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Writer In A Strange Land: How To Write, Find Ideas, And Gather Information While In Transit

Updated on March 25, 2017

I enormously enjoy being in motion. Often I feel most at home while away from home, and this sensation has inspired substantial wandering. Yet I’ve learned it can be a challenge to continue writing enough while traveling. Thankfully, I’ve learned a few helpful strategies to keep the words flowing regardless if I am five hundred or five thousand miles from home.

The first requirement is to realize it’s difficult and often impossible to write as much while traveling as you do at home. This is partly true for me because my cherished office chair is too cumbersome to travel with, yet at home having this chair helps me write for long, uninterrupted periods. Also, I am away from my office setup while in transit, and this is another reason for my decrease in productivity. Considering that traveling is typically distracting—often, mind you, in a delightful way—and it can be challenging to write as much as I would under more auspicious circumstances. A part of this strategy is establishing realistic standards for how much writing you will accomplish while in transit. It’s tricky determining how much you should aim for since aiming too high may be stressful, yet setting the bar too low could help you justify writing hardly at all while traveling.

Surely there is a cafe in Paris, France where you would write great things...


Before leaving home try to determine what resources you require in order to write or, at the very least, gather ideas while traveling. For many this means packing a laptop computer, whereas other may be content with a spiral notebook and several pens. You may also discover that taking notes on your smartphone is sufficient for shorter trips, whereas you need to have a laptop, notebook and pen, and your smartphone if you are gone for more than a few days. Even at home I carry a notebook and pens in my handbag, and this makes it easier to jot down ideas while I am traveling. What’s important here is determining what works for you regardless if you use similar methods to other writers you know. One reason I use paper and pen still is because I find physically writing down—instead of typing or speaking into a smartphone—the information helps me to better remember it.

If you are visiting Kansas City, Missouri, perhaps you will want to write in this library.
If you are visiting Kansas City, Missouri, perhaps you will want to write in this library. | Source

While traveling give yourself permission to break away from your travel partners—or, if you are traveling solo but staying in a hostel, from other travelers—in order to have enough time and solitude to write. You may discover that visiting a local library will help you achieve this, but this may also not be necessary if you can find a quiet corner or a park bench to write on. It’s also possible you appreciate the company of other people while writing, and that you are able to write at a busy café or restaurant. If you make writing time a priority while traveling, you may be amazed by how much you enjoy writing in a new setting. I’ve found that making a commitment to writing while in transit encourages me to savor the many hours I don’t spend writing.

If you are a strongly visual person, taking pictures of things you want to write about once home may be sufficient. I would be inclined to write a note about the picture in order to jostle my memory, yet others may not require this amount of detail. I’m amazed by how a straightforward photograph—such as of a deck of playing cards you used while playing Uno with a new friend at a hostel—can inspire a future flood of words.

What are you most likely to photograph while traveling?

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While traveling it is prudent to continue, with appropriate modification, the information-gathering practices you use at home. For me this means I remain prepared and willing to record new quotes I discover while traveling. One reason I insist on doing this is because it is more uncomfortable and inconvenient for me to stop this practice—since it is such an established practice for me—while traveling than it is to accommodate my desire to acquire more quotes. At home I’m likely to collect more quotes than I do in transit; nonetheless, if I stumble upon a memorable quote on a greeting card in a variety shop in AIaska, I will retrieve my notebook and a pen and record this. I’ve even acquired quotes from posters on bathroom walls while traveling.

I found this quote during my recent travels.
I found this quote during my recent travels. | Source

Which of these expressions would you be willing to write more about?

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It’s also essential to listen for oddball expression and off-the-wall thoughts you have. Recently I compared clouds clinging to a mountain in Alaska to a “halter top,” and these are the types of ideas I find worth collecting. Perhaps I will never write a long piece (or even a poem) about the “clothing items”—in the form of clouds—“worn” by mountains, yet this idea has been added to my writing notes in case I wish to write more about it. Also, especially if you are traveling far from home or you are associating with exceptionally quirky individuals, listen to what they say. It’s possible you will hear an expression—such as “She wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box.”—which you may want to include in a future story or poem.


Remember to relax and enjoy your vacation as much as possible. Deliberately living and enjoying life will help you write great things once you return home—especially if you’ve been mindful to write down ideas as they’ve occurred to you. Refrain from overscheduling yourself so much you don’t have time or energy to quickly respond to creative inspiration. After all, if you don’t have enough spare time for an unplanned bathroom break while madly rushing around New York City on a long weekend, you are likely overlooking story ideas which require at least five minutes of immediate attention in order to turn into something viable later on.

The other side of this equation, however, is you perhaps shouldn’t bother traveling if you plan to spend most of your time writing. This depends on your preferences and priorities, of course, and so I don’t believe this is inadvisable under all conditions. Nonetheless, I’ve discovered while traveling I need to maintain an ever-shifting balance of time spent alone writing and gathering information with the hours I spend visiting museums, meeting locals, and hiking in new places. If I don’t carve out enough time to write and think about writing while traveling, I become irritable and less able to enjoy my vacation. Since traveling is one of the great loves of my life, it is sweet relief to have found ways to merge my affection for words and my need to explore. While I may never write a novel while sitting in a café in Paris, France, I recognize it is of utmost importance that I keep the flow of words coming regardless where on earth I may be at any given moment.

In case you want to become a travel writer...


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    • Julie K Henderson profile image

      Julie K Henderson 2 years ago

      Thank you for your kind words. I, too, know the feeling of thinking "I wish I wrote that one" after reading a delightful hub. In fact, I've thought that about a few of your hubs. I agree that traveling is very inspiring. I also think writing can be done almost anywhere--though perhaps not during a tsunami or other natural disaster--and I wanted to provide a few pointers.

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 2 years ago from The Great Northwest

      What a great topic. I just love the hubs that I say to myself "I wish I wrote that one". This is one of those hubs. Although I haven't traveled a lot.

      Traveling is very inspiring. Since having kids, I don't have the money to travel as much or the time to make more money ;-) BUT if I drive in the car long enough they fall asleep and I've taken some fantastic road trips this way. I am inspired and love road trips to begin with so this is ideal for me.

    • Julie K Henderson profile image

      Julie K Henderson 2 years ago

      Thank you for commenting. I can understand the impulse to photograph strangers while traveling. I also like to take videos of the locals on my phone to help remember what the place was actually like.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      You are an idea machine. I enjoy taking photos of strangers while traveling. Of course I get WTF expressions from them so I like to try to snap photos of how funny people look while sleeping on public transit ... often mouth open, head back. I hope no one does the same of me though.