HOW TO WRITE A TRAVELOGUE
By Carole Bumpus – A September to Remember
When I was asked how I went about writing a travelogue, I must admit I was stumped. This may sound odd as I write a culinary/travel series, but, because it is also a memoir, I didn’t consider it a ‘travelogue’.
So, what’s the difference? Why did I head in the direction I did with my essays? How would you or anyone else write a travelogue if you wanted to? The first thing, I suppose, would be to define ‘travelogue’. The Oxford American Dictionary definition says it’s: 1) a piece of writing about travel; 2) a talk or lecture on travel usually accompanied by a film or slides; 3) a narrated motion picture about travel.
Okay, so, as it turns out, I did write a ‘travelogue’ after all, because I wrote memoirs about my travels. I don’t list hotels to stay in, give reviews of museums or restaurants, recommend certain wines, foods, or tours . . . oh, yes, I did! Okay, so now I get it. (But don’t expect my books to be the same as, for instance, Rick Steve’s Travel Guides, although I love them.)
When I began my trips, I jotted down copious notes, along with taking a slew of photographs as part of my research. I also received permission to audio tape my interviews with families and individuals when I was first introduced. One of the purposes of my trip was to gain a better understanding of families through their traditions, favorite foods, and familial stories.
In order to handle my interviews, I often required a translator. This was imperative because I don’t speak Italian or French fluently. But often the dialogue would go like this:
Me: “So, tell me, what were your favorite foods as a child.”
Translator turning to the interviewee: . . . Actually, I don’t know what he said, I could only trust that the question asked was the same as the one I had posed. The answer sometimes went on and on as the two chatted amiably about my question.
Translator would then turn back to me, after five minutes or so, and say, “Pasta!” Well, I knew there was more discussion behind that response ‘pasta’, but it would be months—following the transcription of the audio tapes—before the actual answer was revealed. In some ways, I found this daunting, as the full reply would have led me to different follow-up questions. But, like I said, I was hamstrung by the fact that I knew only a minimal amount of ‘restaurant’ French or Italian. And I was grateful for any help I could muster.
Despite my interview techniques, I persevered and was able to log around forty-five interviews in Italy and seventy-five in France. It was with these interviews I was able to structure all five of my books (of which the last three are considered the culinary travel series).
So, you see, when I first began to write about my trips, I didn’t have a specific goal in mind. (That might have saved me time.) But if you know your goals before you head out, it will help you to make better plans. Here are some suggestions I eventually learned:
Ask yourself, why do you want to travel? Why would you consider writing a travelogue? What are your interests? What do you want the reader to experience? What was important to you to experience? Once you answer these questions, you can begin to make specific plans about when, how and on what you want to ‘report’.
When and where do you want to journey? What time of year? If you are headed to Europe, you might want to visit during a seasonal time of year. Early May through early October is optimum. If you choose to go during the summer months, expect families clambering to go at the same time. Expect to be jowl-to-knee knob with all the ‘madding crowd’ or choose to leave earlier in the year or when schools are back in session.
If you decide to go off-season, the prices may be much lower, but that’s because many businesses and places of interest are closed. Often in smaller villages, restaurants, stores, and museums are not open. So, read ahead and know the territory.
Also, check out the local schedules of the places you are planning to visit. Are the museums closed on Mondays or holidays? There are many saints days in Europe and daily and community schedules are set around them. Adjust your plans accordingly. Larger cities, like Rome or Paris, are open year-around, but weather may inhibit your ability to get around town. Plan on taking easy transportation to and from or walk, if you can, to your destination. (You obviously have better knees than I.)
Local daily schedules also determine when stores, restaurants, gas stations—all commercial venues—are open during the week. Do not expect to find everything open 24-7. This is not the operating procedure abroad. Do not expect to eat dinner in a restaurant before 8 p.m., as it is not done. Do not expect to eat in a hurry in order to dash out to another event. Your reservation for that table at that restaurant is yours for the evening, or until midnight. People love leisurely dining, whether in a restaurant or at home, so do not expect the meal to be hurried. If you learn one thing while traveling, it is that the evening meal is exceptionally important. It is a time of connecting with each other and is not to be rushed.
Again, the question is ‘how do you write a travelogue?’ and my answer to you is that this can be as creative and individual as you are. Embrace new cultures and share it in the way you choose. However, it is your unique story to tell so have fun with it.