Review: Marco Polo Didn’t Go There

“It is the expectation itself that robs a bit of authenticity from the destinations we seek out.”

– Rolf Potts

One of the best ways you can travel meaningfully is by reading travel fiction/non-fiction on the country/countries you intend to visit.

I got interested in Rolf Potts when I heard he was the “Jack Kerouac for the internet age” and had written an essential travel book called Vagabonding. Truth be told, I didn’t find Vagabonding very helpful but I picked up his collection of 20 short stories to see whether it would change my mind. The book spans his real-life adventures in several countries and arguably his most famous piece, Storming the Beach, is about planning how to storm the movie of the same name on location in Phi Phi Leh, Thailand.

Some of the stories show how the best stories come from being open to the road like Road Roulette or from misadventures like Turkish Knockout, Be Your Own Donkey, and Up Cambodia without a phrasebook. I especially liked the shattering of preconceptions in Tantric Sex for Dilettantes.  It was also nice to see a travel story on Grenada: Seven (or So) Sins on the Isle of Spice although it wasn’t as juicy as the others.

What I liked most about his stories were the endnotes. Here, Potts explained why he had to write his story in a certain way or leave out certain details for his narrative arc. I think this shines a light on how writers have to create a story from the tangled strands of a real lived experience.  The endnotes also sometimes explained his motivations for writing the story. It felt very behind the scenes and I totally loved it.

Verdict: great read!

Have you ever read Marco Polo Didn’t Go There? What did you think about it?

7 books set in India

Even before I traveled to India a couple years ago, I loved reading fiction written by Indian authors. I admired their writing style, often so magical or lyrical that it totally transported me to a country I initially never really cared to visit. If you’re thinking of taking a meaningful trip to the subcontinent or just trying to expand your reading list, here are 7 books about India I really enjoyed reading. Only one (An Area of Darkness) is written by a non-Indian author but I think his insights about the country, its people, and its culture are still worthwhile.

1. An Area of Darkness by VS Naipaul

This is a travelogue written by Trinidadian author, Naipaul, on his first visit to India in the 1960s. It captures his contradictory feelings about the homeland of his ancestors. In fact, it’s part of a trilogy of books Naipaul wrote about the subcontinent.

“It is well that Indians are unable to look at their country directly, for the distress they would see would drive them mad. And it is well that they have no sense of history, for how then would they be able to continue to squat amid their ruins, and which Indian would be able to read the history of his country for the last thousand years without anger and pain? It is better to retreat into fantasy and fatalism, to trust to the stars in which the fortunes of all are written.” 

2. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

This Booker Prize winner was written in 1980 and details the transition of India from British colonialism to independence and partition. It’s told with a heavy dose of magic realism, similar to the craft of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

“Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each “I”, everyone of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you’ll have to swallow a world.”

3. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Published in 2006, this is the second novel of Kiran Desai (also the daughter of another famous Indian author on this list). It explores the immigrant’s experience from India to the US as well as the realities of those left behind.

“This way of leaving your family for work had condemned them over several generations to have their hearts always in other places, their minds thinking about people elsewhere; they could never be in a single existence at one time. How wonderful it was going to be to have things otherwise.”

4. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This was the author’s first and highly acclaimed novel that reveals the dark secrets of a Christian family in Kerala. It’s highly descriptive and sometimes controversial.

“Looking back now, to Rahel it seemed as though this difficulty that their family had with classification ran much deeper than the jam-jelly question.

Perhaps Ammu, Estha and she were the worst transgressors. But it wasn’t just them. It was the others too. They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much. The laws that make grandmothers grandmothers, uncles uncles, mothers mothers, cousins cousins, jam jam, and jelly jelly.” 

5. Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa

This is a fantastic introduction to the heart-rending consequences of the partition of India in 1947, as seen through the eyes of a Parsee girl.

“There is much disturbing talk. India is going to be broken. Can one break a country? And what happens if they break it where our house is?
I ask Cousin.
‘Rubbish,’ he says, ‘no one’s going to break India. It’s not made of glass!”

6. Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai

This novel is set in Old Delhi and demonstrates the tension between members who left and who stayed behind in the family home.

“It seemed to her that the dullness and the boredom of her childhood, her youth, were stored here in the room under the worn dusty red rugs, in the bloated brassware, amongst the dried grasses in the swollen vases, behind the yellowed photographs in the oval frames-everything, everything that she had so hated as a child and that was still preserved here as if this were the storeroom of some dull, uninviting provincial museum.” 

7. Malgudi Days by RK Narayan

This is a collection of sharp and often hilarious short stories set in the fictional South Indian town of Malgudi written by one of India’s most influential 20th-century authors. VS Naipaul has also shared his early admiration for Narayan.

“Half of the enchantment of the place was due to the fact that it did not have the benefit of municipal lighting.”

How many have you read? What did I miss? Share in the comments below!

Review: Learning to Bow

Oshieru wa manabu no nakaba nari.

Half of teaching is learning.

If you’re thinking of travel meaningfully by teaching in Japan, you may want to try this memoir.

On the other hand, I was happy to read this book in retrospect, after completing a year teaching with the JET Program (a Japanese government initiative that pairs native English speakers with public schools), so I could compare and contrast our shared experiences.

In Learning to Bow (1991), the author becomes a JET and spends one year (1989-1990) teaching at a junior high school in Tochigi Prefecture. During his time, he tries to understand Japanese society primarily through its education system and his interactions with his Japanese colleagues and their friends and families.

At the start, Feiler sometimes writes in a rather hyperbolic and high-handed manner:

“I came to Japan at the invitation of the Japanese Ministry of Education, to teach English language and American culture in Japanese schools as part of a program to bring native English speakers into the heart of Japan.”

Many of his initial interactions with Japanese people emphasize his difference to them: his white skin, his brown hair, his physical height, and his perceived inability to use chopsticks and speak Japanese.

Feiler often gets exasperated when he hears statements like this:

“Only a Japanese person can understand the heart of another. You can’t figure us out because you are a foreigner.”

Similarly, although I am not Caucasian like Feiler, many students would often remark and gesture about my “small face.” Also, because I come from a tiny, largely unknown country of Trinidad and Tobago, they couldn’t figure out my nationality and often thought I was Indian, Filipino, or Brazilian.

I also experienced repetitious questions about whether I liked Japanese food, whether I could use chopsticks and speak Japanese, and why I chose to come to Japan over any other country in the world, particularly “America.”

Despite his sometimes arrogant writing style, Feiler makes some astute observations about the Japanese education system which I can corroborate. Like him, I also saw how the system prepared students for life only in Japan by emphasizing community spirit and Japanese pride and patriotism over internationalization.

 “While Japanese schools prepare their students to be citizens of Japan, they fail to teach them to be citizens of the world.”

I can also confirm his observation that the hidden curriculum promotes Japanese values like the general intolerance of diversity (especially of burakumin and returning Japanese expats), gaman (endurance), the sempai code (respect for your superiors), and amae (dependence on others). These concepts largely underscore the sacrifice of individualism in favor of conformity and groupthink. In fact, Feiler’s comparison of the Japanese education system to the art of controlling nature through bonsai is spot on:

If you would form a tree, do so while it is young.

Like Feiler, I also identified with the challenges of team teaching and using a Western approach to pedagogy in the Japanese classroom. On another note, I don’t think his kissing a female student’s hand to illustrate different ways to say hello would fly in the 21st century school in Japan!

One sore point I have with Feiler’s memoir is that it sometimes reads like a boring textbook, littered with overly-generalized statistics and Japanese history/culture tidbits. Also, in many cases, the quotes at the start of each chapter appear to bear little resemblance to the content and seem to exist only to demonstrate that the author is “well read.”

All in all, this memoir, which is written from the perspective of an American Caucasian male, is an okay introduction to the experience of teaching in Japan but if you’re thinking of making this your next step, please read widely to get a more balanced picture. Thank God for blogs, eh? 🙂

Did you ever read Learning to Bow? What did you think?

5 books that inspired me to travel

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of travel fiction/non-fiction but there are some books that remain dear to me. Some I read during my formative years before I was old enough or could afford to travel abroad. I read two of them while I was at university and they inspired me to push the boundaries of my travel experience further.

If you look closely at the header photo, you’ll only notice four of the books I mention below. That’s because I failed to keep the original copy of the fifth and never got around to buying another to replace it. In spite of this, the story is still in my heart. Here are the 5 books that inspired me to travel abroad and changed the course of my life.

1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Say what you want but fantasy fiction is the ultimate escapist’s tool. After reading about the adventures of Lucy, Susan, Peter, and Edmund, I yearned to find my own magical wardrobe that would transport me from my hot little island to cold climates with lots of snow, fauns, and talking animals. I also secretly wanted to try Turkish Delight, Edmund’s Achilles heel.

“Next moment she found that what was rubbing against her face and hands was no longer soft fur but something hard and rough and even prickly. “Why, it is just like branches of trees!” exclaimed Lucy. And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air.”

2. Men and Gods by Rex Warner

While growing up, I enjoyed reading about ancient Greek mythology. In Men and Gods, I especially loved the stories about Perseus, Ceres and Proserpine, and Daedalus and Icarus. These tales transported me to a realm where anything could happen. I especially admired the powerful female goddesses like Diana and loved that not all the stories had happy endings, just like in real life.

“My advice to you, Icarus,’ he said, ‘is to fly at a moderate height. If you go too low, the sea-water will weigh the feathers down; if you go too high, the heat of the sun will melt the wax. So you must fly neither too high nor too low. The best thing is to follow me.”

3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Although Jane Eyre is one of my top books of all time, it was the other Bronte sister’s Wuthering Heights that made me ache for England and her moody moors. This was the first story I read that delved into the complexities of anti-heroic protagonists like Heathcliff and really captured the connection between character and landscape in a vivid way.

“Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.”

4. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

I know it sounds like a cliché but this book really got me excited about independent travel. I read it just before I set off on an overland trip across Egypt and Jordan and despite the circumspect behavior of some of the characters, I really enjoyed how Kerouac translated his open-hearted attitude to life in his stream-of-consciousness writing style.

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.”

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

5. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This was one of the books that really made me fall in love with the writer’s perception of her home country. Not the dusty, Taj Mahal version of the subcontinent but the fecund, South Indian part of it. Although it’s largely a tragic story, I wanted to live in Kerala just to try Mammachi’s illegal banana jam and watch the Kathakali dancers do their epic performances.

“May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst…But by early June the southwest monsoon breaks and there are three months of wind and water with short spells of sharp, glittering sunshine that thrilled children snatch to play with. The countryside turns an immodest green. “

What books inspired your wanderlust? Share in the comments below!

Review: The Lady and the Monk

Initially, I was really excited to read Pico Iyer’s The Lady and the Monk.

For those in the know, Iyer is one of the world’s leading travel writers today (travel writer, not blogger) whose observations have made him quite famous. I was especially attracted to this book because it features Kyoto, my soul city in Japan. I decided to read it after I visited because I didn’t want to spoil my first impressions with someone else’s viewpoint and wasn’t I glad I did!

In essence, The Lady and the Monk recounts Iyer’s decision to spend a year in Kyoto living a Thoreau –inspired, monkish existence only to be distracted by a beguiling lady, Sachiko. In this way, his narrative follows the template of many of the Japanese lady and monk poems and stories he reads (life imitating art, perhaps?).

The book primarily focuses on the problems of preconceptions: those Iyer has about Japan/Japanese and those Sachiko has about the West/Westerners. Through their progressive interactions, we see both characters shed their initial romanticized notions and naiveté and slowly accept some ugly truths.

Iyer comes to Japan, thinking he already knows it, based on his reading. He seems obsessed with the feminine side of Japan and actively seeks it, especially in his relationship with Sachiko.

 “…but the private Japan, and the emotional Japan — the lunar Japan, in a sense, that I had found in the poems of women and monks — was increasingly hard to glimpse. If this imaginative Japan existed only in my mind, I wanted to know that soon, and so be free of the illusion forever; yet if there were truly moments in Japan that took me back to a home as distantly recalled as the house in which I was born, I wanted to know that too.”

In the beginning, he tends to over-idealize the Japanese based on his own superficial, fly-on-the-wall observations.

“I never saw any of the children shout, or squawk, or throw a tantrum, and I never saw any of the mothers lose her smiling equanimity: both parties formed a tableau of contentment. In New York, the near-absence of children had struck me as a denaturing almost, and in California, the sense of endless possibility that was the state’s greatest hope seemed all but a curse in the hands of its young. But here, wherever I looked, I found images of madonna-and-child, in a world that seemed so settled that it almost cast no shadow.”

He also captures the seasons and changing landscape of Kyoto beautifully.

“…I felt the brightness of the Japanese autumn was like nothing I had ever seen before: such hope and stillness in the air. Tingling mornings in shiny coffee shops, dazzled afternoons among the white-robed priests: singing Handel days of rapture and precision.”

He even becomes quasi-Japanese when he travels abroad to Taiwan after a couple of months in Kyoto.

“So sheltered had my life become in Kyoto — so sanitized of danger or alarm — that I had all but forgotten that another world existed; and now it was a shock to enter a stage where tempers were lost, things went wrong, the surface snapped.”

Unlike Iyer, Sachiko idealizes the West. She loves Stand by Me, Aha, Bruce Springsteen, and Bryan Adams and often compares Iyer’s freewheeling life to her rigid role of Japanese wife and mother.

“You are bird, you go everywhere in world, very easy. I all life living only Kyoto. So I dream I go together you. I have many, many dream in my heart. But I not have a strong heart. You very different.”

She, too, learns the hard way and changes her mind a bit about Western men after a particularly awkward moment with a foreigner who mistook her friendship as sexual.

As time passes, through his relationships with Sachiko, other Japanese people, and gaijin (foreigners) in Japan, Iyer also begins to see the darker underbelly of Japan and becomes more discerning.

“This was the social contract in Japan: forfeit your individuality and you would receive a life of perfect stability and comfort; give yourself over to Japan and it would never let you down. It was like a kind of emotional welfare system: give up your freedom and you would receive a life so convenient that you’d hardly notice the freedom you’d relinquished.”

“Mother Japan prepared its children only, and ideally, for Japan.”

However, after a year passes, he leaves Japan with his romanticized vision of the country nearly intact.

“It was only later, after I had left Japan, that I realized that everything had been there that night: the lanterned dark, the moon above the mountains, the dreamlike maiden in kimono. There was the Heian vision I had sought since childhood. And yet, by now, it was so much a part of my life that I had not even seen it till it was gone.”

Although parts of the book can appear heavily romanticized and dwell too much on Zen Buddhism and Japanese poetry, The Lady and the Monk presents a generally balanced picture of Japan and Japanese culture, both the traditional and modern aspects.

Verdict: I highly recommend it.

Have you ever read The Lady and the Monk? What did you think about it?

Around the world in 100 books

I’m a book nerd. Always have been. Always will be.

Since childhood, I’ve taken books with me everywhere: in the backseat, at the beach, on the lawn, at the pool, under the covers, in the crook of a plum tree (like Brick from The Middle). I sniff out bookshelves, libraries, and bookstores wherever I go. Good books are presents I’ll never refuse.

One of the cheapest ways I travel is from an armchair. Even if I can’t literally visit a country, I still experience it through reading. This is a list of books from across the globe that I’ve read over the years.

Disclaimer: For each entry, I’ve included which country is featured in each book rather than the author’s country of origin. I know I haven’t read the whole world yet so this list is not definitive. It’s also highly subjective (based on my own personal biases) and is a work in progress. Adding solid titles is my lifelong commitment.

Around the world in 100 books

  1. A house for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad and Tobago)
  2. The mystic masseur by V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad and Tobago)
  3. Miguel Street by V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad and Tobago)
  4. Minty Alley by C.L.R James (Trinidad and Tobago)
  5. A brighter sun by Sam Selvon (Trinidad and Tobago)
  6. Ways of sunlight by Sam Selvon (Trinidad and Tobago)
  7. The hummingbird tree by Ian McDonald (Trinidad and Tobago)
  8. The dragon can’t dance by Earl Lovelace (Trinidad and Tobago)
  9. Green days by the river by Michael Anthony (Trinidad and Tobago)
  10. Crick crack monkey by Merle Hodge (Trinidad and Tobago)
  11. The jumbie bird by Ismith Khan (Trinidad and Tobago)
  12. The swinging bridge by Ramabai Espinet (Trinidad and Tobago)
  13. Raise the lanterns high by Lakshmi Persaud (Trinidad and Tobago)
  14. Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez (Trinidad and Tobago)
  15. Trinidad Noir edited by Lisa Allen Agostini and Jeanne Mason (Trinidad and Tobago)
  16. The old man and the sea by Ernest Hemingway (Cuba)
  17. Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua)
  18. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua/US)
  19. John Crow’s Devil by Marlon James (Jamaica)
  20. Kingston Noir edited Colin Channer (Jamaica)
  21. The annihilation of Fish and other stories by Anthony Winkler (Jamaica)
  22. The bones and my flute by Edgar Mittelholzer (Guyana)
  23. Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell (Belize)
  24. The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato (Argentina)
  25. One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia)
  26. Like water for chocolate by Laura Esquivel (Mexico)
  27. Into the wild by Jon Krakauer (US)
  28. The Diamond as big as the Ritz and other stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald (US)
  29. To kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (US)
  30. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (US)
  31. The Pearl by John Steinbeck (US)
  32. On the road by Jack Kerouac (US)
  33. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac (US)
  34. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (US)
  35. A streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams (US)
  36. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (US)
  37. Brown girl, brownstones by Paula Marshall (US)
  38. The Beloved by Khalil Gibran (US)
  39. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Canada)
  40. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Canada)
  41. The Stranger by Albert Camus (Algeria)
  42. Distant view of the minaret by Alifa Rifaat (Egypt)
  43. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Congo)
  44. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (Congo)
  45. The beautyful ones are not yet born by Ayi Kwei Armah (Ghana)
  46. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
  47. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
  48. The god of small things by Arundhati Roy (India)
  49. An area of darkness by V.S. Naipaul (India)
  50. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (India)
  51. Cracking India by Bapsi Sidwa (India/Pakistan)
  52. Clear light of day by Anita Desai (India)
  53. Games at twilight by Anita Desai (India)
  54. Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai (India)
  55. Malgudi Days by R.K. Narayan (India)
  56. The lady and the monk: four seasons in Kyoto by Pico Iyer (Japan)
  57. Glimpses of an unfamiliar Japan by Lafcadio Hearn  (Japan)
  58. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (Japan)
  59. A personal matter by Kenzaburo Oe (Japan)
  60. Waiting by Ha Lin (China)
  61. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini  (Afghanistan)
  62. A thousand splendid suns by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan)
  63. Pillars of salt by Fadia Faqir (Jordan)
  64. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (UK)
  65. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (UK)
  66. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (UK)
  67. Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy (UK)
  68. Of human bondage by Somerset Maugham (UK/Germany)
  69. The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon (UK)
  70. Macbeth by William Shakespeare (UK)
  71. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Denmark)
  72. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (UK)
  73. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (UK)
  74. Women in love by DH Lawrence (UK)
  75. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (UK)
  76. Brick Lane by Monica Ali (UK)
  77. Dubliners by James Joyce (Ireland)
  78. Men and Gods by Rex Warner (Greece)
  79. Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)
  80. Therese Desqueyroux by Francois Mauriac (France)
  81. La Casa de Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca (Spain)
  82. Yerma by Federico Garcia Lorca (Spain)
  83. The sun also rises by Ernest Hemingway (France/Spain)
  84. The girl with the dragon tattoo by Steig Larson (Sweden)
  85. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder (Norway)
  86. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria/US/UK)
  87. Open City by Teju Cole (Nigeria/US)
  88. The amazing, absorbing boy by Rabindranath Maharaj (Trinidad/Canada)
  89. The mimic men by VS Naipaul (Trinidad/UK)
  90. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (India/US)
  91. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (India/US)
  92. The inheritance of loss by Kiran Desai (India/US)
  93. Small Island by Andrea Levy (Jamaica/UK)
  94. The Buddha in the attic by Julie Otsuka (Japan/US)
  95. A tale for the time being by Ruth Ozeki (US/Japan)
  96. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Jamaica/Dominica/UK)
  97. Voyage in the dark by Jean Rhys (Caribbean/UK)
  98. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Spain/Egypt)
  99. Eat, pray, love by Elizabeth Gilbert (Italy/India/Bali)
  100. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (India/Pacific Ocean)

What titles should I add? Make your recommendations below!

Keeping a travel journal

When you travel, do you jot down your thoughts?

Do you still have that fistful of sand you grabbed from that beach that looked straight out of a movie? Do you love to doodle about the location you’re in?

I have always journaled but my first travel journal began when I went on my first international trip to the US. Although I wrote fleeting thoughts in a star-spangled, ring-bound notebook I picked up in a bargain bin, it was a start.

Writing Away by Lavinia Spalding is a great book for anyone who wants to learn more about the art of keeping a travel journal. Her style is pretty conversational and she doles out great practical tips.  Even if you don’t know where to start, she offers a list of journal prompts to get those juices flowing. So how do you write a travel journal that’s worth reading? Here are a few of Spalding’s tips about keeping it old school.

1. Start writing now.

Think you can only crack open that baby when the trip starts? Why wait? Spalding recommends getting down those expectations and goals before you arrive at your destination. In this way, you can compare them with the ones you have post-trip.

2. Take notes when you can’t journal.

Sometimes, it’s just not practical to write long-winded paragraphs because you’re climbing a mountain or scuba diving with Nemo. Spalding recommends taking notes (trigger words, phrases etc.) as soon as you can while the memory’s fresh and then writing longer stuff during downtime (but not too long after the event).

3. Don’t just write.

Spalding suggests filling your travel journal with more than words: quotes from people you meet on the road, rubbings, drawings (even if you’re not an artist), handprints, messages from other travelers, ticket stubs, maps, dried flowers, menus, anything you like!

4. Don’t just blog about it.

Spalding emphasizes that a blog can never truly replace a travel journal. Remember a blog usually has a very public audience (unless you set your blog to private mode) and there are some things you can’t or shouldn’t share with strangers in cyberspace. Many beginner travel bloggers (including myself when I started in 2011) treat blog posts as diary entries, writing about mundane details like what they had for breakfast and how long they waited in the train station. Spare your readers those boring details.

There are many other gems in Writing Away but I can’t just give it all away. It’s not fair to the writer. Also note, I am not paid to write these things about the book so please make your own mind up about it. Happy journaling!