likely a little crazy to many people.  It’s all about arts, crafts, and creativity and how to incorporate that into your travel journal.  I’ll be honest, even for me, someone who enjoys DIY and arts and crafts, many of Spalding’s suggestions just aren’t going to happen.  I can’t see myself carrying around an arts and crafts kit with colored pencils, crayons, paints, etc.  I am already a heavy packer and just don’t need the extra stuff.  That being said, I do cart around colored (ball point) pens, so maybe that would work as a substitute.  One idea I do like is glueing or taping items (business cards, pictures from magazines, museum tickets, etc) into the journal.  I definitely try to hold on to all of these things, since I may use them for scrapbooking, but it does seem fun to include more than just writing in the journal.  As far as drawing goes….I’m not even close to being an artist, but my goal for London was to try to draw something.  I think in some ways a drawing can help explain something better than words, but with my lacking artistic abilities, I’m not sure how helpful it will be.

Chapter 6: Journal to the Center

This chapter seemed to be all over the place – a bit about being lost and confused while traveling and then some information on spirituality and finding your center.  The travel journal can be used to slow down and take in everything.  I found the “Inspirations” section of this chapter to really be the most helpful.  It seems like it had little to do with the rest of the chapter, but there are some great ideas:

  • Notice something each day that you normally wouldn’t.  Look at ceilings, floors, small details, etc.  
  • Choose a subject and write about it in extensive detail. 
  • On the other end of the spectrum, write about a scene in a big picture sort of way, skipping the details. 
  • Write about something and include what did or didn’t meet your expectations.  If your experience isn’t written down, your mind may play tricks and remember the expectation instead the actual experience (I find this to be true). 
Chapter 7: And Now for Something Completely Different

Treat your travel journal like you would an intimate relationship.  Weird? Yes, I think so.  But, the way Spalding explains it makes some sense and I can see how applying some of her ideas will help keep the journaling interesting.  Her advice is to put a lot of attention into it, but continue to shake things up so it doesn’t get boring and stale. 

A few ideas:

  • Make lists – they will remind you of where you were and who you were at that time in your life and will bring back memories of that moment.
  • Step away from the big picture and write about a specific subject. 
  • Self-imposed brevity – 10 words to describe something, haiku, etc.
  • Shared journal – switch off writing in the journal with a travel companion (also keep your own)
  • Write about anything, even if it’s not conventional.

Chapter 8: Don’t You Forget About Me

As the title suggests, this chapter is about remembering, or not forgetting, experiences, food, quotes, moments, etc. from your travels.  It’s easy to think that you’ll be able to recall all of the details when you return, but this is definitely not the case.  The good news is that simply writing it down will help with the memory.  This can be tough, though, because if you spend too much time focusing on capturing every moment, you will miss the moment.  The key is to take notes.  Bring a smaller notepad with you during the day and use it to scribble a note or two to help you remember when it comes time to journal (focus on the subtle details that you may forget later that night).

I definitely used some of these tips on our trip to London, and plan to continue improving my journal-writing by being artistic, writing about details, writing about the big picture, keeping the journal fun and interesting, and keeping a small notepad with me to jot down notes (other than what we had for lunch or dinner, which is the only thing I’ve used a small notebook for in the past).  

Writing Away: The Basics

Ryan and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary on October 8!  I made sure he was informed that the first anniversary is traditionally the paper anniversary, so in addition to other gifts, we made sure to get each other a paper gift.  His gift to me was a book on travel journaling called Writing Away, by Lavinia Spalding.  I really enjoy keeping a journal while traveling, so this was a perfect gift!  Since we are heading to London in about three weeks, I wanted to begin reading this book right away.  We’ve read the introduction and chapters 1-4 (I read aloud when we are in the car together) and I want to share some of the information we’ve gained thus far.

Chapter 1: Let the Writing Begin

The first chapter is all about the importance of finding the right journal.  To say I haven’t given much thought to this would be a lie.  I’m very particular about the type of journal I want to use on my trips – medium-sized, hard cover, lined paper, pretty design/cover, thin.  Before our honeymoon I found the perfect journals!  They are Piddix brand, and feature different European cities on the front and back covers.  The pages are lined, there’s a fabric bookmark, and it’s kept closed by an elastic band that goes around the front cover.  I loved it so much that ever since then, I’ve searched for more.  I’ve successfully found about 6 additional European cities.  Yes!  Oh, except both Ryan and I are now intrigued by what Spalding has said in the very first chapter of our book.  While she doesn’t insist that you dump your journals and adopt her preferences, there’s something about blank pages that are appealing and freeing.  This is one thing we may look for in our next journal (which, depending on whether or not we decide to ditch the journals I’ve already purchased, may be in 6 years).  Some of her other criteria?  Non-white pages, pages without designs or prompts, and a journal that lies flat. 

Chapter 2: It’s the Intention That Matters

Chapter 2 focuses on motivations, and Spalding mentions that if you have a motivation to journal, you are more likely to follow through and finish the journal.  This seems obvious, but just writing down the motivation will have a profound effect.  My motivations – keeping an accurate account so that: when I go back and read, I can relive the experience; I can write honest and detailed reviews for hotels, restaurants, and attractions; I can provide recommendations of things to do with confidence – no clouded memories and any need-to-know information that is best obtained through experience (how long does it really take to walk from point A to point B?).  

Spalding has a section at the end of each chapter called “Inspiration,” which gives tips and ideas relating to the subject discussed in the chapter.  I really liked a couple of them in this chapter.  One was “Fact or Fiction”: list your destinations and write down any preconceived notions you have of them.  Make sure to leave room for the reality, so you can compare your expectations with your actual experience.  The other was “At First Sight”: write down your first impressions of a place with a few sentences.  I already try to do the latter, but I don’t always get around to writing down my preconceived notions or expectations for each destination. 

Chapter 3: Write Two Pages and Call Me in the Morning

This chapter is all about keeping a journaling schedule and sticking to it.  When your trip is jam-packed full of activities, it’s definitely hard to find the time to sit and journal.  Spalding suggests setting an attainable goal – maybe it’s 5 minutes a day, or 15 minutes every other day.  This past trip I tried to spend some time with my journal every day – either on the train between cities, or when we were back at the hotel between a full day and dinner (while drinking wine, and preferably sitting on a terrace with a view – although this wasn’t always possible).  Since the schedule doesn’t necessarily need to be the same time every day, this has worked well for me.  We naturally have a break/hotel time each day, so I spend some of that time catching up.  The long train rides are great for journaling – no need to miss any exploring since you are already stuck on the train. 

Spalding states that “procrastination is murder on a travel journal” and I agree!  It is so easy to procrastinate, but then the adventures and experiences keep piling up, and pretty soon you find yourself way behind.  I have been getting better and better about keeping up with my journaling, but here I am a month and a half back from Spain and I still have two and a half days to write about.  By now I’ve lost a lot of the details (but I do keep quick notes in a smaller notebook – for example, where and what we ate) and will likely rush through those last days.  

Chapter 4: Travel is Stranger Than Fiction

In this chapter, Spalding encourages you to write using senses other than just sight.  Thinking about my journals, sight takes up the vast majority, with taste and then smell taking up a very small portion (but only when writing about food).  She recommends closing your eyes to take in the sounds and smells of a place, or touch different things and describe how they feel.  I’m definitely going to focus on this more in London.  I think it will bring an interesting element to my journal, and will help me relive the great experiences.  I already have pictures to help remember what things look like, so it makes complete sense to me to work on including smells, tastes, sounds, and the feel of buildings or objects. 

The other part of this chapter discusses people: talk and interact with people or eavesdrop on conversations to pick up interesting information.  I already eavesdrop because I find it interesting to learn about other people and it gives me an excuse to learn without having to talk to strangers!  That being said, in a few weeks we will be in London where English is spoken, so my goal will be to try to connect with the locals a bit more! 

Since I still have space in my current journal, I won’t be out looking for a new one for London.  However, I will more clearly define my intentions, which will hopefully help motivate me to stay on top of the journaling and schedule time to sit and journal each day.  Since we won’t have as much train time in London, I’ll have to be a bit more creative.  I will also make a conscious effort to write about more than what I see – smells of the city, the taste of the food, the feel of the rain and cold weather (I hope it’s not too bad!), and the sounds of the people.  I’m looking forward to finishing this book so we can apply the advice to make our journaling better (and maybe even our blog!).