Far from Home

Etta Wilson

Blogger:    Etta Wilson

Location:  Books & Such client retreat, Monterey, CA

Weather:  Sunny

So many good travel books are available now–almost as many as cookbooks, but that’s another topic for a later blog. Being here in Monterey opens up all sorts of opportunities to  use a good travel book.

Also, I went to the bookstore about two weeks ago to find a particular book on Paris, and I was astounded. In addition to the standard  Frommers, Fodors and Rick Steves, the clerk showed me a whole shelf of books just on Paris, including new specific versions of the standards. Selection of just one was very difficult. Publishers must know that travel is big business.

A recent example of travel’s lure and emotional healing is seen in the ongoing success of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love (it may not have translated to film very well, but I haven’t seen it).  Over the centuries, many authors have described their adventures away from home and the new viewpoints and sometimes wealth those travels afford. The Travels of Marco Polo comes to mind.

Even if writers are unable to travel, they often use the travelogue as a framework for other content, such as in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. The steps of the journey, whether biographical or imaginary,  provide a framework for other content that actually is more significant.

Being away from the day-to-day life and routines opens new vistas, both outward and inward, and we are so blessed to have such opportunity to go to different places. Maybe it’s a long walk on a park trail; maybe it’s only a drive of 50 miles or so; maybe it’s a transcontinental flight; and before long it may be an interplanetary flight! Regardless, we can observe, be uplifted and perhaps even jot down a few notes for use in our writing.

Where do you long to go? Do characters in your writing travel much? And just to help folk with wanderlust like me–how do you balance the necessity of sitting to write with the urge to travel?

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  1. I think my characters all travel because I travel. Once, at UCLA, in a kinesiology class, the professor took us into a large, enclosed courtyard and told us to “move around.” Then she brought us back together and told us what she had seen about our personalities. She said I “Explored every inch of the territory.” It was one of the most perceptive feed-backs I’ve ever received, and if I have a “brand,” that will be part of it.

    Great travelogues: Have you ever read any Isabella Bird (1831–1904)? Amazing lady. Solo trips to China, Japan, gold-rush Colorado, etc. Started traveling because of illness, and just kept going.

  2. Lori says:

    I long to go to Bhutan or maybe even Tibet. Almost did it a couple of times but events held me back. My father said when I was a young girl that I appear to be looking for a “Lost Horizon”.

    Before that, I longed for years to go to Africa and in 2004 I finally did. I’ve also made it to a few places in Europe in addition to Peru and Central America.

  3. Etta Wilson says:

    Brian, thanks for the reference to Isabella Bird–a name I’ve heard but I’ve never read her travelogues. Good to know women were doing some exploratory travel as well as men in that day.

  4. Etta Wilson says:

    Lori, in the Oct. 18 Publisher’s Weekly, Nancy Pearl writes in her Soapbox article “The Allure of Armchair Travel”: “The truth is I am not an enthusiastic traveler” and she quotes Emerson, “Traveling is a fool’s paradise . . . I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from.” Sometimes it is more important to stay home and travel by reading, which we all can do.

  5. Lori says:

    Etta, as a technical writer, every document that I write, edit, or read involves something that will be leaving this earth whether now, in the near future, or years from now. It doesn’t matter whether if is for a new rocket, a space suit, or for an experiment that will be performed on the International Space Station.

    I disagree that traveling is a fool’s paradise. Right now traveling far from home is difficult for me and I am happy to travel near my home. Most people wait till they retire to travel, I won’t have that luxury so I had to do it when I did. Today, people have more of an opportunity then ever and if one has the means and the desire to take advantage then I say go for it.

    The book I am developing will involve my characters traveling close to home, overseas, and maybe evern out of this world that will take place today.

  6. Angie Dicken says:

    It’s funny… traveling gives me the most inspiration for writing! I love new settings, observing new people and ways of life. I actually poured out one of my novels during a summer of camping trips! One of my novels is set in Greece, a place I richly remember from a two week vacation. I would love to write novels set England and Italy- also places in which I have spent a lot of time. I think traveling and writing go hand in hand for me. I never leave home without my computer or plenty of paper to write, write, write!
    I hope you are enjoying your retreat in beautiful California!
    Angie Dicken

  7. Burton Cole says:


    Thank you for the insightful and helpful postings.

    As for where my characters travel, in a manuscript I just completed and upon which I am inflicting final edits, I brought a 9-year-old boy across the country and plopped him down onto a farm in northeast Ohio — because that’s where I grew up. I spent so much time trying to take my characters to places I hadn’t been or didn’t know enough about that I nearly forgot that I could be a travelogue into this world and its quirks and oddities. I didn’t even know some of these things were oddities until I started wandering about myself and found people looking at ME strangely. Huh?
    It’s been an enjoyable rediscovery of home.(But I still want to travel. I’ve never been to California, from where you were posting the blog.)

  8. Laurie says:

    I’m a nature-lover who can’t get enough of the outdoors. For inspiration’s sake, I put a mural on one entire wall of my office. Now when I look north, I see nothing but woods. From floor to ceiling, my office wall is one gigantic forest. I can almost smell those pines.

    It is a handy tool when I write my woodsy, YA novels.

  9. Etta Wilson says:

    Laurie, I love the outdoors as well. What a great idea about posting the large mural. Reminds me of Monet’s enormous “Water Lilies” that always seem to pull me toward the water. Glad you’re writing woodsy YA novels, which I think a lot of city-bound YAs need now.