Do you write about your travels?

DSC00977I have traveled quite a bit, but have not always made a habit of writing about my experiences. Many of my travels have no documentation, just memories.

Though one trip to Maine I kept a diary and took pictures. I also kept the maps and guide books. I did the same while on a trip to Germany.

My mom traveled to Wales and England, and she kept a diary and took pictures (yes, I have the diary and the pics!). I hope to make that same trip one day.

Research with travel books

When I go to yard sales, I look for travel books and books about geography and different states and different countries. I may not be able to visit all these wonderful places, but I can sure read about them.

Small notebook

While traveling, keep a diary. Or if you have a laptop, knock out your day-to-day experiences when you get back to your hotel that evening. Write not just what you see, but how you felt.

Take photos

Photos can refresh your memories and help you better describe the people, places, architecture, scenery, colors.

Local people

Talk to the locals. Trade email addresses in case you want to contact them again.

Write about attitudes – every place you go, there are attitudes and ideas that are specific to that region, state, or country.

Ask about the history

When you chat with the locals, ask how long they have lived there, where they came from, why they are there now.

Visit cemeteries

I wish I had taken more photos at the cemetery on Chebeague Island, Maine. There were stones there that went back more than three hundred years.

Don’t do it all in a car or bus.

Can you rent a bike? Can you hike? You would be surprised how your visual perspective changes as you are pedaling or walking.

Have you considered the train?

Amtrak has a new program called Amtrak Residency for writers. I have applied, but they haven’t called me, yet. When were you last on a train? Did it inspire different thoughts and ideas?

For a different perspective on travel writing, with guests Esther Miller and Darlene Foster

Travel writing Q&A with Esther Miller DSC00990

My travel writing has been mostly a journal I kept for our family, but the long blog last year was a little more polished than that, knowing that friends and strangers would be reading it. The bottom line is that it was still a record of where we’d been and what we were experiencing. For us, “travel” equals “car travel.” Flying somewhere is simply about getting there as soon as possible. Travel is seeing what’s along the way and that involves a car or truck and usually an RV of some sort.

How do decide where to go?

The destination is usually pre-determined. Going to see grandparents has been replaced by going to see children and grandchildren. Which route to take depends on several factors:

  • When the kids were little, routes had to include places they would enjoy.
  • As they got older, they helped decide what we would see along the way.
  • Now that it’s just the two of us, the route is determined by where we haven’t been before, or the fastest route or what’s available given possible bad weather.

How do you research your intended destination?

I haven’t, since the destination is whoever it is that we want to see.

Do you start a notebook before the journey begins?

Not usually, but somehow the preparation for travel triggers the writing process in my mind. If I find myself coming up with a phrase or a feeling that I want to elaborate on later, I’ll jot it down.

How do you keep notes while traveling?

I have a small, fat notebook that fits in the center console of the truck. When I’m not driving, if something catches my attention, I’ll observe it as carefully as I can and try to describe it as I’d want to write it. Otherwise, I jot down the key words and work on it later. One example I remember: I jotted “snow outlines roads” and it became High on the ridges an otherwise hidden mountain road is outlined with the last of the early snow.

Do you take pictures?

I take some, but I’m not a good enough photographer for publishing. I didn’t post many with my blog because I couldn’t figure out how to do it for quite a while! (Posting them isn’t hard but cropping, getting the right size, all that jazz…that’s the hard part for me.)

DSC00933What sort of specific places or events do you look for at your destination(s)?

  • We have always enjoyed museums but by now we’ve been to so many that we are really hard to impress. Still, we discover some surprises every so often.
  • We’ve enjoyed factory tours…Crayola, Blue Bunny Ice Cream, Forest River RVs, can’t remember any others right now.
  • Our favorite places though are usually historical…old mills, old factories, ghost towns, old mining areas, tracking down old railroads, Indian inscriptions…

Do you talk to a lot of local people?

Yes…if we’re traveling to see family! The people we usually talk to are docents in museums or historical sites or other like-minded folks we meet along the way. Since I haven’t written about places for pay, I haven’t been out asking people what they like about their town or why they are at the festival.

What are some of the more interesting local customs you have experienced?

In British Columbia, we were on a logging road with the logger’s radio frequency posted. Our ham radio covered their frequency (we couldn’t transmit, only listen) and we heard the movements of all the trucks on all the roads in the area. We finally decoded their “lingo” and realized that one of them was coming down the same road we were and was gaining on us. We had no idea if he was hauling logs or a big hunk of equipment or what, so when he was a couple miles behind us, we found a place to pull over and let him by. Turns out it was a pickup no bigger than ours, but he was really coming down that road! A state park ranger in North Dakota was as interested in genealogy as I and it turns out we had researched some of the same areas. But his most memorable comment was that ND was basically a desert. We asked him about all that snow. His response was that the snow in ND doesn’t melt, “It just wears out.”

Esther MillerExperience Esther’s travel blog at At Home…On the Road and her current reflections – those moments that change our lives – at Moments in Time.




Travel writing Q&A with Darlene Foster london

How do you decide where to go?

I often decide to travel to places because I know someone there. For instance, I travelled to the United Arab Emirates because my good friend was working there at the time. When you know someone who lives in an interesting spot, they can show you unique places which are not often frequented by tourists. I find I get to see the real place and meet more of the locals that way. Once in England, I got a private tour of the crypt under the York Minster because a neighbour of my husband’s uncle worked there. I always chose places that are interesting and full of history.

How do you research your intended destination?

I read many books about the place and go on line to learn as much as I can before I go. I find that part of the fun.

Do you start a notebook before the journey begins? How do you keep notes while travelling?

I don’t normally start a notebook before the journey but I always bring one with me and start writing things down immediately, even at the airport. I have a special journal for each trip and love to reread them when I get home.

Do you take pictures?

I take tons of pictures. They are my best souvenir. I enjoy reviewing them when I get home and sharing them with friends and family. I often return to my travel photographs and relive those precious times. I use them as research material when I’m writing books, short stories and travel articles.

What sort of specific places or events do you look for at your destination(s)?

I look for places with a rich history, sites that tell me about the people and the place. Learning the history helps to understand the culture. I don’t typically plan my trip around special events but sometimes I luck out. While in a small town in Spain last year, we stumbled upon a religious festival which included a procession which we followed back to the church. It was an amazing and moving experience.

Do you talk to a lot of local people?

I talk to the local people as much as possible. I always ask their name and often ask what it means. It enhances the journey by getting to know the locals. They have great stories to tell and information to share.

What are some of the more interesting local customs have you experienced?

Tapas in Spain, high tea in England, outdoor music anywhere, a religious procession, wonderful markets, a baby’s christening in Madrid, to name a few.

Darlene FosterAbout Darlene – Brought up on a ranch in Southern Alberta, Darlene dreamt of traveling the world and meeting interesting people. She is a writer, an employment counselor, an ESL teacher, a wife, mother and grandmother. She loves travel, cooking, reading, chocolate, music, the beach and making new friends. Darlene lives on the west coast of Canada with her husband Paul and their black cat Pumpkin.

Darlene Foster is the author of the exciting Amanda travel adventure series for middle readers featuring 12 year-old Amanda Ross who loves to travel to interesting places. Readers from seven to seventy enjoy travelling with Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Spain and England. Connect with Darlene on her website, blog, Twitter, Facebook.


Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers

33 responses to “Do you write about your travels?

  1. Well Karen, how fortuitous your blog subject is today. Next month we are planning my first trip to the Grand Canyon. Colorado has been my home for nearly thirty years but I never took the time to visit this extraordinary area. A journal is something that has entered my mind but I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the time to post regularly. After reading your post/guest posts I know it’s time to share what I see with family and friends. Now the idea of a journal of the trip seems very exciting, thank you. And what a treasure your mom’s travel diary must be. To take the same trip would be a fascinating journey.

    • karenrsanderson

      What a great coincidence! I am glad I posted this today then! The Grand Canyon is so inspiring…I was there a few years back. Mom’s journal – yes, a very special treasure.

  2. We do a lot of traveling and I have Thousands of photos. I need to start keeping a journal, so it is easier to remember. I would love making a few travel books! Thanks for the Blog!

  3. Karen, I didn’t expect to see our whole “conversation” in your post, but thank you very much! I have a new post nearly ready for the travel blog so I guess I’d better finish it and get it posted.

    • karenrsanderson

      I didn’t expect to post all comments/answers, but you and Darlene provided some good stuff! I wanted my followers to see it all, or mostly all. I did trim your comments, here and there (originally, the blog post was 2,000 words). I love the story about ND snow…it just wears out! That is so funny.

  4. Thanks for featuring me on your blog Karen. I enjoy reading about how others record their travels. I am a big believer in documenting things. You never know when you may need to look something up. I love that you have your mom’s diary and pictures. What a treasure.

    • karenrsanderson

      Glad to have you on the blog, Darlene. I’m glad I kept all the stuff from my Maine trip. I plan on putting Chebeague Island in a story at some point.

      • I do hope you get to do the Amtrak writer in residence thing. What a great idea. I look forward to your story about Chebeague Island as it is a place I’m unfamiliar with.

  5. Reblogged this on Darlene Foster's Blog and commented:
    Read what I have to say about documenting travel experiences on Karen Sanderson’s blog.

  6. These are wonderful insights, ladies, and I see you’ve already inspired Mickey Baxter-Spade to share her next trip. I’ve done some journaling of trips, but Esther really brought us right into the RV with her last year! I’m not the most courageous traveler, so sometimes I’d rather travel vicariously with a good writer!

  7. Do I write about my travels? The short answer is “Yes, indeed I do.” After our children we out of college and married, we zipped around Europe using Frequent Flier miles: the British Isles, France, Germany, Switzerland, Germany. Then Czech Republic and Austria. In each case I took photos, non-digital, and wrote long-hand in a journal.Previous to that we enjoyed the Canadian Rockies and especially the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. We traveled by train, by car, and boat in sone cases.

    When we went to Ukraine in 2011, I wrote daily on my laptop and subsequently had a short essay published in Sonia Marsh’s Gutsy Story Contest. Here is the link:

    In an ad promoting the state of Louisiana (AAA Magazine publication) are the choice words: “Stories are the bets souvenirs” of any travel experience and provide a chance to relieve the happy events and the things that went awry, often comical in retrospect.

    This topic is timely and in itself stirs many memories I’ll alway cherish. Thanks, Darlene for this post and Karen for hosting it!

    • karenrsanderson

      What great comments, Marian. Every since Amtrak started their residency program, I’ve been itching to get on a train. Your European adventure – wow! What a trip. I like longhand and on the laptop. Carrying a notebook is a lot easier than carrying a laptop. I prefer to leave the laptop in the hotel.

      • So true Marian. My Dad always said,”If things didn’t go wrong, we would have nothing to laugh about later.” I use these unfortunate events in my writing. For example, my bag was stolen in Barcelona, which later became a scene in my book, Amanda in Spain.

  8. I don’t travel much but have recently returned from an exciting trip to China. Yes, I brought three notes in the event I became wordy. Without my notes, my trip would already be a distant memory. 🙂
    Love this post and both interviews. ❤

  9. Great post, and a reminder to myself that I should write ‘stuff’ down when I travel. I tend to just store the trip in my brain, and sometimes I find the info in there later… I had traveled once to St. Thomas, V.I., and years later, used that city for an important part of my latest novel. I’m ashamed to say I had to use a lot of on-line research to fill in my ‘mind’ blanks.

    • karenrsanderson

      We all get caught up in the moment…while on vacation, we like to BE on vacation. But I think a writer is never on vacation. I see things everyday that make it onto little slips of paper – an odd character, an odd turn of phrase, odd names…

    • There’s nothing wrong with doing extra research later. You still had that first hand experience of the place to give it just the right feel. Even though I take notes and pictures, I still do more research to be sure I got it right!

  10. I don’t travel, although one day hope to. I found Ester and Darlene’s answers very interesting. Lots of things I wouldn’t have considered. Great post!

    • karenrsanderson

      Esther and Darlene have both done extensive travel. I hope to travel more, shortly! Thank you for your comment, Laura.

  11. When the kids were little, I often kept a log of our road trips. Mileage, unusual sights, tourist attractions, what campground we stayed, weather -that sort of thing. Our daughter ran across some notes I’d made on a trip through Oregon left behind in the map. She said it made her reminisce and remember some things she’d forgotten over the years about that trip.
    I used to keep photo albums of every trip we took – a week long road trip every summer-but now with digital pix I’m not very good about organizing them anymore.
    I’m definitely a planner, but leave some room for spur-of-the-moment things too. We like talking with locals and checking out non-touristy places.
    Next big outing might be a motorcycle trip to the Redwoods this summer.

    • karenrsanderson

      How cool to find some old notes and be able to reminisce. I used to organize photos better pre-digital, too. Wonder why that is? The big trips I plan, of course, but also like to run around spur of the moment. My problem is finding someone to go with. I have never seen the redwoods – make sure you post photos!

      • Karen, if I hadn’t already asked another friend along on my trip to CA, I’d ask you! The coast redwoods are neat…very tall…but the giant sequoias (also sometimes called redwoods) are the really spectacular trees. They are found in a few groves in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Do not miss them!

  12. Pingback: Ever done any food writing or restaurant critiques? | Karen R. Sanderson's Blog

  13. What an interesting article and what great comments. I used to be a frequent traveler and I always planned ahead. I’d buy a guidebook for wherever it was I was planning to go and plan my trip – places to stay, visit, eat, other interesting things to do, shop etc. I recommend Lonely Planet – it’s one of the most relevant and easy to use guidebooks around although its a little too big to carry around. But you can always copy the pages that you need, like maps and names and addresses of places to visit. I sometimes visited places where I had friends or at least an acquaintance; always good to know a local to get the best about the place. But its also nice to be surprised, like the time when I went in search of a Palace that belonged to some guy called Tipu Sultan only to find a rather ugly looking house! Guess the Sultan wasn’t as affluent as his predecessors.

    • karenrsanderson

      Thank you, Shirani, for the “Lonely Planet” link…I will try that. I love to visit places where I have a friend or acquaintance. It’s like having a free tour guide. They want to show you their homeland, you are interested, all good!

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