During the Q&A segment of my recent speaking event at the Green Arcade in San Francisco, an audience member asked a great question. It was one also posed at past events, so it seemed an appropriate first Q in what will be an ongoing Q&A series. I invite your questions about journaling & traveling and promise to answer them to the best of my ability.
How does journaling/writing differ for you when you’re traveling with a partner or friend versus when you travel solo? Which experience yields better results?
A: I find that for me, the two experiences make for vastly different adventures in writing. Generally speaking, I have more success keeping up with my journal when I travel alone. Mostly, this is due to the fact that the journal becomes my companion and confidante. Plus, there’s simply more time for introspection, not to mention an increased awareness that because you’re on your own, in terms of preserving memories, you’re all you’ve got. I learned this the hard way on one of my solo trips.
To quote from Writing Away,
When I was thirty-one, I backpacked alone through Vietnam without a journal. I’d recently purchased a pricey camera, so I enthusiastically snapped hundreds of photos, never bothering to write down a word. Not surprisingly, what I retain from that trip are imprecise memories and a shoebox filled with slides of people and places I can no longer name. By consulting a map, I’m able to point to towns I visited, but one street scene in a photo is all but unidentifiable from the next. I can barely discern one Hmong village from another, and I recall literally (yes, literally) one conversation—it took place on the boat to Halong Bai and concerned turkey jerky. The man I was talking to hailed from England where there’s a conspicuous and perplexing absence of jerky. He found the topic endlessly fascinating, and if I remember correctly his eyes rolled back in his head slightly when I mentioned tofu jerky. That’s the single conversation that followed me home from Vietnam. Furthermore, because I traveled solo, I can’t even poach my friends’ memories for missing details.
The memory-keeping stakes are obviously raised when you’re by yourself; it becomes exponentially important to log memories, particularly all the private ones you’d never dare post to a blog, twitter, or facebook.
The very fact that my journal practices benefit from solo travel is one of the reasons I love going it alone. Still, there are tons of advantages to sharing the road with friends and keeping a journal while doing so. To wit: there’s nothing like travel to grow people up and shed light on character, so sharing the road with a loved one is a wonderful chrysalis for increased connection, closeness, change, and growth. Moreover, when we sit down in silence to record and digest our discoveries, epiphanies, and transformations, we gain entry to a deeper understanding of them–we essentially apply a magnifying glass to our experience. In Writing Away, I discuss the rewards of keeping a shared journal as an instrument for connecting more deeply to your travel partner.
From Writing Away:
One approach is for you and your companion to powwow every few days and write. The upshot of this is multifold: first, by sharing the responsibility and goal of a travelogue, you’re more likely to commit since you’ll be loath to flake on each other. Furthermore, when you’re not feeling the writing vibe, she may be—you’ll egg each other on. Knowing you’ll be sharing your words will also up the ante, adding some zing to your writing. One more bonus is that you’ll no longer rely strictly on your own mind, so when your memory falters, your friend might provide insight into the circumstances that led to you falling off your camel in Giza or your barstool in Berlin.
Even if you and your friends are together twenty-four-seven, you bring to the book distinctive perspectives. You’ll appreciate accessing their take on shared experiences, and you’ll learn from these secondhand impressions. Ultimately, your friends’ stories will inform your own. Just keep in mind that a collaborative travelogue should only augment, never replace a journal that’s intimately, unmistakably your own.
Indeed, there are countless reasons why it’s important to keep your own journal as well, when traveling in the company of others. First, it offers you some sanctioned alone time, a necessary ingredient in the traveling-with-others recipe for success. Saying, “I’m off to the cafe to write in my journal for a while. See you in an hour or so” is a gentle way of taking space for yourself. Because even when you’re traveling with others, it’s important to remember that it’s still your trip, too. And you should always keep some stories for yourself.