How To Write A Memorable Travel Memoir

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Hi Guys! Hope you are celebrating the end of summer like me. I don’t know about my readers, but the fall and winter seasons are my favorite. While spring brings a sense of renewal and summer tells us to relax, it is the fall and winter seasons that remind us of all the blessings. The cool air, the changing of leaves, fewer birds, and the pitter patter of rain is some of my favorite seasonal characteristics. Not to mention the seasonal drinks and activities that these months invite in.

Living in California, I have yet to see extreme weather conditions (there was that one winter break in New York), but I like to be positive. My readers need to know that California has its own unique seasons. As varied as the terrain is here, there are certain qualities that each season brings throughout the state. Spring can come in late January/early February believe it or not, and by June we are promised endless sunny skies. Our summer seasons change into autumn weather in September when we go through what we call “periods of hot and cold days”. The air definitely gets chilly. Come December, we have sporadic rainfall, which has been especially elusive in the last decade. In conclusion, while our seasons are not quintessentially “seasonal”, our activities sure are. Springtime is filled with sporadic rain showers that leave us scrambling to go outside when there is that one sunny day. Summer days are spent being active in public parks, beaches, and while traveling of course. And autumn and winter months are filled with activities involving pumpkins, apples, cinnamon, and peppermint.

Today I wanted to do something that I have attempted to do, but still haven’t followed through on. I’ve been known to keep a daily travel diary in the past. While the idea of the “travel diary” has evolved into me filling my daily planner and budget lists, I still like to note down a few sentences whenever a new experience or lesson is brought forth.

It is truly a preference of how you want to immortalize your travel experience. In the past, I have scrapbooked. Now I use my Instagram and Facebook feed as my visual (and literary!) diaries. Other quick ways I like to remember my travels is by purchasing something that reminds me of the trip. It could be an antique tea set purchased from a suburban town to printed espresso cups from a touristy city spot. It could be as popular as purchasing a snow globe or as creative as buying an antique map of the city you are visiting. Whatever tickles your fancy, really.

For those of you who would like to take a literary approach to an upcoming or a passed summer (hey it just passed!) trip, a travel memoir serves as a personal memento. To learn how to keep a travel diary, see HERE. One of the most important differences between keeping a travel diary and a travel memoir is the reflective aspect of the latter. Keep reading to get details.

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The Purpose

While a travel diary is written during your travels, daily preferably, a travel memoir is a more reflective piece of literature. A travel diary contains important information like what you saw, where you ate, cultural intricacies, and who you met; a travel memoir documents a cohesive lesson you learned on that trip. The memoir should contain in addition to your physical experiences mentioned above, lessons you learned about yourself (or your life) while you were in a foreign land. For ex., didn’t know you had a knack for getting out of being lost? Well, write down an experience where you did just that. Connect it to an experience in a different setting where you exhibited the same quality. Reflect on points such as what could this revelation mean to you in the present, what it meant to you in the past, and where are you going to take this in the future.

While not all travel memoirs find their way into a publishing house, that should necessarily be the point in the first place. I am not trying to discourage you from going down that route, but publishing a book is a competitive business and you should go into it for the right reasons. If you feel that your memoir can help the masses then, by all means, put in the effort. Before taking that life-altering trip, take a writing course, keep a travel diary, get lost, try every rule in the book and insert some new ones of your own, and see what you end up with. Once you return, take some time to draft that first draft. Even if you manage to write a beautifully written reflective piece, edit that first draft and find an editor to mentor you along the way. Publishing a memoir takes years so be prepared to be patient.

You may end up traveling to other places and it is not feasible to write a memoir for every trip you take. Writing a memoir is serious business. If you are not ready for that type of commitment but want to continue writing, take up blogging as a hobby.

Seeing The Memoir As A Piece Of Literature

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I am sure there are fans of many travel memoirs, but the only truly successful memoir I can think of is Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” (See HERE, HERE, and HERE). It is really interesting the imagery and descriptive words Gilbert chose to use to highlight her journey in each country. While Italy was all about sensory words, India was about bringing forth the quietness by highlighting her inner “loudness”. As a reader, I relished (pun intended) the Italy portion because the way she could describe a pizza made me want to buy a ticket to Naples, Italy. She focused so much on the food and physical experiences here that as a reader you knew she buried her worries and heartbreak among her beautiful words.

I think in India that’s when that “effusiveness” came to a screaming halt. I know I experience this whenever I go to Karachi. I become quieter and speak whenever I need to change the energy somewhere. Maybe it is the loud traffic, the prayers being called out from different mosques five times a day, or the constant traffic of servants in the house, but something about the city just puts all my “need to speak up” thoughts on mute. Gilbert, on the other hand, had a hard time initially. It was quite difficult to read her struggle with being silent. Her writing here becomes painfully precise as she gets so descriptive (to silence her mind I bet) that as a reader, you become bored. I know as a writer, that’s the last thing you want your readers to do, but as a “seasoned” reader (lol), I understood that struggle and her insane ability to translate her frame of mind into her writing.

Indonesia seemed what I would call an “emotional slingshot” trip. I could tell she was really tired and emotionally spent from having to do that level of extreme soul-searching. The tone of the book is positive, but to me, Bali is where she really began searching for herself. The writing is erratic, but here is where she finds love. Knowing myself, this is the last place (personally) I want to fall in love, but that is what made Gilbert Gilbert.

Helpful Points to Remember 

So if you ready to commit to this level of writing, here are a few points that can help you along the way:

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Keep a travel diary that documents anything interesting that happens on your trip. It is preferred that you keep a daily diary so you can really see your growth as a traveler and writer.

Keep your memories very sensory. While a memoir contains plenty of reflective chapters, paragraphs, and lines, it is imperative that you show your readers something physical to hold on to when you are spinning your own thoughts out. If you were struggling with an eating disorder and decided to go to Italy to show your victory over it, make sure to keep the tone healthy and positive as you describe the food you are eating & where you are eating it. If you are struggling from a divorce & visit picturesque Switzerland, use sensory imagery to juxtapose or super-impose what you are feeling inside.

Have a voice. It is imperative you define your voice in the beginning by telling the background of your story. You have heard the phrase “set the tone in the beginning”, know that writing a memoir is no different. A humorous memoir requires you mention one or two humorous incidents in the introduction so the readers can predict what is to come. If you want to take your readers through a painful journey (Eat, Pray, Love may be in this category, so don’t be scared) then make sure your words reflect that heartbreak and healing.

Be consistent. If you try to be someone you are not while writing a travel memoir, inconsistencies in your writing and stories are the first place your readers will begin to doubt you. To avoid this embarrassing debacle, plan or map out your memoir. Take your time. Don’t forget about forgetting anything – that’s what the travel diary helps you avoid.

Some Don’ts 

-Don’t be afraid to be wrong. There is no memoir that is “wrong” because each individual brings in their own unique perspective to a story.

-Don’t worry about technical issues like pacing, story structures, and editing. That’s what editors are for. The only aspect of a memoir (whether you get it published or not) is the story, meaning the trips you take, the lessons you learn, and the tone you set throughout the memoir. Trust me, these aspects alone are ALOT of work.

-Don’t assume this genre is female-oriented. There is a huge gap in the memoir market that can be filled by male authors. You could write a travel memoir about a food trip and what it taught you about budgeting or a bachelor trip that helped you in your relationship. The possibilities are endless just like the places to find yourself in.