In her essay about life on tour with a rock band, Claire L. Evans says that travel teaches her more about time than it does about place. I agree.
My favorite kind of “travel writing” — or I suppose writing about place — embarks on an inner journey, and uses a physical location as a diving board into one’s depths, into their mind. On a recent plane ride, I read a lovely piece called “Seeds” by Thao Thai about her grandfather and his garden, growing up, and Vietnam.
The post isn’t about “travel,” and yet the journey the writer takes me on is expansive and revealing: about more than just place, and about something within me, my own childhood, and those who are close to me. A number of the writers at Vela take me on these journeys: traveling into those hidden, secret parts we have, deep down, that we also share.
This blog is often included on “top travel blogs” lists, like here and here. I’m flattered to be recognized alongside sites of note, but puzzled by the inclusion.
This is not a travel blog.
Or is it?
* * *
I set up Writing Through the Fog in 2008 to focus on my freelance work at the time, and my older informational posts on Ibiza, Berlin, Austin, and other places continue to be wildly popular. But this blog has transformed into a personal space for musings on everything and nothing in particular: thoughts on the internet and technology, and how my life and relationships have evolved. Sprinkle in a dose of the writing life, a bit of street art, and ideas on consumption and culture. Voila! Welcome to my (unfocused) blog.
Indeed, I write about places I explore and share photographs from my trips — like my recent post on Vietnam. But I don’t think travel is my niche. So I wonder what others think about my writing, and how they view this blog, seeing that I’m included in travel bloggerly lists, added to travel lists on Twitter, and referred to here and there as a travel blogger/writer.
What does it mean, then, to write about travel?
And ultimately, does it matter?
* * *
One of the founders at Maptia, a platform for travel narrative and storytelling, invited me to publish on the site. I created a few stories: A Brush with Time in Granada, on revisiting Granada and the conjuring of memories and confronting a past self; and Roots Versus Wanderlust, on the struggle between exploring the world and wanting to build a permanent home.
On Maptia, you can tag text and images in your stories with a geographic location. So, let’s say you create a story about Spain. You can add locations to various parts of your story — Granada, Madrid, Barcelona; or even locations within a location, so when writing about Granada, you can tag locations like the Alhambra, or the Albayzin, or the jamón shop on the corner.
I noticed in both of my stories, my locations were sometimes off — it’s not that they were geographically inaccurate, but there was a disconnect between what I wrote and where I physically was.
I’d written, for example, about sitting on a bench at Mirador de San Nicolas, the viewpoint atop Granada’s Albayzin neighborhood overlooking the Alhambra palace. I was there, but my mind was elsewhere, as it usually is: Off in the past. Recalling failed relationships. Thinking about what I was doing when I’d last visited — in 2010 — and who I used to be.
We are wanderers in body and mind. In these moments, how do we pinpoint a location?
* * *
Stay in the moment. Get to the point. Describe what’s in front of you. I once read a comment from a professional travel editor about a post I wrote for a press trip on a cruise to the Caribbean that said if I’m writing about X, write about X. Don’t write about Y or Z.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t that kind of travel writer.
* * *
The intangible locations in my Roots Versus Wanderlust story on Maptia are even more apparent. I wander the IKEA store in Emeryville, across the bay from San Francisco, freaked out about accumulating stuff, and I don’t really go anywhere at all. As I wander the labyrinth of furniture, I daydream about a picnic under the trees at St. James’s Park in London. I imagine lying in a hammock with my beloved, along an unnamed sea. It could be the Mediterranean, or the Caribbean, or the Pacific. Or even the Red Sea, on which he and I eventually created memories.
How would you trace this narrative on a map of the world?
Can we treat physical places — cities, countries — as blank canvases for the mind?
* * *
I guess I understand being labeled a travel writer of sorts. To some, traveling simply means exploring, whatever your world. Whatever your reality. In that sense, I’m flattered people come here to read what I write and consider my journeys — even the ones in mundane places like an IKEA — to take them somewhere.
43 thoughts on “This Is Not a ‘Travel Blog’ (But It Is a Travel Blog)”
I love the title. The meandering the mind takes through travel. It’s not just about the destinations, but how you grow and evolve while traversing them. Thanks again for an amazing piece of writing, it really resonates 🙂
Hi Cheri, as a new blogger I have found your post really useful. Really enjoyable. Keep it up.
I really relate to travel writing as jumping board for inspiration. Some people have suggested that I should have a bike-related image for my header.
No, that’s just too limiting. In fact, I think over 50% of my regular readers don’t bicycle at all.
One clue that I don’t have a bucket list of places I’ve been / want to visit on my blog. Travel itself is not the end goal. Learning and being in wonder about what exists beyond home, beyond self and my brain provides better journeys.
After reading this post, I feel like I’m really going to enjoy following you.
Looking forward to stalking the rest of your blog! 🙂
Love the Lisbon photo in the post header 🙂
Hugs from Portugal *
Exploring self through journeys taken on unknown roads.. Wonderful piece of writing Cheri.. I wonder if I will be able to travel again as for now I have been suffering through various illnesses since 2 years… I hope for the best 🙂
I think it’s a travel blog with a heart!
This is exactly the kind of travel writing that Im trying to learn how to do. And thats a whole journey by itself. This was a really inspiring read though.
I had a very similar experience to what you are detailing. On my travels to Brasil, I started to write. This is a fantastic post that really resonates with me, as my writings in Brasil weren’t about the beautiful landscape or the beautiful people, but more about where these beautiful people took my mind, and how the beautiful landscape made me see a wondrous beauty in myself. Great post.
Hi Cheri, even I am less sure whether yours is a travel blog or not. We can create a new category for your travel blogs with a name like “mind travel”. Anyways, it was great reading your blog no matter where it would get categorized.
Hi Cheri, I feel the same way. When I am in a foreign place, my mind tends to wander off. There’s something about the detachment from everyday life that gives me the time and opportunity to think and reflect. My mind often brings me to a different time and place. I think that’s the magic with traveling. I compare it with people-watching at cafés. The experience is never the same because what’s on your mind is never the same. So your connection with the outside world is never the same.
Hi Cheri, just wanted to tell you that I’m really enjoying your blog and your way of writing and sharing your insights. Makes me want to keep reading. I especially enjoyed this post about traveling. Thanks! All the best, Irene
I agree with you 🙂 The inner journey is what matters the most.
I need to read more and travel more. I always make excuses for myself, that I don’t have any time, but that is hardly ever true. I love the title for the post by the way, it made me smile.
I’m totally with you there. A spiritual or mind’s journey is special in every way. Love your unique take on travel writing there!
So much enjoyed your blog. Thanks.
Nice thoughts on travel writing…really helpful actually. Thank you.
Yes! This is the kind of travel blog I want to read! The inner journey is what matters…..
I am a person who does not need to travel to broaden my horizons. I have certainly done my share of traveling, but I can see a whole new world through reading, writing, having conversations with friends and new acquaintances, researching, and just remembering the places I have been and the impact those places had on my life. However, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog, and hope to read more in the future.
After a couple of years seeing you only as presenting the Weekly Photo Challenge, I find your writing here; I’m so glad you put a link to this on today’s challenge (has it always been there and I did not notice?).
Writing about travel seems to be a mixed bag depending on the writer as to whether it is only about X, or also Y and Z. I think I prefer all the letters a writer needs to tell the story from her viewpoint.
I started linking to here from the photo challenge only just last week! Glad you found this blog and enjoyed what you read.
Very interesting take on travel. I always tag my photo-blog posts as “travel”, even if they are about locations just down the road. After all, not everyone lives near me and they would have to travel to get there.
Yes — I’ve been thinking a lot about travel in this sense, too. Travel/exploration in one’s own neighborhood. In places that don’t require a plane ride. And in other unconventional ways. I’m excited about a new project I’m working on/thinking about, which touches on this. Can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Honestly, blogs such as yours, are the type of “travel blogs” that I prefer. When you share your personal stories it shows people that they are not alone in a world where it has quickly become a common experience to feel so alone despite the huge numbers of people that surround them. You asked if it matters, yes it does. I am a firm believer that you can touch a person’s life in a profound way when you share your experiences, whether you know it or not. Keep writing, keep inspiring.
Inspirational thoughts in this post! Great blog!
This is lovely. I do think journeys can be both physical and mental, soulful and emotional. In that sense this could be a travel blog, but a travel blog that explores narrative and journeys with its own unique voice.
Awesome post. From one dreamer to another keep it up!
I just love your writing and am willing to go wherever you want to take me.
There is really no travel narrative without perspective and there can be no perspective without the person. In these days of ubiquitous facts about places, maps, videos and pictures, there is little need to read travel accounts for facts. It’s the story that appeals. Having said that, I must say that there never really *was* any travel narrative ever, even before the days of modern technology, without perspective. Those narratives created maps of the world on blank canvases repeatedly and could make or break places and peoples repeatedly. So while we can treat physical spaces as blank canvases for the mind, we must do so responsibly.
I love your description of your favorite travel writing – writing that “embarks on an inner journey, and uses a physical location as a diving board into one’s depths, into their mind.” This description distills the writing advice that most resonates with me: to start in a concrete place or with a concrete object and expand inward with it. To me that is a more interesting kind of travel, a more artistic kind of travel, than straightforward location- or event-based travel writing.
I love your feet-on-the-ground (head-in-the-clouds) photographs, by the way. 🙂
I’d almost inserted photos of my recent trip to the Caribbean, but realized they wouldn’t be so fitting. Glad you like the feet shots 🙂 I think they worked better.
Well said! I too am struggling about being a “real” travel writer. I rather like exploring my thoughts at that place rather than writing about the place… Guess there are several different types of writers isn’t there?Kudos on finding your niche though. Thank you for sharing!! 🙂
That was somewhat of an eye opening story for me. I feel like I can write about my journey, even if it stays in my home, freely. I never thought about travel in any other way than visiting places around the world. However, I now feel like my journey inward can be called travel, and if I write about it, I can be called, technically, a travel blog/writer. I really enjoyed reading this post.
What a lovely post. You did make me wonder about what it means to be a travel writer, or write a travel blog… or a book, for that matter. Now that I think about it, many of my favourite books could, by a stretch of imagination, be called travel books as well. I seem to react to descriptions of places, especially when they talk about impact on someone’s life, soul, (un)happiness, et caetera.
Beautiful photos from various locations can count as such too – and it’s about how they add to a story, not necessarily that they have to be *the* story themselves.
Cheri!! 1) Beautiful as always 2) I consider your blog/writing to be about travel, but not in the conventional sense. Your travels negotiate space and time, an aspect you won’t find in the “Top 10 Things to Do in Granada” lists. You have the ability to make connections, always personal, always relatable, and so in the end I’m not sure it matters what you are. Happy New Year! I’ll definitely be thinking about your ideas here when I get to Vietnam! (2 weeks!!!) O_O
Yes! I love thinking about travel in this way, and I like thinking about how it intersects with other notions of space, time, and place. Hooray for Vietnam soon!
I really enjoyed this post and thought it was insightful. Most times our body is one place when our mind is in another, but why can’t the physical geographic location inspire the mental geographic location? Either way you are traveling right? 🙂 Great post again!
Enjoyed reading your full page of traveling in the mind. My mother, whose blog I post for, always said: “Home became people, not places. No house, no town, no part of the country could ever lay claim to her.”
I will continue to follow and enjoy.
Alexis Campbell Jansky
What a fantastic post, thank you! It’s the first I’ve read on your blog, and I’m subscribed. Travel is much more than the guide book-style stories, it’s definitely the people you meet, the memories inspired, cultures encountered and how they all impact you personally. And that has to be more interesting to read about – Lonely Planet can be found anywhere!
I always thought of this as a lifestyle, or culture blog, but maybe that is another way of saying all-inclusive… It is so true that traveling takes you on a journey within. We really have to leave home to ever get that feeling of not being fully comfortable. I feel that I am always a better person when I have a hard time communicating because then both I cut the other person some slack and they cut me some. Whereas if I can just say whatever I’m thinking, it is easy for me to fall into rude moments. We can never really understand our brothers and sisters unless we can see things from their point of view – traveling abroad tends to vastly open our minds to new points of views. Okay now you’ve really got me rambling all over the place. I meant to say, nice article!
Without question, the travel writers — and shows — I like best are those that reveal more than just the culture, sights and packing tips when traipsing through the Himalayas looking for sour grass. What engages me is when a writer/traveler is clearly impacted by the experience and can share it with me. Oftentimes, it means finding commonality through shared experience with the reader, such as comparing a memory to a location or cultural event. You can tell me how breathtaking an overlook is, or even the history behind it. But if you can tie in a wish you had as a child to stand there, or how the view reminds you of things your grandmother told you of her homeland… I’m there with you.
For me at least, traveling is about connecting with the world and people in ways I haven’t before — and finding commonality. Coincidentally, they are the same things I look for in a writer, of any genre, really.
You can call it a fog, Cheri, but I see it as more of a blanket we can all share 😉
I really enjoyed the part where you describe traveling as a lesson on time. Thank you for this post, I will be reading more! XO