Have Pen, Will Travel

Being A Writer
Some of the best stories often come from experiences had while traveling -- whether you're visiting a familiar destination or taking the road less traveled. The adventure and process of getting from one place to another seems to encourage the storyteller in all of us. I travel by train quite frequently and I'm pretty sure I could fill a whole book with observations of the random assortment of people who wind up sitting next to me. The wide variety of people and places encountered on the road can definitely be inspiring.

Do you keep a travel journal or do you make a point to capture your travels in your writing? Share your latest travel inspired short stories, poetry and anecdotes here.
44 Responses to "Have Pen, Will Travel"

by panta rhei on

Travel WritingA lot of my writing is inspired by my travels - be it by landscapes, experiences, moods, feelings or people I met.I hardly ever write during the travels themselves, though (trainrides sometimes are an exception, as I often start scribbling things down before i fall into that special trance created by the monotonous rhythm of the ride) - it is only later that memories and feelings that still linger are transformed into words.I have a few prose travel pieces in German (I find that prose in English requires a ridiculously long time for me, as I always get hung up on tenses) and many poems that are influenced by all kinds of journeys.As far as I remember, there are only two (English) poems that I have written directly on a travel, and they both are not very 'good' (not polished, no ramifications cut out).Now let me see if I can find them....

by panta rhei on

airportthis one was written on the airport in athens / greece, february 1990:------------airport everything around hertakes her mind offfrom what she actually wants to thinkand flying back home is nothing but a time lagand a leap from star to star everybody is in a hurryeverybody is waitingnobody can see the pointin just this journey homewardand she wants to change her bookingto a far away destinationto have at least reasonto feel strangebut thenhow to explain her cat and she is dizzy anddazed by the finality of leavingand the buzzing noise around herthe announcements of departures and delays and last calls droning in her ears like strange voices from a world beyond hey - she says to herselfmy destinaton is homeand I am not afraid of flying so what and sheremembers that evening in the barwhen they both drank fourteen tequilacursingcomplaining about the factthat it is always the othersthat stand in bars where gunfights are taking placethat sit in planes that crashor ships that sink that they themselves never had such chancesno interventions from abovejust their homespun fates and had to snatch those small pieces of lifefrom hope's sharp snappy teethover and over againshe remembers this last sleepless night in the hotelroom when they shared in a mad embrace their bodies and souls she remembers the abstruse contortionsthe revelation of desperate secretsand the pale grey sky over the rooftops at daybreak the tattered pigeon on the dirty windowsilland sand in her eyesand his arm heavy on her shoulderlike forever such things lastremain in the airlike connecting threadstieing together two mad soulsletting one feelwhen life is tugging on the other. the milling crowds around herkeep swaying to and froan ocean of faces and voiceseverybody is uprootedwants to go homewants to escapewants to stay and she then feels the draggingthreads vibratingsurging sensations far beyond her controlintense and painful like labourand she is nothing but a shooting stargoing back up the darkness and somehow relievedshe gives in but stillfor all thatthis is a different night and sheamong the crowds in the harshness of neonlightin an overheated departure loungeinhales deeply the smoke of a crushed cigarettememorizing saltand considers loveto be possible one more time she is immortal like sandand nobody can tell herto fuck off

by panta rhei on

the sacred travellersThis is the second piece I've written while 'on the road' (1989 in Luxor / Egypt).The poem itself is rather weak, I think, but it's genuine momentous writing, and as such, serves as part of my travel diary (which I don't have apart from a few letters and from what lives within).I remember that, later, I took parts of this poem and used them for other things I wrote.---------- the sacred travellers they dream of the same windboat listening to the same bird's song walking barfoot in the sandthey won't tell of thelate summer night insectsthey follow nor of the painrippling across themlike a caress they wander hand in handon the lighter side of timeclimbing rainbows and sprinkling grass songs into the air they live on manna and sweet milk shared and the gold of their voices the wild wind is theirs and the crystalline wells and the snakes in the sand at night they burn moving inside each other in gentle touch and the world's made dark in the music of their unionmoonlight filteredthrough their eyesinto each other's soulis their silver jewelry and the strings sing of tomorrow and of hilly roads of yearning and a blurred horizon passion all time adrift they're sleepwalkers in the sunwide-awake and dreaming their minds freetheir hearts safe their journeyeternal they never walk aloneinvulnerable in their utopia they find paradise barredand cherub behindand they travel around the world to seeif there's an access from the backthey can find one reaches through the windscreenof reason which dissolves and removes obstacles from their path the other one touches gentlythe petals of a rosejust before it opens they put their tearsas opalescent shimmersaround each other's neck and sunk in bluenessthey find the drumsbeating with their pulseand their realmin their moonheaded eyes soft are their mornings and lucid their noons and they won't listen to the bells of time as they lie side by side in hot sand peace sifting through their hands

by mindbum on

the feather in my hatHere's a travel poem. In my wanderings hereabouts and there too I tend to scribble constantly in notebook etc. There's something satisfying about train travel. In the smoking car days (not so long ago) it was easy and a pleasure to meet folks in the camraderie of smoking and drinking. What luxury...As far as travel writing goes, it's been important to me since I first found Dr. Johnson's Journey to the Hebrides... (not to mention my heroes Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux) the feather in my hatkurt and i took a walkout back of his housein the woodsfor what he'd calla mycology expedition.a mushroom huntdraped over a pleasant stroll.we found at least five varietiesof fungus in the late fall: shelf mushrooms and puffballsboth edible when fresh.a mildly poisonous beautiful red and whitewith musical latin i can't recall.something once rumored to be hallucinogenicthat mostly tastes so bad you can't get it down.i cut the top off kurt's water bottle.he used it to save specimensto identify in his thick book.i found a featherfrom the carpet of dead leaves.the striped wingplume of a turkey.feathers that get em off the ground.-wanna feather?-yeah, that's a nice one-here you go-thanks, can you carry it?rather than throw the feather awayi stuck it in my hat.kurt never took it.it's been back and forthfrom new york to missouriseveral times. out of shape.the tip is gone. the fletchingsseparated in no particular pattern.still an emblem of flight.the luxury of train travelis that there's enough roomyour hat doesn't get crushed.

by brooklyn on

Hey Mindbum, I can vouch for that feather in your hat -- I've seen it on you. I always thought you were going for a pimp look, but now I know better. Nice poem.

by brooklyn on

I've never been much of a world traveller (I made it to Mexico once). I've always been content to travel within my imagination, as corny as that sounds. But I know travel, and travel writing, is a major obsession for some people. Somehow I missed catching that obsession myself, but a lot of my favorite writers (Conrad, Melville, Kerouac) had it. In an alternative universe, I bet I'd be running all over this planet, and coming up with some great stories to tell.

by Andeh on

Not to be Metaphysical, but..I've spent a lot more time in my past traveling than recently. I have captured a few of my stories of living in Europe on paper, some were written on LitKicks, many more just stay in my head as memories, for which they will remain. And I have so many memories of traveling throughout the United States and meeting weird people on trains. And of meeting people in foreign cointries and trying to translate each other's expressions. And eating weird food and trying to figure out how foreign appliances and electrical outlets work.But as of recent, I don't get too many of those experiences in the U.S. I do travel around the South and notice each state or town has its own accent and culture, and this is interesting to me. I don't really know how to write about these experiences these days. I can experience in life, but it is much harder to put on paper.Most of my traveling actually happens in dreams these days, I keep having "excellent" adventures in dreams and traveling to nameless foreign islands surrounded by water and filled with decadent architecture. Or I am back in high school, being let ou of a bus and yet know I'm not supposed to be here, because I think I am at my adult age. Or I return in dreams, to those strange Southern towns with their simple yet interesting and intelligent people. In short I keep a dream journal instead of a travel journal-but whether you are travelling through space and stars or on earth with land under your feet, it's all travel nonetheless.

by jamelah on

Not to answer your question,or anything, but...I never really could write while traveling. I'd always pull out my journal while I was on a train and I'd even have really good intentions, but I tend to get lost in the minutae of the journey itself -- the stop-motion of the landscape outside of the window, the other passengers on the train, my own excitement for or dread of where I'm going. Instead I always saved everything like a series of Polaroids to be flipped through and written about later in the middle of the laughter and bustle of some cheap hostel or in the particular quiet to be found at the foot of a mountain, or when I sat, like a cliche, with my journal and my coffee at one of many coffee shops and cafes.The opposite is true on airplanes. On planes, I write for pages and pages, because I find sitting on an airplane to be more boredom than I can stand. But I've always loved travel. I think nomadism must be in my blood, coming to me from a father who can't stay in one place for very long and a mother who taught me, from the time I was young, that there's a very specific joy in getting in a car and going just to go, and I often get that restless ache of wanderlust and have to go away drive away get on a plane, something, anything to see just one thing I've never seen before, because that seems to be the only cure.I truly believe that if I had an unlimited amount of money, I'd travel until I died or ran out of world to see (though I imagine that the former would come before the latter). I dream of deserts and cities teeming with life and forests filled with secrets and the quiet wisdom of trees and I dream of mountains and rivers and the way the road answers and I have written for long enough so I'm just going to stop.

by shamatha on

She thought DH Lawrence was GodIn Mexico, on la playa Soledad, I met an old woman who mistook DH Lawrence for God. His Son, Jesus, to be more accurate.I was reading The Plumed Serpent as she put down my plate of fish and rice, and as I absently nodded 'Gracias,' and put the book down, she stopped and pointed; "Es Cristo?"I stumbled back to awareness, wondering if I had heard her correctly; "Que?""El libro. Es Cristo?"I looked down at the book and saw that the pencil sketch of Lawrence on the cover did, in fact, resemble the Son of God. "No," I told her, "he is a writer. El escritador." Though I'm not sure Lawrence would have argued with her assessment. I don't think she understood me, exactly, but she waddled off and left me to eat my meal in peace.I was the only one in the restaurant. The only tourist on all of soledad and maybe even this stretch of the Michoacan coast, actually. I had heard of this part of Mexico from a contemplative Dutchman in Tulum who had been this way a month prior. He had told me you could sleep on the beach, in any of the restaurants for free. They would even lend you a hammock if you were lacking. I had my own hammock, and not completely believing the Dutchman, I had offered to pay the woman when she said that, yes, I could hang my hammock, and her response made me feel embarrassed for even having asked.I picked up the book to continue reading as I ate. I was fortunate to have a candle left in my bag, as the only light on the beach had been from the primitive, brick-ovened kitchen where my meal was prepared, and the woman had extinguished that light when she left. The candle flame guttered in the sea breeze that was the only sound besides the waves rolling up 75 yards away. I was finished with my meal, and about to retire to my hammock when the old woman reappeared from the darkness and sat down. She was holding a magazine, which she put in front of me. The picture on the cover was of men in black masks holding guns and running away from an explosion. The woman started telling me about the Kingdom of Heaven. So she hadn't, apparently, understood me when I told her DH Lawrence was just a writer. The magazine seemed to be some Mexican version of Watchtower, and I smiled and nodded politely as the woman explained in words I half-understood about El Senor and the coming Apocalypse.If I closed my eyes, I could have been back on an El platform in Chicago, but for the salted air, and the white noise of the waves, and the stars blinking through breaks in the palapa leaf roof of the restaurant where I sat digging my toes into the cool sand and listened as my soul was saved.

by mindbum on

i'm not much of a pimp. more of a turkey. thanks.

by Billectric on

This is a wonderful recollection, rich in humanity and Old World atmosphere. This is the "right stuff" as they say.

by Billectric on

File...Save As...RoadgoingMost of my life I have kept a journal in my mind, filing things away, hoping to one day write about them. From long trips in the family station wagon, parents in the front seat, my brother and I in the back, to experiencing Europe in my "just-barely in the Navy" days, to my more recent trips to New York and Washington D.C. I have rarely written about my travels while they were happening but I remember so much, not only the events but what was in my mind during the events, and especially the people. Oh, the real-life characters I've known. The people make it meaningful. I feel like I've scratched the surface but I hope to write more.

by Billectric on

brooklyn, you've reminded me of Thoreau's advice in Walden, "Be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought." I treasure my travel memories but I don't miss travelling.panta rhei, I'm the same way as you - I almost never write while I'm travelling but sometimes I write about it afterwards. I might jot down a note now and then, like, when I was leaving New York the morning after a meeting some of the LitKicks gang, I thought it was important to write down the name of the radio station I was listening to in my car, so I could include it in a future piece. Another time, when I was in Spain, I wrote on the white rubber toe of my Converse shoe, "Bright glow white walls blue ocean."

by Billectric on

A fine, mystical mood uplifts my spirit from reading this poem. Very good.

by brooklyn on

Some of us sport pink shirts, some sport feathers in their caps. And I think we're all part pimp, part turkey.I think we're way off the travel subject here, though.

by firecracker on

Some more turkey than others ...

by Billectric on

Let's all drive down to Mexico.

by Billectric on

Come on, let's all drive down to Mexico!

by shamatha on

There is definitely a certain pleasure to long distance train travel. To me, a big part of it is the ability to not have to be anywhere at anytime in particular. The luxury of getting there slowly. Travel by bus would be faster, travel by plane fastest, and travel by car would offer the most independence, but none of them to me beat riding the rails.

by brooklyn on

Whose car are we using?

by jamelah on

My grandma's.

by anniefay on

So then, you're taking Grannie with you? I can't stop the video that keeps playing in my head. Now there's a trip that would deserve being chronicled for all the forevers.

by jamelah on

I don't want to torture myself, I just want to steal her car.

by Billectric on

How big is Grandma's car? We may have to trade it in for a Winnebago if enough people go.

by Billectric on

I like that idea. A dream journal or a travel journal: Much the same! I have some incredible dreams, too, sometimes. I like it.

by jamelah on

Well, not very big. But you know, some of my favorite memories from high school revolve around cramming a bunch of people into tiny, tiny cars and driving off to wherever we were going at the time. It was always fun. Highly uncomfortable, but fun.But anyway. Maybe we need a tour bus.

by anniefay on

Going Greyhound!I've taken a lot of trips in my life but my first real trip began about 2 weeks after I graduated from high school. I was all of 17 years old and ready for a real adventure. My brother, Royce, was married and stationed at a base in Wichita, KS. He suggested to my parents that they ship me down to stay with them. So at 6pm one evening my parents dropped me off and I boarded the Greyhound bus for my first real trip. I've traveled other ways, but there's just nothing like takeing the bus. Not that I ever plan to take another one. Some kind of bonding experience takes place after you and the same travelers have been making quick pit stops and curling up to sleep in a seat, but carefully stretching out to make sure when new passengers are boarding they don't sit in the vacant seat next to you. While this was not the trip where I woke up in a crowded bus with some skanky guy's hand half way up my thigh and I nearly choked on the bile rising in my throat while I reached up to turn the light on and stumble into the bathroom. That happened when I was an experienced traveler and was already 25 years old, nor was it the trip I took and the sailor hooked up with the traveling mother of 2 toddlers, who she pushed into the seat behind her, while she and the sailor (across the isle from me) were evidently doing scientific research as to how many different positions they could have sex in while traveling in a bus. She finally debussed sometime during the middle of the night to be met by a a tall guy who was apparently her husband or significant other. He reached out to hug her while tossing one sleepy kid over his shoulder to carry while she gathered her belongings together and managed the other one.This was the time I learned that traveling Greyhound can really be fun. The trip was pretty mundane into Chicago which was a whole other world to me, and the ride to St Louis was pretty uneventful. But when we left St Louis in the middle of the night, we were now just a small group on our way to someplace else, and the next someplace was Kansas City. I had always wanted to go to Kansas City because of that song which played non stop on the radio at the time... "going to Kansas City... Kansas City here I come!" and I was on my way there! I couldn't believe it. I can't explain why this song made this destination seem like some really exciting place to go. Now traveling in those days (this was 1959) was a bit different than now, for one thing you could smoke on the bus. I had seriously began smoking just to be cool for this trip. I lit up and curled up with my book. The bus DID have AC on it... and soon all passengers were yelling at the driver to turn the dang thing off. We were freezing to death. It was June, I didn't have a coat, sweater nor blanket. During the chill of the night, we easily bonded while taunting the driver. By the time we reached Kansas City we were a tight knit group. The next driver didn't have this driver's sense of humor. Besides daylight was breaking and the bus filled up with passengers. I still remember the young girl traveling with her son. She was a widow. Her husband had died with leukemia. She was going to visit her in-laws and introduce her son to his grand parents. She seemed young to have experienced all she had been through. I don't remember her name. I remember her story. I remember that no one minded the little boy playing in the isle and running back and forth. Our group joined each other for coffee and looked out for each other's stuff. We joked, shared cigarettes and stories. I felt as though I was losing an important connection I couldn't quite understand each time one of us reached a destination and left our companionship. Soon, I was the one claiming my luggage at the side of the bus, waving goodbye to these friends I would never see again, whose names I would never remember, but who made my first travel experience a joy and fun to remember. It was late at night when I arrived. My brother met me at the bus and we headed for his home. 6 weeks later, unable to find a job, I was headed back home, where I did get a job and worked for one year before heading off to college and the other bus trips of my life. None of them are as memorable as the first one. Maybe it's just true of all our "firsts" or maybe this was just a magical trip with a special group of people across the heartland of America, through the night, freezing in a Greyhound Bus.

by anniefay on

yeah, the bus is probably the way to go! So who's going to be the driver. I sitll think you should take Grannie. Think of all the reasons she could prclaim to the world.."I'm taking a trip to Mexico for the first time and I'm 90 years old!"

by danielday on

The WeightIt was about 20 years ago: I hiked to the top of Mt. Bonell in Colorado with some friends. It's a gradual slope so no rope work was needed, but we had to start before sunrise to be able to get up and off the rock before sundown. We made it above timberline about 9am and to the top about 1:30pm. On the summit I hugged the rock, hunched against 20-30 mph winds. I'm a little afraid of heights but I go to high places anyway; the clouds were so low (or us so high) that only a few hundred feet separated us, while dozens of miles away other clouds had formed below us. The wind pushed me down on that peak in a way it never did anywhere else, where it was lateral to me. I was bent by this weight. It made me sag in a mild, cold fear. But we spent about 10-15 minutes at the top, regardless of discomfort. As with the line in "Lawrence Of Arabia", the trick was "in not minding that it hurts".

by shamatha on

Ah, greyhound, also known nowadays as "the ex-con transit system." I've ridden greyhound a few times,(and bus-ridden much more extensively south of the border) tho I prefer riding soon-to-be gone Amtrak when I can afford the time to not fly, something about the soothing click clack of the rails, I guess. And you do form some kind of bond with people, maybe because, unlike flying, where the point is to get from a to b with as little hassle as possible, the journey's the thing.anniefay, I wish I had your storyteller's sense of pace and telling details. I guess it's the southerner in you. Southerners and Irish, you tell stories as easily as breathing.Oh, and if you want to hear about some other greyhound stories, The radio program This American Life did a show on road trips, and the first story was about a guy who's an itinerant dishwasher who just loves riding the bus all over the country. It's free for listening here.Just search for 'greyhound.'

by Andeh on

I agree!

by WIREMAN on

My last trip on the hound was doozy for sure, just a short hop from Dayton to Columbus, Ohio to hook up with a friend. It all started with the scent of mary jane in the air, then when finding a seat next to this bedraggled young lady headed home from Seattle, her bus trip horror stories ringing in my ear all the way and from the back of the bus 2 merry makers were heaping huge abuse on a lady to my left, "fuck you fat bitch!" and her shouting back worse, it was one wild ride through the frozen night.

by anniefay on

Thanks for your comments. I don't think I would ride a bus these days if I were paid good money to do so, but way back then, you weren't purchasing a stigma along with your ticket.I haven't done the Amtrak. I think I might enjoy it. My mother who is terrifed of flying has travelled cross country this way. I think they should just bring back the luxury trains. Seems like there would be a market for it. Of course in this fast paced world taking longer to arrive is not usually what travelers want.

by firecracker on

Great stuff, shamatha -- I enjoyed reading this. Sometimes I think DH Lawrence is God too.

by firecracker on

Levi, I think you have so many frequent flier miles from traveling in your imagination that you have no need to go anywhere else.

by firecracker on

Great observations here, Anemone -- and you can't beat that ending!

by firecracker on

That sounds like a great experience -- probably not something I'd normally do, but reading your description, I may have to try it someday.Thanks!

by Billectric on

The boy do wander a bit. Be seeing that whale in his mind's eye, I bet.

by Arcadia on

Brazil-Argentina (South)fascination without conmotion acaraj

by Ambon Pereira on

whatever you believeall things travelthe world wanderslight and darkness staggerspace expands and collapsestimeis also swaying,and if i could tell you what it is i would but--listen--it's coming closer--pulling us apart,"--the wind bloweth whereit listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof,but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither itgoeth: so is every one thatis born of the Spirit."(aye, the Spirit's thatwhich flows, libationsupon the graves of kings, feeding the River Hades,flooding the Nile, all things travel,being from being,sacred collision, equilibrium of the seain the measure of a storm.)

by james reich on

vic versus the minotaur...(extract)vic versus the minotaur at pamplona (extract)The aficionados called it El Diablo Negro. It embodied centuries of catholic fear bound in one awful form, something grotesque and intractably human seemed to push from within its dark hide, and roared in sheets of flame from its tar-black eyes. It was rumoured that on certain nights, certain moons and certain feast days, its eyes would turn blue and tender, much as those a man might have, a strange accursed blue filled with sorrow and self-pity. Perhaps, the aficionados said, that blue was seen by every matador it had killed, in the final moment before it cocked its wicked horns into his thigh, ripping out the femoral artery, a fatal knowledge shared in the face of ferocious night. It was rare for any bull to leave the ring, yet this one had killed more than a dozen youths, and veterans. It mangled the picadors beneath their streaming bloody horses. It disembowelled the bravest of Spain in their suits of light, and tossed them as shredded rags and abattoir trash over its bible-black shoulders. Some called for it to be withdrawn from the circuit, and others for it to be shot. "No bull should ever be so lethal." Many refused to fight it. Always, it left the ring wreathed in blood and surrounded by an awful silence, broken only by wails of mourning. It was a compelling horror, like an ancient nightmare that had broken into the universe of flesh and bone, and was doing its work. Its violence had inverted the sacraments of the bullring. Vic sat in the bar with a group of Spaniards, listening to them intently... "El Diablo Negro is an average bull. It is the toreros who are inept. They ask for death." "It has intelligence, I swear it." "Nonsense. Manuel is right. The boys it kills are used to shaved horns and sluggish animals. I'll grant that this bull is powerful and lucky, but it is not as intelligent as my dog." "Then you fight it! Feel its consideration of you! I watched this last week. It was as though the psychologies were reversed. It learned the man. No, it knew the man, before ever his cape was cast." "It is a brave bull." "It does not fear death. It lets the matador wound it, to draw him inside its arcs." Vic cocked his beer bottle in the afternoon sunlight, and spoke to them with the few Spanish phrases he had practiced. "I will kill it." The silence from a western movie blew through all of their bodies. "I will fight El Diablo Negro."Regarding the bullring from within the leather hood of its brutal skull, the creature experienced the pendulous heat in the manner of a man locked inside a machine, a flesh machine of meat and viscous gore. Its horns felt like frozen glycerine injected with oversensitive nerves, on wires spun from copper and tissue, dragging into its brain like invisibly fine hairs, slicing miniscule, excruciating cuts with every motion. Smothering waves of heat made phalanx after phalanx across the dust. When the gate had opened, it had moved slowly into the shadows close to the wall, eyeing the glittering youth who stood poised as a mannequin in the vortex of the ring...not a Spaniard, a wide pelvis that would be slow to rotate, but powerful through the calves and quadriceps. Who is this? In the years since being released from the labyrinth, the creature that had come to be known as El Diablo Negro had come to understand that the patterns it had been locked into were now inescapable, if indeed escape had ever been possible. It existed now in a new labyrinth, without walls, only an inexorable gravity that would draw its death like a toy in a whirlpool. The creature existed within the most inexplicable tenebrous point of the funnel, crippled by rage, watching the sparkling dolls, the toreros with their razor capes, week after week, one after another, sucked in by its concentric lure. None was good enough to end the torments of El Diablo Negro: not Theseus, not Manolette, not even itself...and not this new lamb in its ill-fitting costume as a man. Yet, there was something else, a message not yet understood, trying to surface from within the creature's blood...

by denis on

".....caipirinha in plastic jars....." .that sounds very good!.it seems that you enjoy your travel a lot!. I'd answer certainly "almost always" too!.thanks for give us your beautiful, funny and amusing descriptions!.

by judih. on

So minotaurs do come true.Interesting! Thanks, James, for posting this.

by Arcadia on

good that you enjoy reading, thanks.