Posted in Travel

Travel Writing: our “Pirate Code” for the Road

[This post is featured as a “guest blog” at Clan Elves of the Bitterroots.  Please stop by to check out their other authors!]

Surely I have the world’s best job: I get to Travel, and I get to Write about it. My Travel Sidekick (a.k.a. Husband) and I have sketched out some “road rules” for these trips–though, like Captain Barbossa’s Pirate Code, they “be more like guidelines than actual rules.” Here’s our formula, if you will, for deriving the best experience out of the trip, and the best story out of the experience…

  1. Understand the difference between drive-time and travel-time. If you get into your vehicle and diligently follow the directions to your destination, you’ll arrive in about the amount of time that MapQuest says it will take. That’s drive-time. We, on the other hand, prefer to Stop along the way. We stop a LOT. We turn the car around to investigate whatever eye-catcher just passed, we pick up rocks, we hike up hillsides, sit on tractors, chat with people, take pictures, nose our way down side roads, find things to eat… All in all, we probably spend four or five times the MapQuest estimate on inquisitive adventuring. That’s travel-time. We enjoy experiencing the places we travel.

  2. Don’t fixate on the experience you expected and ignore the one actually in front of you. Sometimes the most story-worthy experiences are the ones we just stumble into, so we make it a point never to be in a hurry to get somewhere else.
  3. Preparation before a trip allows for spontaneity during it. I read ahead comprehensively, as if we might want to see absolutely anything (because we might), and we pack as if we might do absolutely anything (because we might). I do a lot of web-reading before we leave, to get an idea of what sights or attractions are in our path (and what hours those can be seen), so when we’re on the fly we have a menu of ideas. Not a have-to-hit-it checklist, but an awareness of options. With the same philosophy, our “daytrip bag” is packed for options. If we have some snacks and a blanket, we can picnic; if we have tackle and poles, we can fish; extra maps allow us to navigate when we veer off our expected route; swimsuits and jackets and hiking sticks give us options to make spontaneous choices. The more we experience, the more I have to write about.
  4. Follow the map... Or not.

    Take notes. Three-quarters of my travel write-ups stem from our comments, observations, and jokes along the way. I’m jotting things down almost continuously so I can “unpack” the whole experience when I sit down to write about it. I confess I’m an iPad addict–on any given trip I’ll be scribbling notes on the screen, snapping “information”-pictures (of signs, historical markers, etc.), recording conversations, and geo-tagging our track while we go.

  5. The journey is about the stories. Ask questions. Read everything. Eavesdrop.We don’t really hit the road to look at pretty mountains or flowers; scenery by itself would become boring pretty quickly. What makes travel worthwhile is the stories we uncover (and the ones we play out)–whether it’s a geological story encased in the rocks, a place’s history, the stories of people we meet, or the story of our own thoughts and observations, the journey isn’t measured purely by the map.


LADIES ONLY: Wanderlust and Lipstick has a travel-writing contest on!  They’re offering a Mexican get-away to the winner.  Sorry, Guys.  :)


I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

20 thoughts on “Travel Writing: our “Pirate Code” for the Road

    1. My thanks to you! Hope it sparks some ideas for some writers. :) My M.F.A. Is in Creative Writing, Poetry–so although it’s not what I get PAID to write, poetry is an inevitable byproduct of any Journey on my part…
      Cheers! (and thanks for leading me to YOUR site)


  1. I fully agree, your travel style is the best way to go. I also like the characters you meet in diners, truck stops, dive bars etc along the way! Great post!


  2. I agree 100%. I guess there are two kinds of travelers … those who can tell you something interesting about where they’ve been and those who can tell you exactly how long it took to get there.


  3. Road trips are the best, especially if you get off the interstate highways. I was lucky to grow up with a father who was never in a hurry when we took a family trip. He would always stop when we wanted to investigate something interesting along the way. Great adventures happen when there is no set agenda.

    Love your post!


  4. Wonderful advice, esp. not fixating on the experience you expected instead of the one in front of you. def have to allow for serendipity and find humor in what goes wrong. If nothing else, it will make a great story right?


  5. This is why I need an iPad: I lack the coordination to whip out my camera while I’m taking notes, or vice versa. A friend of mine tried that, and she almost fell out of the Sebring somewhere in AZ. Which would have been inconvenient.

    Also, my drive-time is generally much longer than the MapQuest-estimated trip time, but that’s mostly because MapQuest and I have a love-hate relationship. It loves to send me places that I’ll hate because I’ll end up going the wrong way down a one-way street or trying to turn onto a driveway that used to be a road. Eek. Craziness, I tell you.


    1. That’s another advantage to our “wandering around” approach–when I get lost, I just say I MEANT to do that… ;)


  6. That’s the exact way we did a tour of the West this past summer – stopping any and every where that spoke to us. We found treasures like the Amana Colonies in Iowa and The Beartooth Loop that runs from Red Lodge, Montana to Yellowstone. I believe it was Charles Kuralt who said that our wonderful interstate system had made it possible to cross the country and see absolutely nothing! Your tips here are right on target.


  7. Margaret perfectly described both my husband and myself! I want to stop everytime I see anything that might be interesting; my husband wants to “make good time”. You can imagine our trips get a bit – testy? Hehehe. One common trip, up to see grandma – when hubby drives, it’s 9 hours. When it’s our daughter and me, it’s at least 12. We have way more fun!!


  8. Love this list– all of it so very true! I once had a boyfriend who used to rush me up beautiful hikes because for him it was all about getting there. For me it was about enjoying the journey up the mountain. I guess it’s one good reason he’s an ex!


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