It’s easy to ruminate fondly on all the adventures and hilarious (in hindsight) frustrations of your travels. You tell your friends anecdotes of your travails, and they invariably say that you should write this all down. But when you get to that blank page, you don’t know where to start. Here are some ideas to spark your travel memoir writing:

Think about your favorite travel memoir story. How does it begin? Here’s one of my favorites:

It starts as a name, a place, a squiggle on a map. Japan. A country as far away from familiar as familiar can be. I try to imagine the country, what its streets look like, how its air smells. I touch the country on a map, fingering the page of a weathered atlas, spine broken, yellowed pages flying apart. As big as a thumping, as small as a canoe. Japan. I like the sound of it. 

This is from Marilyn Abildskov’s The Men in My Country, a beautiful book about her time in Japan. Use this opening as a model for your own writing. How did it start? Fill in the blanks here:

It starts as __________________________.

Here are a few more examples:

It starts as a wish. I never thought I would make it to Mecca.
It starts as a chore: look after my mother in Dublin.
It starts as a promise. My college roommate and I vowed to meet each other in Bangkok one day.

Here are some more ideas to jumpstart your travel memoir stories:

1. It is impossible not to fall in love with (place) in (month).

It is impossible not to fall in love with Hanoi in November.

2. There’s something to be said for being in new places.

There’s something to be said for being in new places. Accidental death notwithstanding, it extends your life. Subjectively, that is. When you got to a new place, your brain has to make so many new neural connections that, experientially, time elongates. (Single White Female in Hanoi by Carolyn Shine)

3. In (place), I liked myself more than I ever had before.

In Bath, I liked myself more than I ever had before. I left Boston a shattered, friendless virgin, but after few weeks in Bath, I was rapidly turning into someone new: a version of myself I’d only dreamed of.

4. If I lived in (place), and wasn’t just a visitor, I would __________________.

If I lived in Chiang Mai, and wasn’t just a visitor, I would still eat out every night.

5. I never wanted to go to (place).

I never wanted to go to Istanbul. Not then, anyway. I didn’t have the money or the time. But my sister claimed to need me, so I bought my ticket.

6. That first morning in (place), I woke to the sound of ___________________.

That first morning in Istanbul, I woke to the sound of my sister moaning. Eight months pregnant and sharing a bed with me, I couldn’t blame her.

7. That first night in (place), I dreamed of ____________________.

That first night in Abu Dhabi, I dreamed of a woman wearing a dazzling back headscarf hurrying through a maze of clay-coloured alleyways. (Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights)

These examples are all about how your trip started.

Land your reader right in the beginning of your story, and see what follows. What’s your favorite opening of a travel memoir story? Share yours on the Facebook group! I’d love to know what inspires your writing.

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