As some of you may know, I’m currently in the middle of my honeymoon. My husband and I have just finished the first leg of our travels, having paused in Charleston, SC to see Josh Ritter in concert (he was amazing) and now pausing in Fort Worth and Dallas, TX for a family visit before Independence Day arrives and we fly off to Norway.
I keep a diary regularly regardless of how (un)interesting the days are but something about keeping it on the road has gotten me to meditating on many of our great American Travel Writers. American Travel Writing was one of the very first courses I took as an undergraduate while I was studying at Southwestern University (Georgetown, TX) and it left a deep impact on me — it’s not that we learned some secret to the art or how to become the next Rick Steves, but we did get to immerse ourselves in books like Kerouac’s On the Road and Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. What’s more, what really stuck with me, was that we got to discuss the nitty gritty — which, I’ve found, is rare in college. This nitty-gritty included everything from what details we chose to incorporate into our final articles, how we went about taking notes while we traveled, how different voices and styles could alter or enhance the vision of a place, and this, perhaps more than any other of my classes, has stayed with me and impacted my vision of college and of writing.
One of the things that has stuck with me and that has been further encouraged by writers like David Sedaris, is that it’s important to keep as many facts as possible — it’s important to me, in other words, that my diary includes prices, names, places, temperatures, and so forth and not simply gushy, fleeting feelings about things. Recording feelings and impressions are, of course, an essential part of most diaries but they aren’t the meat and potatoes (at least, not for me).
What do you think? Who’s your favorite travel writer? What details are important to you in your writing? — What makes a story whole?