If you’re like me, you love to write in part because you love to explore. One of the few things I enjoy as much as exploring new territory in my fiction and nonfiction writing is exploring new places in the world. I love to travel almost as much as I love to write. Years ago, I decided to combine these two passions.
Chances are, you’re planning to go on a vacation this summer – or if kids and school aren’t factors, perhaps in the more affordable and less crowded autumn. Why not turn that vacation into a “paycation?” Better yet, you can turn that vacation into a publication.
A good fifteen years ago, after returning from my fourth long stay in Russia, I made the decision: “I’ve spent more time in Russia than most westerners I know,” I figured, “and certainly more than most western writers I know – so that makes me an expert.” Not to mention that since I had studied in Russia and married into a family there, I had “insider” experiences and knowledge that the average tourist would not have. In addition to the more popular cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow, I’d also been to other cities that hadn’t been heavily influenced by the west, such as Nizhniy Novgorod, Dzerjinsk, and Kizhi.
So, I decided to write my first travel story…but I didn’t really enjoy it.
I called hotels to verify prices and museums to verify hours, went to the library and researched the places I’d visited to give accurate histories and details, and went about the project as though I was writing a tour guide.
I was fortunate enough to submit my travel story to the editor of Travel Insights, then a British-based travel magazine with readers both in the United Kingdom and United States. He told me I was going about it the wrong way. He could see I’d put a lot of work into my travel story, but I’d written a reference that was a chore to read. “Unless you’re actually writing a tour guide,” he advised, “you should focus on telling a story.”
That’s when I realized that writing a travel story – one that could actually get published – was more about relaying an experience than giving information. The historical information and travel tips are helpful, but they generally belong in the sidebars. Writing a good travel piece is more about telling a good story: Here’s what happened to us; The woman we met at the cafÈ suggested an interesting excursion half an hour outside town…these kinds of personal experience stories are what make good travel stories fun to write and read.
It’s also these types of personal experiences that help get stories accepted for publication.
Fiction is still my favorite type of writing. But, travel writing is a close second. I’m inspired by the great American novelist John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie and consider that as an example of good armchair travel writing. It’s no coincidence that he was a fiction writer first and a travel story writer second.
Over the years, my travels (and travel stories) have taken me (and my readers) from Russia to Czech Republic, from Spain to Sweden, even stateside places of interested such as California and the Grand Canyon. But more important have been the stories – soaking in beer in Chodova Plana, following Paul Simon and past haunts through the Midwest, traveling along the west coast for a book tour and a brush with childhood. The museum and cathedral may be the destinations, but they’re not the hearts of the stories.
I recently got back from a five-city tour of China, an exploration of Scotland, and a hiking adventure in Arizona and Nevada. Next, I’m looking forward to some time in Budapest, Hungary and the bordering countries. And, you can bet each vacation destination will become a paycation – and a publication.
Explore the world, then explore it again in your writing. Find the personal stories in your travel experiences. Your readers will thank you – and read you – for it.
Eric D. Goodman is a full-time writer and editor who enjoys traveling almost as much as he enjoys writing. He’s author to Tracks: A Novel in Stories, Flightless Goose, a storybook for children, and the forthcoming Dead and Buried, a thriller set in China and due out in 2015. You can read some of Eric’s travel stories at his website’s Travel page, at http://www.EricDGoodman.com/travel.html.