So I was hitchhiking from Auckland up to the furthest reaches of the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand. I envisionined basking in the sun while soaking in a self-dug pool on Hot Water Beach; hiking to the picturesque Cathedral Cove for a morning adventure; and staying with a Couchsurfing host who was ripe with stories from a recent visit to India.
Every word I type is a lost opportunity somewhere in the world. When I arrived via high-speed train in Kagoshima, Japan, my days in the city were spent in an internet cafe, updating my blog entries. Of course, I got out every so often to walk around town and visit the nearest hot springs. But what should have been a grand opportunity to explore and meet new people was overshadowed by the need to share other past experiences with strangers around the world.
So it has been and so shall it be with travel writers, bloggers, and other aspiring novelists. It’s the ultimate travel writer’s Catch-22: feeling the urge to be out on the road at every moment of every day, yet feeling so restricted by your profession that one feels the need to take time from traveling to huddle in a corner and let the words flow.
Did I ever cut a traveling experience short by the subconscious need to get the most recent one on paper before I began anew? Even now, as I pound the keyboard while listening to the rain gently pound the roof of my meditation hut in New Zealand, I know I’ve been devoting entirely too much time to my writing (no offense to present company). There are forest trails to be run in my new barefoot style, waterfalls to be explored, meditation techniques to practice, and visiting monks whom I would love to engage in Dhamma discussions.
How can we, as writers, find the means to keep the poetry in our words without sacrificing too much time in the traveling world?
Your high school teachers taught you the basics. However, they probably anticipated you struggling to write the essentials while listening to the droning voice of a history professor rather than painting a rough picture of the mustache of your last chain-smoking driver as you stick out your thumb and hope another car will save you from the incoming rainstorm.
For the equipment, I find a small moleskin journal and a space pen work best for travel writing on the go. Some would say digital recorders, but I never listen to everything again.
For the time to do so – and this is key – there’s almost never a good time to sit down and take notes. Sure, you think you have seven hours in the international terminal to do some writing. But that could just as easily be spent people watching, meeting someone interesting at the airport bar, cracking open a new Lonely Planet, which will most likely draw the attention of backpackers headed in the same direction … and so on down the rabbit hole. The point being: minimize the time you spend putting pen to paper:
Actual story: my ride for a 30 km stretch of road was an ice cream connoisseur who warned me of the dangers of white-tailed spiders in New Zealand (author’s note: you may not notice the bite, but they can result in loss of limbs).
Notes taken: Bombay to Maramarua. Loves ice cream. Crazy spiders.
Resist the Urge to Write: Travel Comes First
I’m living on a Buddhist monastery just south of Auckland. Every morning I awake to a lovely sunrise, rolling green hills, and a different species of bird chirping at my door.
So why, oh why, do I feel compelled to steal a few minutes of internet time everyday to research my stories and submit new articles? I have to wait until the monks go down to the dining hut just so I can dash to their office and get in range of the otherwise inaccessible wireless network; something tells me that’s not especially good kamma.
Think about how you spent your traveling days before the Internet. Before Twitter. Before Facebook. One can spend months without Twittering and still lead a healthy, normal life. Seriously? Seriously.
You don’t have to update your blog as often as you ingest food. Your experiences will still matter even if you forget the finer points and never share the story with another living soul. It may feel perfectly natural to want to write down your feelings immediately following your first bungy jump or experience walking on hot coals, but look around: are you alone? Aren’t there others nearby, on a traveler’s high encouraging conversation and possibly a lasting friendship?
Stepping away to get your thoughts on paper might help you meet that deadline and earn enough to stay another week in a hostel. But overall, it’s contrary to the entire vagabonding mindset: you’re traveling for you, not for a publisher, and not for blog readers.
The irony, of course, is that without these travel stories you may have never been bitten by the bug in the first place.
The irony, of course, is that without these travel stories – without that obscure book you found in the back of a Barnes and Noble written by someone so moved by their experience on the road that he or she felt compelled to put pen to paper – you may have never been bitten by the bug in the first place. Travelers beget travelers, my friends, whether by story, living the example, or petty jealousy.
Finding balance isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight, nor will you necessarily be able to stick with it even once you’ve found it.
During my time in Japan, blogging and writing became a necessity. I had all this information, these experiences I felt would explode out of my chest (apologies to Alien fans) if I didn’t tell someone about them immediately. Without a steady supply of English speakers, my Japan blog was born.
In New Zealand, however, most of the places I visited, even though I had my unique perspective, had been written and obsessed about ten times over by backpackers. Who wants to hear yet another traveler’s recount of walking around Auckland? In the end, this feeling killed my desire to blog or even write journals.
I’m not saying you have to be in virgin territory to achieve decent writing, but it helps to know you’re one of the few. Lets the creative juices flow a lot easier.
What are your thought on Travel Writer’s Catch-22? Let us know in the comments below!