Interestingly, I read half of this book before my big UK trip last year, and half of it afterwards. My thoughts on travel journalling changed significantly after my trip.
Here are my thoughts from before my trip:
This is less of a book review, and more a practice at speed journalling. I am familiar with this concept. I actually find it fairly easy to turn off my brain and just write. We call it a brain-dump, although that sounds weird now that I’ve written it out. It’s also a technique used when doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). With NaNoWriMo, you’re trying to write 50,000 words in a month, and in order to do that, you have to turn off your inner editor. You can’t be constantly deleting and re-writing paragraphs or pages, because if you do, you’ll never write 50,000 words in a month. While I find it easy to just blurt out the words in my head onto the page, turning off my inner editor is crazy hard. I really struggle with it. I can definitely see that it would speed up my journalling and allow me to get more of my day down on the page, thus allowing me to a) enjoy more of the day ‘in the moment’ and b) encourage me to keep up with my journalling and not fall behind.
He recommends that instead of writing about your day from start to finish, just choose 1-4 highlights from the day and write about those. I actually love being able to see the teeny tiny details like what I ate on the plane, as it makes the experience seem more real to me, but I get what he’s saying. When you write down the chronological facts, you do sometimes tend to leave out the emotions, thoughts and impressions. I know I do this. In my everyday journalling, if I write about something as it happens or immediately after, my writing is far more emotive. I might write about how my husband being in the hospital with possible appendicitis makes me feel scared and lost, even while I understand that it’s a routine procedure and everything is going to be fine. I am reminded of how much he means to me, and how absolutely broken I’d be if anything happened to him. I think about how much my happiness depends on him, and I worry about what kind of person I’d be if I lost him. I start thinking about the way relationships can work and whether co-dependency is a good thing or a bad thing. I start creating wild fantasies about how I’d react to grief and what we’d need to do to sell the house and how long I’d have to be off work. And I’d write about how quiet the house is, and how I miss listen to his breathing as I fall asleep, and how tempting it is to find his aftershave and just smell it, like some creepy stalker person. But if I write about it after the fact, several days later or maybe weeks or months, I’m more factual. He went into the hospital at this time. I went and saw him, we chatted. The op kept getting pushed back and he was hungry and sore. He nearly passed out in the bathroom at one point. The op went well, and I took him home the next day. Boring. And so different. I need those little details to make it seem real.
I’ve kind of gone off track here. See, Dave isn’t recommending the latter version, the mere basic facts. He actually wants something more like the former emotional rambling. Yet, my babble above kind of indicates the opposite. I suppose I was doing that whole brain-dump thing, and not clarifying what I was writing as I was writing it.
So I guess I’m saying that if I catch those little details, like an actual quote from the day (maybe something he said when he was groggy on anaesthetic) or the crappy meal he got when they finally decided he wasn’t having the op that day but he’d already missed the proper meal, then it feels more real. Like, those are the tiny details that you forget when you leave the journalling for a while and try to capture the experience at a later date. I remember the big things, like that he went for an op and I was scared. In a travel journalling context, I remember going to the Tower of London and the awe I felt at being surrounded by history. It’s the little details that fade, and so those are what I feel like I need to capture immediately.
I do see Dave’s point about capturing the highlights though. It’s a good suggestion. I think it’s particularly important if you’re short on time. I tend to do my journalling in the evening, before bed, when I travel. But if I was tired and wanting to get to sleep, I’d definitely consider just touching on the highlights instead of recapping the whole day.
Dave reminds us to take the advice that works for us, and leave what doesn’t, which is frankly the best advice ever. I give the same advice to new parents. Take what works, discard what doesn’t. It’s different for everyone. So yep, must remember to practice what I preach.
He talks about choosing one interesting person each day of your trip and jotting down a character description. I love this idea. Not sure if I’d be able to do it every day, but it sounds like such a fun thing to read back over. He says to capture a quote they said that shows the way they talk, share their physical description, their mannerisms, their attitude and expressions. I’m not very good at including this kind of detail in my journalling, so I like this. I actually have a terrible memory for faces. Like, I’d be a terrible witness. I bet I couldn’t even describe my own or my husband’s face in sufficient detail for a police artist to draw them. I’d struggle to tell you what needed changing on the picture to make it more correct. I just…I have a terrible visual memory. I think this is why I love photography. Words are fine, and I think I’d be fine with remembering a quote to write down at the end of the day (especially if I was actually aware of the need to note it), but physical descriptions are hard for me. If you’ve read my short stories, you’ll know this too. One of the most common remarks that reviewers on Writing.com make when reading my stories is that I don’t describe characters or surroundings. Sometimes I’ll write a short story about a guy and a reviewer will comment on ‘her’ and I’ll realise I’ve put in so little description that the reader doesn’t even know if they’re male or female. Actually, I have multiple stories like that, where the character is gender-neutral. It’s not deliberate though, it’s just a lack of description. Sometimes I use a name that gives it away, and that’s the only clue my reader has. Anyway, back to this book. I love this idea. It’s certainly not my strong point, and I’m going to find this a really tough challenge, but I’d like to give it a go. I think my husband and kids would have fun with it too. Like, I could choose a character from the day that we came across and ask them to give me details over dinner or while we’re on the train or in the car. Could be a fun family exercise!
Another thing was the idea of a theme to tie multiple places or multiple days together. Like, one day you could just write about foods you’ve tried on your travels. Or even more specifically, just desserts you’ve tried. Or whatever. Like when I go back to Scotland I could do a journal entry about haggis, and the various ways we’ve tried it (including in a Cornish pasty!) and how the kids liked it (they’re fully expecting to, even though all they’ve tried to date is the canned stuff) and how I liked it (I did, but I really wasn’t expecting to), etc. That could be a journal entry on its own, not specific to a particular day. I think these kinds of posts (or journal pages) are in addition to daily writing. For me, at least. But fun to do.
And here are my thoughts after my trip:
I did everything Dave told me not to do.
If you travel intending from the start to share your journals with others, you’re likely to hold back certain details.
I started off trying to write a recap of the day either that evening or the following day, and posting it to my blog. It meant I didn’t turn off my inner editor and just write. In fact, the opposite. I was trying to create perfect blog posts on the go. Ugh. So stupid.
So guess what happened. Go on, guess. Right, I fell behind. Then I gave up.
You know all those trips you’ve taken in the past where you wish you had kept a better journal? Well, it’s not too late. People assume if they don’t write their journals while they’re traveling, they can’t do it later. But journaling has no deadlines. There are no late fees, no penalties if you forget to file for an extension. You can write about a trip years after it’s finished.
So here I am with this major family holiday (first overseas trip for the kids, my sister got married, etc.) and I only have journal entries (or blog posts, call them what you will) for the first couple of days. Dave says you can blog about a trip retrospectively, but that leaves me with one major issue – I don’t remember what we did every day.
Mediocre writing is better than no writing.
See, this is where Dave’s ‘highlights’ technique would be invaluable. I should have jotted down a couple of bullet points from each day, and then I’d at least have those memory joggers.
What’s the biggest challenge in journaling about a trip that happened long ago? Remembering. Many people think post-journaling about a long-ago journey is impossible because so many details have left them. Speed journaling can bring those details back. Often there’s a snowball effect. One tiny memory triggers a bigger memory, and so on, until suddenly, your mind is fully immersed in your long-ago-and-far-away journey.
I think I can start by going back and looking at the photos and the tickets, etc., what we did on most days. Perhaps even check the bank statements to see where we spent money. That would give me a rough timeline. The days we just spent at my sister’s house playing with her kids, those are probably lost. But I think Dave’s right, if I start writing based on the photos and a brief timeline, I’ll get a good proportion of the trip written down.
So ultimately, bullet pointing a couple of highlights from each trip is my biggest takeaway from this book. It’s so fucking obvious, I know, but I didn’t do it, and now some of the days on that trip are gone forever. And that sucks.
Beyond that one tip though, I was constantly inspired by Dave as I read this book. He made me realise that I have a unique view to share, even if I’m blogging about a place that has been often blogged about.
Each of us has a set of personal cultures, based on a wide array of factors:
• Where we live
• Where we have lived before
• Accents or dialects
• Sexual orientation
• Body size
• Family size and structure
• Marital or relationship status
• Whether or not we have or want children
• Income level
• Political views or affiliations
• Medical conditions
• Clubs, hobbies, sports, or other activities we participate in
These are just a few of them. What are your subcultures? Using the preceding list of defining elements as a guide, make a list of your different subcultures. After you make your list, ask yourself the following questions:
• How many of your subcultures are cultures you were born into?
• How many are cultures you have adopted or stumbled upon later in life?
• Which ones are your core cultures – those you feel fully connected with – and which ones are cultures you understand to an extent, but are not fully immersed in?
Now, make a list of at least ten subcultures that do not make up a part of who you are. Among your list of subcultures that you don’t feel you belong in or understand, are there any you would like to experience? What could you do to make that happen? Are there others you choose to avoid? If so, why?
This was just one of many exercises Dave urged the reader to try, and I found this one particularly fascinating. It gives you a greater awareness of the uniqueness of yourself, because your history, background and experiences are different to those of your spouse, your parents, your siblings and your children.. Not to mention all the other people visiting the same place as you. And then it expands on that and urges you to consider subcultures that you don’t relate to, which can only lead to greater tolerance while travelling and that’s awesome.
So, here’s what I’m going to do now. I’m going to make a timeline of my trip (bullet points!) based on the photos, tickets, etc. Then I’m going to turn off my inner editor and just brain-dump as much as I can about each day. I’m not going to forbid myself from overviews or themes (I usually do because I blog chronologically), and in fact I’m going to challenge myself to make theme headings and write as much as I can for each. Then I’m going to see how much I can write about as many ‘characters’ from the trip as I can. I know there was the guy from Struy Inn who did falconry with us, and also the falconer at Dunrobin Castle, both distinct (and different) characters. There was the guide at Tomatin Distillery too.
I loved this book. I found it inspiring and educational. It’s definitely going to change how I journal on my next trip. Bullet points for the win! And bonus bullet points under characters. Ha ha! But seriously, there was so much in this book that I can’t capture it in a simple blog post. Definitely read it for yourself.