What to write in the travel journal?
Trust your instincts, I advise, but as a beginner, you may not yet have developed the second nature that noses out the compelling street scene, the picturesque vantage point, the bristling marketplace. Maybe you’re not comfortable interviewing strangers to find an amazing character who represents the place beyond any descriptive phrase or image.
Until you know where to find the truly interesting corners, you’ll wear your flip-flops thin, sit on many a park bench, nurse cups of joe or kava while you study the locals and take notes that won’t result in articles. Which writer was it who said – 90% is junk for the 10% that soars. Something like that, anyway.
But that’s why you chose this avocation, isn’t it, because you love to watch people, chew the fat with whoever is at hand, experience new places, observe and participate in the passing scene. If a scene or interaction seems important to you, write about it. Don’t clutter your emails — and mind — by writing general statements about what happens on the trip. Forget about writing “We drove to x, we bungee jumped, then found an awesome restaurant at z.” Be specific. State the color and make of the car or bus, the passing scene, odd signs, getting lost, the condition of the road, words with driver, the type of lettuce or the smell of the local hot sauce on the cafe table.
When you look out and contemplate what to write on your tablet or in emails that you’ll reword later into finished articles, describe gradually as well as specifically. Place events in context; compare scenes — not to whatever you left behind at home — there’s nothing more boring than gee-whiz comparisons to how “different” everything is when you’re on the road.
Use universal themes. The big picture description might be the opening sentence or the ending. In journal entries, you should have word clusters, phrases or sentences that capture individuals in action — the methodical street sweeper or the women with the baggy stockings feeding crumbs the pigeons; weather conditions — steady breeze, sweat inducing heat; the quality of light — orange-blue glow of sunset, harsh high noon. Look for interruptions or aberrations in the scene and describe them –an ambulance racing down the street, an itinerant fruit-seller crying out for customers. How does this scene contrast to what you see if you turn 180 degrees and look in the other direction?
For more information, check out Travel Writing: See the World, Sell the Story.