I love to travel! I also think it is the best way to write about a place, culture, language, or people you aren’t familiar with.
Don’t get me wrong. Google works. And I know not everyone can or wants to travel.
And in some cases, it’s just impossible.
I mean unless your Jeff Bezos, the likelihood of you traveling to outer space is pretty much none.
But the Kennedy Space and Rocket Center at Cape Canaveral is really cool.
And if you’re writing about Elizabethan England, a trip to London or the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, Alabama works.
Location research is just part of writing fiction, so I developed a list below of reasons to travel and some alternatives in your own town, if you can’t.
- Vibe – Feeling a vibe is way different than looking at it in pictures or video.
I just returned from Bali and while it is awesome, it is NOT all Eat, Pray, Love, calm and restorative. The beaches are crowded but beautiful and full of hawkers. There are Instagram spots all over the jungle, making it more kitschy than I imagined. Monkeys jump on your back at the Monkey Sanctuary Forest and the water at the Hindu Water Temple is absolutely freezing. It simply had a much busier vibe than I was expecting or that had been portrayed online and in the movies. I did find out that you can still experience that calm vibe, but you have to go to the north side of the island to find it.
- People – If you’ve never been to a place or if you don’t know people from that area, how will you ever authentically write about them?
Whoever wrote that show the Hart of Dixie had clearly never been there. We don’t call our shoes “sneakers” and no one, I mean NO ONE, watches football on Sundays. In Germany, you’ll find out the gruffness in tone is not anger. And in Italy, flirting is rampant and not altogether sexual. The point is, getting to know someone in their milieu gives you a perspective nothing else can.
- Culture – Have you ever sat zazen in a Buddhist Zen Monastery in Japan? What about eaten raw squid from a famous fish market in South Korea? Do you know why the Balinese put out an offering at their home and office temples every single day? Experiencing a culture is so much better than reading about it. I actually cried in the Globe Theater in London (I grew up reading Shakespeare to my dad).
- Manners – In Asia, there is no such thing as personal space. My American-self hated being pushed into all the time, but those folks never even noticed. On the other hand, in Japan I was actually asked by the person sitting in front of me on the train if I minded if she reclined her seat. I about fell out! My American self has been predisposed to just accept that the a-hole in front of me will plop back in my lap sooner or later. In Belgium, dinner is a long affair and a quiet one. In Ghana, it’s a communal gathering and you’re rude if you don’t eat with the host.
Learn Without Traveling
If you aren’t into traveling, there are lots of options right where you live or near there. Look around. Which restaurants do you have that represent a culture you’re writing about? Who are the people in your community you can reach out to? Are there museums, shops, groups you can become involved with? That’s one of the wonderful things about the United States. We are a melting pot of cultures. Take the time to reach out and get to know your neighbors. And don’t forget Netflix. They have been loading up on foreign TV and film. Are you watching those? Cable Girls (Las chicas del cable) is one of my favorites!
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Travel is so much fun and not for the weak-hearted. Plan, plan, plan.
Or if you’re the adventurous type, at least plan where to stay the first couple of days so you can get your bearings.
But planning helps you worry less about where you’ll stay and eat and what is available to do.
You also must be flexible. That is key. A plan should be super flexible.
Mark your top two must-dos but everything else should be as you go.
And you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to go.
Check out my traveling on a budget tips so you can go anywhere at any time on whatever budget you have!