How Travel Makes You a Better Writer

ibn-battuta4It seems to be the case that some of the best writers tend to also be travelers. In fact, one of the fastest growing genres in creative non-fiction is travel writing. With the success of mega travel writing hits like Eat, Pray, Love and others, it’s not hard to imagine why readers enjoy reading about the travels of others through their books.

Reading itself is a kind of traveling, where new and exciting places take form in the mind’s eye and we get to meet all kinds of characters on different adventures. The sights, sounds and smells that are evoked when we read excellent writing have a power all unto themselves. In fact, psychologists note that there is little difference between actually experiencing something, seeing someone else experience it or reading about that experience.

So we know that traveling makes for better reading and that reading is a kind of traveling, but how does travel affect your writing, even if you’re not penning prose about being on the road?

New Perspectives. The most obvious way is by offering new ways of looking at things by being exposed to landscapes and people never before experienced. The sensations of a new place can have a similar neurological effect as learning a new skill or hobby, so it’s no surprise then that traveling to different places will cause your brain to grow and adapt in marvelous ways. Being challenged on a regular basis and having to come up with quick solutions keeps you thinking on your toes. This is particularly helpful when there are linguistic hurdles to overcome during travel. You start to deeply value your mother tongue and your ease of communication while using it; however, the reality of having to make yourself understood is the challenge of every writer, well-travelled or not. Traveling just makes you better at understanding the challenge and more inventive in finding ways around it, even when your audience speaks/reads your mother tongue too.

Sensory Data. The sheer volume of inviting things found while traveling will be enough inspiration to produce encyclopedias of writing. It is not even that you have to write about these new things. It is that you get to look at things with a fresh pair of eyes. Like any artist, a writer gets to explore with the eye and translate what they see through words. The more practice you get in learning to describe even the most foreign things to your home audience, the better a writer you will be.

Othering. Most of the time when you travel, a form of othering starts to naturally take place where you start to measure yourself against the culture in which you find yourself traveling. While this can have negative consequences when a value (ie. good or better) is assigned to either your culture or theirs, it can be a positive practice when this juxtaposition is used for the purposes of illuminating the familiar and the forgotten in ourselves and our worldviews. Unsettling ourselves from our cozy cultural abodes is the first step to being able to write about them properly. It’s not an outsider’s view per se, but one that combines disparate threads of knowledge to make a cohesive picture through the written word.

Stay tuned for The Drawing Board’s list of top travel books of all time, our “Countries Traveled” list, and our “Wish List” for future travel destinations .

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