Travel Writing When You Can’t Travel: A Paradox and How to Solve It

In a way, sometimes good, sometimes bad, travel writing and especially travel blogging, can become rather…self-centered and based solely on one’s own experiences. Again, this can be fine if done well, but so often one comes across those dreaded “24 hours in Paris and Here’s What You MUST Do”(“because I did them and I certainly didn’t do any research on the way, so who knows what other things I’m missing”). In the middle of a pandemic, however, we find ourselves in a bit of a rut. Without traveling, how is one expected to travel write? A good question, but one easily answered.
What makes us love travel writing and travel shows is that, though we empathize with the host/write, we also LEARN in the process as the truly cherished hosts and writers take us into a world we would not otherwise know. How? Through research and consulting with local sources/people. Interviews.
Especially in this time of pandemic, which will hopefully end soon, I urge all writers who have felt like they have nothing to write about to step back and really challenge themselves to see if they truly have “nothing” to write about.
Maybe it’s past adventures, learning something the hard way, an interview with those in the airship industry who might be bringing back an old time way to travel. Perhaps it’s a 90 year old great-grandmother in Tuscany with a simple recipe for pasta sauce she thinks everyone should know. Or researching and interviewing folks in the sustainability business so that, when travel starts again, we’ll be ready to make it even better than before.

You can’t tell me that this isn’t literally a gold mine of ideas. Explore your bookshelves!

Make those connections. Get those stories. Connect with other writers and pool your experiences. Readers want to LEARN! A great example is Atlas Obscura (is it the greatest travel website of all time? Probably.), which started as a simple wiki-style entry format for users to upload and write up unique places not otherwise written about. They have since branched out and have certainly not slowed down during the pandemic. Why? Because there’s a world of food, tradition, culture, music, art, history, etc. to explore and learn about. Solve some mysteries you have come across in your own travels. Why are so many light switches outside of rooms? Why do Serbian pizzerias put mayonnaise on pizza? Why does Europe love the fizzy water? Why are there so many VW bugs in Cuba, and so on. Messy Nessy Chic also does a great job of this, making addictive content that you just want to settle into and soak in. A cabinet of curiosities, she calls it. Well-researched pieces like, The Great African American Escape to Soviet Russia, Let Cindy Crawford Guide you through Paris Fashion Week Circa 1992 and A Curious Journey through the Story of the Passport.

Seriously, such a delectable adventure of a website, whether or not you need travel inspiration or just feed your curiosity.

While it might be depressing to not continue the same way you always have, by writing up places you’ve been to, now is the perfect time to cut your teeth on even deeper modes of storytelling, forging connections between past and present. Maybe it’s by diving into an old cookbook you got in New Orleans, or the history of Parisian riverfront booksellers. There’s a whole literal world out there waiting for you to tell us about. Another idea could be writing about things in your own culture that confuse people, local or otherwise (I’m looking at you, mysterious and terrifying Jello salads of yesteryear), or why Americans have grass lawns and separate fridges for drinks. If you are at a loss for what to write, look no further than where you are right now! The fashion of the past, an enigmatic wartime pamphlet on health in World War II (thanks, Bletchley Park) or pursuing old newspapers without leaving your house can all be ways to “travel” and travel write without actually going anywhere. Frankly, most people these days would far rather binge on this kind of content than any other.
Our all-time most read post? This one. On why the British are obsessed with toast. It doesn’t have anything to do with travel and yet it DOES. That mystery and thirst for knowledge and curiosity we have as humans that drives us to explore the world brings us to these rabbit holes and spiraling into random pools of information, all because we seek to understand the world and out place in it. Connections.
Connect with the past by transcribing old letters (and then telling us what you learned about Civil War foods) by volunteering with the Smithsonian or the Library of Congress. Anything.

Letters. Transcribe them and unravel a whole past you never knew about. Or revisit your old travel letters and laugh about how prosaic you tried to be.

Pour all that angsty energy into what travel writers have done for centuries…read, research, and report. And then, when the pandemic ends and we’re all on our merry way again, we will be all the more connected to the world we left behind for a while.

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