Every ordinary life story is extraordinary!

Every ordinary life story is extraordinary!

Including Travel in Your Memoir

Two pictures of travel in Rome

Without making it a “travel memoir.”

To be fully transparent, I’ll mention that I selected today’s topic of including travel in your memoir as a way to relive my own recent visit to Italy—I even rapped about it. Perhaps you feel the same about trips you’ve taken—that as long as you’re writing about yourself, you might as well cover your travels. But unless you’re planning a memoir along the lines of Eat, Pray, Love, try to be careful not to satisfy your wanderlust by overwriting about your trips.

How Travel Can Be a Natural Part of Your Storytelling

Your memoir is a collection of stories, and traveling certainly can be one of those stories. Think of your experience in one of two ways:

  1. Plot driver. Does your travel story drive the plot of your life? This is easy to identify. Did you meet someone during your trip who turned out to be pivotal in your life? Or did something else happen that influenced your direction in life?
  2. Character developer. Maybe nothing unusual happened during your trip, but the experience still changed you. Leaving your comfort zone, facing your fears, having the “lightbulb moment” of realizing that the world is a big place with lots of opportunities, connecting with art, gaining confidence through navigating on your own—it could be any number of things that you carried with you long after you returned home. All of that is valid to write about.

Ways to Contrive the Importance of Your Travel

You can indulge yourself only so much. Like every other story in your memoir, your travel tales must have a point and move the narrative to the next rung. To some extent, you can contrive that point. Maybe you were out of town when something important happened back at home. So it’s not the trip that was important in your life; it’s your absence.

Instead of saying you were out of town when this or that went on, you can emphasize the significance of your absence by going into some detail about where you were and what you were doing. The contrast of what was happening at home while you were on vacation, relaxing on a beach or touring a foreign city, can be effective.

The summer before my senior year in college, I traveled with my college’s French department on a six-week summer-study program in Nice, France. In the big picture, this trip didn’t have a monumental effect on my life. But pretty much everything you do at age 21 can be considered significant enough to include in a memoir.

Many of you probably assume I have penned a memoir, but even though I have written various autobiographical accounts, I haven’t devoted an entire book to myself. I may someday. And if I do, I think I’d find a reason to include that trip to France, which extended to spending some time in northern Italy as well. It was my first time abroad, which is enough right there to include in a memoir. My college arranged for us to meet with the late author James Baldwin in his garden in the south of France, and I can’t imagine writing a memoir without mentioning that magical hour or two, even though I don’t remember anything that took place.

Here’s an idea. To contrive a reason to include your travel, you could introduce it as “the last time I remember…” and go from there to describe your travel experiences. I’m thinking of something such as:

  • The last time I remember having any discretionary income, I spent it on an African safari.
  • The last time I remember having a candid discussion with my mother, I had just arrived home from a trip to Japan, and she wanted to know all about it.
  • The last time I remember being as frightened as I was then, I was in an alley in Rio de Janeiro, walking alone, when a man slid out of the shadows and approached me.

How to Know Where the Line Is

After all of the contriving, you may find that it just doesn’t work. It may veer too far off your central theme, and you’ll be better off to keep what you’ve written as the basis for your next fictional short story. The editing you’ll do after your first draft will force you to make a lot of hard decisions. Editing is usually painful!

If the story holds up as pertinent enough, you still may have to delete some of the details. When you reread what you’ve written, pay attention to the “travelogue” voice. If your description sounds even a little bit like advice on where to go and what to see, you’ve probably crossed the line between memoir and travel memoir. And even if that lasts only one chapter, it’s likely to feel out of place.

As I always tell you, this is your memoir, and you’re the best judge about what’s important in your own life story. But we authors also want to keep the reader engaged, and that requires sometimes making sure we don’t indulge in sharing our favorite memories just in order to relive them ourselves.

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Then just set up a chapter and start writing your memoir. Don’t worry about rules. There are no rules to writing your memoir; there are only trends. These trends are based on techniques and features identified in current top-selling memoirs. At best, they’re the flavor of the month. If you’re capturing your life in print for your family, for your own gratification or to inspire readers, rather than aiming to set off Hollywood screenplay bidding wars, these trends don’t even apply to you. You’ll write the memoir that suits you best, and it will be timeless, not trend-driven.There are no rules, but there are four steps:

1. Theme/framework
2. Writing
3. Editing/polishing
4. Self-publishing

You’ve researched this, too, and you’ve been shocked at the price for getting help with any one of those steps, much less all four. That’s because most memoir sites promise to commercialize your work. They’ll follow a formula based on current memoir trends, because they want to convince you that they can turn your memoir into a best-seller. These sites overwhelm you with unnecessary information not to help you, the memoir author, but to address Search Engine Optimization (SEO) algorithms so they can sell more.

That’s not what we do at Write My Memoirs. Our small community of coaches, writers and editors are every bit as skilled as any you’ll find, and we charge appropriately for their expertise and the time they’ll spend helping you craft a compelling, enjoyable read. But you won’t pay an upcharge for other websites’ commercialization, the marketing that follows, and the pages of intimidating “advice.” You can sell your book if you like—we have ISBNs available for you—but our organic process of capturing your story takes a noncommercial path.

If you want help with any or all of the four steps above, choose from our services or save money by selecting one of our packages. If you’d like to talk about what’s right for you, schedule a call. One year from now, you can be holding your published memoir in your hand. And at that point, it will be a big deal!