Retrospective travel writing

The vast majority of your travel writing will materialize in retrospect, once the experience is over. Unless you wrote down pre-assumptions, took notes from OTW sessions, or scribbled some thoughts ITM, you will have to rely on your memory to reconstruct, edit, or clarify the experience in order to process it.

Retrospective writing tends to necessitate having a conclusion from an experience, whether you had a full experience with wise, lasting takeaways or not. This can be problematic. Sometimes you write more sweeping generalizations than accurate details, or maybe you produce romanticized versions of what you remember rather than honest depictions.

As you develop your voice, you will learn what components result in your strongest work and know when and how to compile those components, whether in the moment or in retrospect.

When writing in retrospect, it’s important to be honest with your memories and authentic with your voice. Start by compiling your raw materials, which can include:

  • Pre-assumptions
  • OTW notes
  • ITM snippets
  • Emergent memories
  • Quotes from fellow travelers, books, signs, etc.
  • Photographs
  • Video clips

Mentally mix these materials up and see if the “cream rises to the surface.” Are there descriptions you love and have to include? Is there an anecdote that truly captures the spirit of the trip? What’s that weird little thought you can’t get out of your head? Put words on paper, and take frequent steps back to observe what is trying to pull together.

If you need further guidance through the compilation of your raw materials or even knowing where to start, many of the following techniques offer slower and simplified approaches to constructing a travel piece.