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Vacay & Writing

Tips on using travel for your writing.

Travel expands our world by heightening our emotions, five senses, and sometimes our survival mode - critical tools for our trade.

I met my husband on a cruise that I almost didn't take.

It was about 3 AM and I was still packing. I wanted to call my sister and tell her I was skipping out on an all-expense paid trip to the Western Caribbean because I couldn't squeeze all my textbooks into the suitcase.

It was 3 AM.

Would you call your sister at 3 AM to tell her you're not traveling with her? Would you call your sister at 3 AM and throw the free gift of a cruise back in her face?


I didn't either.

On that cruise Les showed up. It was not love at first sight, but we figured it out and married a year later.

My daughter, Bridget, told me I should write a rom-com.

The rom-com can wait because the story above illustrates how writers can use their vacations not only for R&R but for their craft. Travel expands our world by heightening our emotions, five senses, and sometimes our survival mode - critical tools for our trade.

A cruise is not mandatory. Falling in love is not mandatory. Being aware of your feelings and your surroundings are. Fasten your seatbelts.

Booking your trip

There is a reason why travel agents charge commission. Planning your trip while making everyone happy is like juggling flaming chainsaws while swinging on a trapeze. For some of you, it's nothing. If booking and planning a trip, however, is frustrating, journal all that conflict. It'll not only help alleviate your frustrations, but it’ll also provide a resource for conflict. Conflict drives story.

Packing & Baggage

Packing is my least favorite chore of travel. I over-pack and forget crucial things like toothpaste. When I was seven heading to camp, I packed toys and no clothes. Jump ahead a few years and my packing is a week-long event trying to match tops with pants and figuring out the weather. My husband (the man I met on the cruise) pulls out his suitcase the night before. Packing says a lot about a person and can be used to add character development. You can guess what types of persons my husband and I are just by our packing styles.

Looking at baggage is another way to reveal personalities. I love studying the baggage carousel at an airport. Some of the bags look as if they've flown to the moon and back. Others glisten with opulence and importance. And some look as if they belong to chicken farmers. Is that a feather poking out?

Airport, etc.

An airport can be a sensory overload. Jostling. Lifting. Walking. Whiffs of cigarette smoke that escaped from outside. French fries and burgers odors tapping your nostrils. Murmurs. Arguing. Laughing. Overhead zombie announcements to keep an eye on your bags. Flush of toilets. Clicking, clacking heels. Zig zagging of airport staff along the shiny terrazzo. Shaking travelator.

Pull out the earbuds - listen. Inhale (well, maybe not while you're in the bathroom). Watch. Feel. Taste. It's all there like a ripe apple ready to be picked. Glean from it.

You don’t have to hang out at an airport to absorb countless sensory details. Trains, boats, automobiles, horses, sleighs…Use your imagination and be open to the experience.


There are people who travel seeking danger and extreme thrills. For the rest of us, we're looking for a change of scenery with fun thrown in. The reality is, however, when you're traveling you're leaving the security of your home for the unknown. Will your hotel reservation be set or will you be sleeping in a parking lot? Will the car get you to your destination? Will a tornado rip through the campground?

Maybe that's part of the thrill - the unknown. There's no guarantee everything is going to be perfect. Use it for your writing. Remember, people want to read about drama.

Take Pictures

Garden Pathway, Beijing, China. Photo by Carol L. Paur

I often rely on pictures from the Internet for visuals. It's like painters using a model for their portraits or still lifes. Better yet, is using photos from my own experiences. I snap the tourist attractions but I also photograph cracks in buildings, tree bark, or unusual paths.

A few don'ts

Don't write off your vacation as a business expense. I knew a writer who did that and was audited.

Don't spend all your time trying to record everything. Vacation is a time to live the experience. That alone will enliven your writing.

Don't forget the sunscreen and bug spray.

Thank you for reading. Please check out this month's podcast with literary agent Christa Heschke.

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