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Dreaming of travel? Write like a travel writer, at home

Dreaming of travel? Write like a travel writer, at home

Discovery is one of the most treasured pastimes of writers. Often, we think of discovery as experiencing new places, people, and things. But with a focus on staying home in recent months, how can we learn to discover without traveling far?

Travel writing is a form of writing beloved by writers of all levels. What makes travel writing so special? It gives a writer an opportunity to discover something new and to distill that experience into words. Many writers, by nature, are keen to see new places, and because of their love for expressing what they have seen, smelled, heard, and felt, writers are aligned to want to experience new things to fuel their writing, so that they may transport others into the experiences they themselves have had.

In recent months, the globe has come to a relative standstill due to COVID-19. In localities across the globe, people are being asked to stay home in order to keep themselves, their neighbors, and their family members safe. The added time at home has left some writers feeling like they have more time to dedicate to their craft and has bred in them a desire to get words on the page. For those writers who love to write about travel, though, this has posed a perplexing quandary: sure, there’s time to write. But there’s nowhere to go.

For many writers who tend toward travel writing, discovery is the fuel behind the passion. And so, an offering: what if you took some time to allow yourself to write about your more immediate surroundings, but through the lens of a travel writer? Your favorite diner, the bar in town where the locals hang out. How would you write about them if they weren’t already yours? How would you describe them if you’d only just entered them for the first time?

Below, you’ll find several prompts that will help you start thinking like a travel writer in your own locale. Whether or not travel writing is your passion, these prompts may be a fun exercise for you.

#1. Your favorite dish

Think about your favorite thing to order at a restaurant in your own locale. What is it? Why do you like it? Is it always the same, or does it change from visit to visit? After you’ve done some reflection about this meal, sit down and write a review of it, as though you have just had the meal for the first time and you are letting your readers know what to expect should they order the same thing.

#2. Your home as a destination

If ever there were a place where we feel comfortable and therefore sometimes overlook the poetry in, it is home. Our homes, by nature, are places that we take for granted. However, they each have intrigue in them, whether we realize it or not. To discover some of the intrigue of your space, write a mock Airbnb listing about your home. How would you describe your home to someone if you were really trying to sell them on it being a great place to rent? What features does your home have that an outsider may find intriguing? What’s nearby? What are the most celebrated aspects of the space? The ones you’ve never quite thought to celebrate?

#3. Go for a walk

If and when outdoor activities are permitted in your locale, go for a walk. It could be in a downtown center, on a hiking trail, or even just in your yard. Bring a notebook with you, and describe what you see as though you are writing a letter to send to someone who has never seen what you are seeing. What will you share with them? What are the aspects of this physical space, outside your own home, that feel notable? Which broad terms would you use to describe the area? What more descriptive, intricate notions would you relay?

#4. Listen

Go to the place in your home or locale that you like best for writing. Now, close your eyes. What do you hear? Describe the auditory landscape of your favorite writing spot in great detail. Really hear what’s there.

#5. Smell

Go somewhere you like in your local area. It could be your house, it could be the sidewalk, it could be the parking lot behind a bakery. Go somewhere where you can remain socially distanced but still experience this place that you feel comfortable in. Now, take a deep breath in. What do you smell? Note that it’s very unlikely there is going to be one answer here. Most of our environments are multilayered, with several different sensory experiences happening at once. Describe the layers.

#6. Bring it all together

After you’ve spent a few days doing the writing exercises above, write one big piece that writes about the experience of visiting your locale, and your home, as a tourist. Frame the writing as though you have just completed a journey to these spaces. What do you want to tell someone? Would you recommend they go on the same journey?

There’s an old adage in writing: “write what you know.” We’ve all heard it, and yet, we have such a compulsion to discover and create new things. The exercises above have the intention of really encouraging you to take a step back and dig into the things you truly know, inside and out. Enjoy!

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Lauren Harkawik

Lauren Harkawik

Lauren Harkawik is a journalist, essayist, and fiction writer based in Vermont. You can read her writing on her website.

Visit Lauren Harkawik's website