I have always adored this quote from Ibn Battuta. Let’s see it again:
“Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – The Travels of Ibn Battutah
As somebody who loves to write and loves to travel, this has always been something I think is entirely true. And I know that not everybody can travel, for various reasons, but this is true for any level of travel. Be it a trip around the world, or a ‘stay-cation’ where you explore your home town/city/country.
For me, I’ve spent the past three weeks exploring Europe. It was the most incredible time, and I was so inspired every moment of every day. So I had to blog about it, to preserve three weeks that have absolutely grown my perspective. But of course I want to try and make it relevant to writing too. So I’ve whittled down what I believe are the five main ways that travel turns your into a storyteller.
The places you see
Nothing quite beats that moment when a place truly takes your breath away. When the buildings, the scenery and the colours force your eyes to open wide and your jaw to drop. And it’s those places that can either inspire a setting for your novel, or influence a world of your own creation. On my trip, so many places left me speechless, but the two that cemented themselves as future novel locations were Venice and Amsterdam. In Venice, it’s like walking through a painting, as though you’re living in a watercolour. When somewhere inspires you, always write down exactly why it did, and what it was that captured your imagination. Not only is it a perfect way to preserve the memory, but it can play a huge part in the descriptions you use in your writing.
The people you meet
Everybody you meet is a character. Perhaps I should rephrase to everybody you meet has character. It’s never a great idea to pluck a real life person and drop them into your novel. But you can use certain traits and quirks to add depth and credibility to your story. When you travel, you open yourself to the opportunity of meeting so many new people. There will be people you find interesting or funny, people you find irritating or rude. As a writer, you’ll likely find yourself taking note of the way they walk, the words they use when they speak, the flare that fuels their choices. I was very lucky on this trip to find myself around people who were smart, insightful, genuine, passionate and kind, and so my inspiration flourished.
The things you experience
In travel you get the opportunity to experience things you would otherwise never do. Whether it’s tasting authentic cuisine, witnessing the way other people live or discovering a hidden gem amongst a city of tourist attractions. There’s riding a gondola in Venice or retracing the steps of notable names from history, attending traditional folk shows or standing on top of a mountain. Whether you want to write about these things or not, the emotions you feel and the things that you see/smell/taste/touch all offer you the experience to write with genuine knowledge and insight.
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” – Benjamin Franklin
The lessons you learn
For me, one of the best aspects of travelling is learning new things. Delving into a place’s history, witnessing their modern day culture, understanding the tragedies and triumphs they’ve experienced and looking into their plans for the future. When you travel you learn so much about history, geography, language, nature, the human race, art, music, literature…the list is pretty much endless. And this knowledge bank is undoubtedly an incredible tool for anybody, and especially writers. When you learn, you expand the possibilities for future projects. It gives you the scope to write about different areas and time periods and people, while doing so in a way that is informed, factually correct and authentic.
The stories you hear
To tell stories, it’s inevitable you have to experience story telling in general. Stephen King said that to be a writer your must “read a lot and write a lot”, and I agree, but there are other ways to find stories, not just in books. It ties in with most of the other points listed above. When you see a new place, its story is laid out before you, shaped by its past. When you meet new people you hear their stories, some funny, some fascinating, some odd and some boring. When you experience new things they become a part of your story. And when you learn, be it in a museum, on a tour with a local guide or through a piece of art, you are surrounding yourself in stories. Without a doubt, your own ability to tell stories will be shaped by this.
It’s safe to say that this was the trip of a lifetime, which will inspire fictional and non-fictional storytelling for many years to come. But I’d love to hear more about your own experience with travel and storytelling, so please drop into the comments below and tell me your stories! (Book suggestions of course very welcome too!)