What are you doing with your summer vacation?

It’s hot in Wisconsin this week. Like, record-setting heat and humidity I haven’t seen since my summers in the thermal-inversion bowl of Bloomington, Indiana back in college circa 1976… But I digress.

Are you traveling this summer? Write about it! You’re grown up now–you don’t have to write the dreaded grade school “What I did with my summer vacation” essay. You can apply your experience, wisdom, and flair to write an essay of any length, capturing a trip of any length, and enjoy that experience more richly as you write about it, then share your essay with family, friends, and fellow travelers.

I’m musing on this because last night I gave a talk on “Write Your Travel Memoir” at the Stoughton Library. A congenial small group braved the heat (still 90 degrees at 6pm) to come hear me.

The talk went something like this–

  • Why write memoir? I particularly encourage people to start with travel memoir because it’s a relatively easy starting point–a source of eminently writable stories, grounded in universal experience. Travel breaks life down to fundamentals that escape our attention in the day-to-day at home.
  • How to write better? I offer basic techniques of the writers’ craft, always pounding away at “show don’t tell.” (Easier said than done, so I try to explain just HOW we do that.) I encourage travel writers to find their story’s “topography,” the emotional highs and lows that give it drama. I encourage them to look for life lessons revealed through the new experiences travel brings.
  • How to structure the story? Anybody who’s been in one of my writing workshops since I discovered Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story knows I recommend his “Complication, three developments, resolution” structure. (He says he learned it from Chekhov’s work, but I credit Jon, since he brought it to me.) The essence of this is to identify a complication, three developments, and a resolution, outlining each in a simple sentence consisting of no more than a subject, an action verb that creates a mental image, and an object.
Here’s where we do an in-class exercise, participants spending 4 or 5 minutes shaping the travel experience they want to write to fit this outline. The rest of our time together passes too quickly, as each shares a travel tale in this condensed form.


Where had they been, this handful of travelers-writers gathered in a library basement in Stoughton, Wisconsin? Cruising Alaska’s inside passage and the Mediterranean, roving northern Ireland chaperoning teens, on the overnight train to Novia Scotia, held up in an airport so near and yet so far from Luxor, Egypt, sniffing the arid air of Israel…

This is what I love about teaching travel writing. I get to go places vicariously. I’ve accrued dozens of dream destinations, populated with other people’s travel memories, through my teaching. I love the way this expands my world.

And here it comes–the shameless plug. I’ve published a little book combining 5 lessons on travel writing with my memoir about a trip to Italy’s Cinque Terre in 2008. It’s called Write Your Travel Memoir: 5 steps to transform your travel experiences into compelling essays. Available on Amazon now. Coming soon in eBook format.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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1 Response to What are you doing with your summer vacation?

  1. Kurt Eimer says:

    Winona Lake is dear to me. I was fortunate to have spent three summers there. Our family arrived the middle of June after school let out, for the “Youth For Christ” conference and left on Labor Day when the Prophetic conference ended. It was 1947, 1948 and 1949. I graduated the following summer and joined the U.S.Marines, so after “Boot Camp” I spent one week there.

    I have so many memories I have shared with my children and grandchildren that they all want to see it. My wife and I drove there twenty years ago and was surprised how much of it was still there. The biggest disappointment was the weeds at the beach. Back then it was beautiful and have many memories of meeting kids from everywhere and spending time on the floating platform out from the pier..

    I wanted her to see Homer Rhodeheaver’s home, so we drove up the driveway when a car was coming from it. I stopped and told the woman I was showing my wife a home, where we fished near the boat dock as some of the best fish were there. The woman told me they had bought the home and was interested in what I had to say as she knew very little.

    I can go on for pages, but will stop for now.

    Kurt Eimer


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