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Writing About Your Travel Experiences
Today's blog post is courtesy of Ben Smith.
"The tearoom lady called me love. All the shop ladies called me love and most of the men called me mate. I hadn't been here twelve hours and already they loved me.”
--Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island
One way to make your volunteer experiences last longer for your own remembrance, and simultaneously relieve yourself of the burden of telling the same stories a thousand times, is to write them out. Whether in a blog (like this one!), in a newspaper (as a one-time article or letter to the editor), or in a personal travelogue, writing helps you process your experiences and clarify what you have not had the time to think about while you’ve been too busy volunteering or seeing the local sights.
Simultaneously, when you write, you also allow others to share your experiences and observations, while they can sharpen and question them at the same time. What was your experience coping with the locals as “a stranger in a strange land”? How did you feel about the way your partner organization was run and what surprised you about it? And what was the name of that pork dish, which was definitely the spiciest food you’ve ever tasted? Inquiring minds want to know and help you grow as a volunteer, perhaps even getting involved themselves.
A common misconception is that one must be skilled with language and writing in particular to make their accounts anything that others want to read. It is worth remembering, though, that what you will have at the end of your experiences is just that, your experiences. Nobody can replicate what you have done or see it through the same eyes with the same takeaways as you have gotten, with the corresponding growth and education you have experienced. So, for that matter, you don’t even have to write with an audience in mind. (Just remember that they are there if you took a risk or two in your travels.)
Bill Bryson, for example, is an author who has toured continental Europe, Australia, England, and other parts of the world merely out of curiosity and it is almost as good as being there to read his accounts of the people and the different cultural norms that he runs into. (In the excerpt above, he is remarking about the exquisite, almost painful politeness of English people toward both friends and strangers.) His chronicles challenge and almost always change one’s prior mental associations with the country and its people. Having a man on the ground report back about what the local news finds important to report, how the food really is, and whether you can get a decent drink in a hotel bears paying attention to.
If this sounds appealing but you are having some trouble getting started, try starting at the extremes and working in. What were the high points and the low points of your trip? When were you the most excited, or the most frustrated? What inspired you and what was hard for you to accept or go through? Really jog your memory, and it will not only help you gain perspective on what you went through, but will also make for more interesting reading material.