Some travelers ask why WRITE when you can DO? Putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) can feel like a drag when there are waves to ride and volcanoes to hike.
But documenting a journey through writing can be one of the most rewarding parts of your trip. Journals offer a private refuge for emotions, while travel blogs amplify your adventures for a public audience of family, friends, and travelers (armchair and otherwise). Here are the top 10 reasons why you should do one or the other—or, for the best of all worlds, both.
1. You can capture the minutia as it happens. When you’re caught up in an exhilarating moment, it seems impossible that you would ever forget the exact shade of crimson splashed across that Bolivian sunset, or the profound remark made by your Tanzanian safari guide. But these details are fleeting, especially when we’re bombarded with so many new things every day. It’s like a dream—if you don’t write it down first thing upon waking, it will gradually lose color until all that remains is a pale blur of what was once a crisp and vivid picture.
2. Your friends and family want to know. Really. But they probably don’t want to sit through a six-hour slideshow-and-story marathon when you get back home. Blogging a few times a week will keep them up-to-date on your adventures and make them feel like they’re out there with you. All your entries and photos are stored together and easily navigable for the technology-shy. Plus, blogging takes up less internet café time than sending personal emails every few days, and—let’s face it—mass emails are tacky.
3. Online travel networks offer instant feedback and real-time travel advice. When you blog on a community site, you’re linking in to hundreds, sometimes thousands of other travelers who will appreciate your writing and offer you some guidance in return. Get the skinny on festivals, the newest hot spot, and safety updates—and spread the word when you run into something extraordinary. Some writers’ blogs even land them paid writing gigs or other job opportunities. You can find travel partners—or, like one couple, partners for life.
4. You can tell the truth as you see it. International media sources often present countries in the light that best suits their corporate interests. South Africa, for example, is either the continent’s beacon of democracy or a country on the brink of violent self-destruction. But what do you see when you get there? Lend your voice to the citizen journalism movement and let people view a destination through your eyes. Your perspective is valid, too, and many times the truest stories are the ones being told from the ground up.
5. It’s an opportunity to flex your writing muscles. Even if you don’t plan on being the next Paul Theroux (which is fine, because one is enough), the ability to craft a thoughtful and entertaining story is useful in nearly every profession. And the best way to become a better writer is to write, write, and write some more. Journaling and blogging are no-pressure environments, so you can experiment with style, tone, and humor. You’ll quickly discover which blog posts garner the most attention and what types of stories people want to hear.
6. It gives you something to do on those long bus rides. Even with an iPod or a good book, all-day buses can stretch longer than Bush’s presidency. Having a notebook handy helps pass the time (I find that staring out windows puts me in a contemplative mood anyway) and results in some lovely, loopy lettering, courtesy of potholes and near collisions with mad cattle. I also keep family pictures in my journal along with sketches and postcards of the places I’d already been, which proved a wonderful icebreaker with fellow bus passengers and curious kids all over Africa.
7. Writing about a place changes your experience of it. When you force yourself to reflect on your trip a couple times a week, you’ll find that articulating your impressions on the page may help you process what you’ve been seeing. You’ll start studying your surroundings with the keen eyes of a writer, noticing those telling details that represent a greater truth. Writing teaches us how to observe a scene while still being a part of it.
8. You might learn something. You don’t want to look like an idiot writing about the Taj Mahal, right? So you read a little history, look up some other India travel blogs—and suddenly you’re approaching the iconic building with a rich sense of historical and social context. This newfound depth of understanding not only adds value to your writing, it also enhances your experience. Which in turn enhances your writing. Which in turn…you get the idea.
9. It will shed light on your inner journey. You might not recognize it while you’re in the throws of thrill seeking, but sooner or later, you’ll re-read what you’ve written and realize that you became a different person somewhere along the way. Private journals in particular are so intimate that your personal evolution will surface out of the pages as clear as invisible ink under a blacklight.
10. There’s no better souvenir than a collection of your stories in your own words. Many blog sites offer ways of printing your entries and photos into a book, and a handwritten journal is an irreplaceable keepsake. The journal itself tells countless stories in its battered covers, dirty pages, and lingering scent of campfire. And then, thirty years down the line when you wonder if the whole trip was just a dream, you can pull out your old stories and bring those blurry memories back into focus.
A regular contributor to Matador, Jenny Williams, a former national soccer player, quit a job in book publishing to travel in the Middle East, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia.