Travel Writing: When Experiences Become Stories

One of my friends, who’s pursuing a Broadcast Communication degree, told me that, as someone who wants to specialize in production, she can’t just sit in front of a laptop all day and piece together footage drawn from different sources to make a wonderful video. Images don’t just magically come together to form a coherent whole, and they’d have less of a tendency to do so if they’re not videos or images you’ve captured yourself.

I’m inclined to agree, although what my friend said is not limited to production or broadcasting. Of course, one can’t just sit all day waiting for things to come together all of a sudden. Writing, for example. This one’s getting really tired, but of course, writers are supposed to “write what [they] know,” and I doubt anyone would know anything if they’re just cooped up in their room basking in the glow of the monitor.

Before my semester ended, one of the things we tackled in one of my classes is travel writing, particularly from the Renaissance. I’m not entirely sure what travel writing means now (and I personally wouldn’t call travel guides for tourists “travel writing”), but people like Marco Polo, John Mandeville, and Antonio Pigafetta, were all travel writers drawing from experiences. Or “experiences,” in the case of Marco Polo and Mandeville. To summarize some of what the three did: Marco Polo, Mandeville, and Pigafetta all wrote about what they saw on their travels (although they were inclined to either exaggerate greatly or fill in blank spaces with strange and entertaining phenomena) and had their texts published. Their travel accounts are both personal and objective (to a certain extent), and of course during the time their texts were published, considered fresh, new, and interesting.

I doubt the entire globe’s been scoured by travelers today. Maybe what’s left undiscovered is either too deadly for the traveler or too vulnerable in the face of the traveler. Nevertheless, I’m still here to drive home the point: movement is important, experiencing is important, and going around knowing things firsthand will help in writing. A new experience can ignite creativity, and may fuel your writing. There are no guarantees, of course, and I’m not saying that every new experience must be written down. Especially if you’re a writer anyway, you don’t really have to have strictly new experiences. Tackle familiar things from a strange angle, from a different perspective, from a different frame. And if you really want to travel, anyway, it does not have to be anywhere exotic or expensive. Just going around a new neighborhood, or visiting a new locale that’s ten minutes away from your place, can be enough to help you in your “travel writing.” Certainly, there’s no assurance that what you’re going to write is as fresh or unique as what the Renaissance writers had written before, but gaining new perspectives just by going around will help a lot. Write what you know, basically. And if you don’t know it, supply the missing pieces, or actually try to find out what it is.

A Few Other Things:

I’ve mentioned three names here, and if you’re interested, here are links to their Wikipedia pages:

Mandeville / Pigafetta / Marco Polo

Here, too, is a link to one of Pigafetta’s texts, Pigafetta’s Account of Magellan’s Voyage.


Jillian is an English Literature graduate who loves reading science fiction and fantasy, and is a big fan of J.G. Ballard. She is obsessed with coffee, video games, and rottweilers, and keeps herself busy by writing and walking around a lot. She's currently reading Jeanette Winterson and a lot of YA literature.

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