Feb 13

5 Ways to Travel for Inspiration

If you’re like me, you love to travel…but probably don’t get to as often as you’d like.  Maybe it’s the time, maybe it’s the money…or maybe it’s both. There’s that day job that you actually have to go to (you know, to pay the bills).  Or there are the kids or the pets (or both) that need to be taken care of.  Or, taxes (need I say more?).  Yeah, it’s that time of year again.

Still, travel is one of the greatest ways to get inspiration for your writing.  Some writers crave travel for the peace and quiet and unfamiliarity of environment that it provides — all of which helps them to buckle down and get some quality verbiage on paper.  Some writers travel to get inspiration for world-building.  Fantasy writers love to make up new and rich worlds, but I firmly believe that the more you’ve seen of our world, the easier it will be to create other worlds.  Some writers travel for the experience of meeting new people and new world views.  What better way to get inspiration for a great character than by studying the motley assortment of people you meet on a tour bus?

Me, I love to travel for all those reasons. Last year I was fortunate enough to take an 8-day trip to Iceland, which was frankly the awesomest experience of my life. I’d been mulling over a particular setting for the next Madness Method book, an island nation called Istia, and when I stepped off the plane in Keflavik, the first thing I thought was, “Oh, wow. This is Istia.” Everything I experienced in Iceland I tucked away for future reference, from the biting, numbing cold to the sound of the wind howling around the cabin, from the black beaches set against the slate grey sky, to the quiet strength and spirit of the Icelanders I met.


A nice color picture from Iceland.

I’d go back in a heartbeat if I could.  But of course, there’s the day job, and the pets, and the taxes.  So, if you’re not at the stage yet where you’ve been able to quit your day job and support yourself quite comfortably on your writing, how can you manage to travel for inspiration?  Well, here are 5 tips to make it possible.

1. Travel local, and keep it short.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but whenever I used to think of travel, I thought about, well, Iceland. New Zealand. China. You know, exotic. But the truth is, you can get great inspiration from short trips, too. Even better, short trips don’t have to cost a fortune. Find out what’s in your region that you can travel to in a quick day or weekend trip, and go for it! Focus your interest on something related to your writing. Maybe your setting is an early American town. There are lots of heritage towns and villages all across the country — see if there’s one in your area. Maybe you have a favorite woodland setting in your story. Find a local state or national park and take a hiking trip, and really soak in the scenery (and take some photographs for future reference!).

2. Look for fare sales and package deals.

Maybe you want to spread your wings and get out of your native habitat a bit. You can still travel to some pretty exotic places on a budget if you plan wisely. If you happen to be a student or a teacher, register with Student Universe. Especially if you can select flexible travel dates, you can get incredible rates. Other sites offer fare comparisons, too, so don’t settle for the first price you find.  If you’re really flexible, take a look at the fare rates for several different months.  Sometimes a flight that would cost you $2000 in July will only cost $800 in November. If you can travel off-season, you can really experience some remarkable things and at a great price.

3. Be flexible in your destination.

Maybe you really want to go to London but it’s too expensive. Look into other British destinations that might give you the same kind of experience on a cheaper budget – and plan to take a day trip to London to see the sights. Maybe your story takes place on a Caribbean island, but the resorts on your island of choice are too expensive. Consider going to a less traveled or less costly destination, like St. Lucia or the Dominican Republic.

4. Find a buddy to travel with.

(Even better if that buddy is also a writer!) By traveling with one or two companions, you can split hotel costs, food costs, and sometimes get deals on excursions. Also, if you travel alone, especially to remote destinations, you might not be able to take advantage of certain activities. In Iceland, some tour options were only available if you had more than one person in your party, due to the possibility that no one else would register. They would happily take two people on an excursion, but it wouldn’t make sense for them to only take one.


Glacier hiking in Iceland

5. Push your personal boundaries.

This isn’t a tip for how to travel affordably so much as a tip for writers to maximize the benefits of travel. Everything we do and experience as writers can work its way into our writing. Tolkien called it the “leaf mold of the mind.” On one trip I camped out in an abandoned rock quarry somewhere in the French countryside. It was as uncomfortable as you can imagine, but it was…fantastic. I will never, ever make the mistake of having my merry band of adventurers happily sleeping on hard ground as they go on their quest. Ever. I will give them stones in their backs and neck aches and muscle-cramping chills and clammy blankets. And it will be glorious. So, find something to do in your destination of choice that might someday make it into your writing, and throw caution to the wind and try it out! Even if that’s just eating a plate of snails. Be brave! Everything you live and see and do will only make you a better writer, so live gloriously.

Have you had any great travel experiences that have really inspired your writing? Tell me about them in the comments below! One of the best things about travel is hearing fellow travelers’ tales.

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