Don’t sacrifice the experience for the story

I find myself, more often than not, looking at travel experiences through a writer’s lens. Every meal, every trek, every chance meeting has the potential to be material for a travel piece. On boat rides, I think about phrasing. On long bus rides, I scroll through pictures, looking for the right one to go with the idea in my head. In cars, I pass the time by writing down thoughts that pop into my head as potential pieces.


I want to share. I want others to know what this traveling life looks like- beautiful, challenging, freeing, and difficult.

So, I plot and plan and jot down ideas. I get excited when a new experience brings up images of perfectly worded paragraphs on a screen. When I snap just the right picture, I rejoice! It’s lovely when the ideas and the words come easily.


But sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes I feel as though I have reached the absolute corners of my mind and I have nothing left to write about.  Nothing of value or interest. My world starts to look quite average and I wonder who could possibly care about my excitement over finding vegetarian food in Central America.

Those are the days I most need to stop writing. Those are the days I need to get back to enjoying each moment for what it is and not worry about how I will weave it into a well-crafted article. Perfect adjectives to describe the moments take a back seat to actually experiencing the moments, as they should.


It is nice to share tales from the road. Connecting with like-minded people through the written word is wonderful. But without a connection to and enjoyment of the actual moments that are behind those stories, it’s just empty talk.


Sometimes we need to put down the pen, the computer, the camera and focus on being present.

There is no test at the end of our journey. No judgement on whether we wrote enough words or took the right pictures. There is just our own perception of what we have experienced. We need to be present for those experiences.


How do you make sure you are engaged in the experience while on the road? Do you ever get the urge to put the pen and the camera down and get reconnected with the experience of living?


Posted by | Comments (1)  | November 27, 2014
Category: General, Travel Writing

One Response to “Don’t sacrifice the experience for the story”

  1. Gavin Macfie Says:

    Great post. I love the level of observational detail that can be captured by constantly scribbling or recording voice notes. But the thing that makes your writing or my writing unique comes from the insights as much as the observations, and to get the insights you have to be relaxed and living in the moment.

    Robert Macfarlane discussed similar issues in a Radio Scotland interview over the summer when he talked about the writing of Nan Shepherd. He drew a distinction between ‘pure radiant observation’ – which is hard enough to do well – and the next level up, material that moves you on metaphysically. My view is that the latter is more likely to come from mindful appreciation of an environment than from obsessive note taking, but you need to keep your pen at the ready to capture it when it comes!