“ . . . our highest moments come when we’re not stationary and . . .epiphany can follow movement as much as it precipitates it.” Pico Iyer in “Why We Travel”
In a way, all my stories are travel stories. Even the most recent one published in Bird’s Thumb’s February issue—a memoir-ish slice of life in a long-ago time—was really about wanderlust, the seduction of the road, the way that movement changes perspective.
I’d like to think that I’ve grown in the past forty-six years, that I now understand travel’s complexities—its siren call as well as its positive life-changing force. A thousand things can go wrong and a thousand things can go right, but any journey is a potential birthplace of self-awareness and stories.
Not long ago I attended a travel-writing seminar at our local writers center, The Muse, in Norfolk, VA. The instructor began the session with the simple question, “Why travel writing?” My spontaneous answer seemed obvious. “To re-live the adventure.” But as I mused, I realized I write from a travel lens because when I travel I am most alive. When I am pushing myself into new experiences, my senses are heightened, my curiosity piqued, my compassion deepened. I cling less to what I know. I am in touch with my better self.
Over the years I have combed my travel experiences for that specific moment—the story within the tale, the moment of thrill or insight. I’ve been blessed with a number of those nuggets, both frightening (being robbed, facing vigilantes, losing our way) and heart-warming (encounters with strangers, coincidences, foolish mistakes that turned out right).
But, for me, it’s the backdrop that really makes the piece. I take notes on every place—the built and the natural landscape—what it feels like, smells like, what birds are singing, what is remarkable about the people. Then the specific situation I’m writing about sits in a solid setting and the reader has an easier time imagining herself along for the ride.
My greatest aha in writing, though, is that travel doesn’t have to mean a 4,000-mile road trip or a Kenyan safari. Travel is anything that propels my behind from the chair out into the world to see, feel, hear, touch and taste. The skills I learned from travel and observing nature are easily transferable to my morning walk on the beach, a visit to meet an old friend, or a quick stop at a mall, and will apply, I imagine, to any writing genre. I will notice how the slant of the late February sun corrugates the sand behind the fences, or how someone who grew up elsewhere will cling to subtle differences in pronouncing the landscape we’ve shared all our adult lives, or how I feel a small bump in heart rate when I head off to a new part of the city. And those observations will someday spark a story or make some page of writing richer.
Travel—turning from the familiar to the unfamiliar—inspires me to create work that is alive in detail and grounded in place.
Read Cindy's essay "Falling: Flying."
Cindy grew up in the snowbelt of western New York, and, when not traveling and birding with her husband, has spent most of her adult life along the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. After a long career in youth development and publishing in numerous professional journals, she is enjoying retirement as a writer. A winner of the Hampton Roads Writers contest for creative nonfiction, her work has appeared several travel journals, The Quotable, The Wayfarer and Bird’s Thumb, and is forthcoming in Chautauqua, Tiferet and Barely South Review.