Unexpected Lessons from a Traveling Writer

From Jeff: Curt Devine is a writer from Florida. He recently finished a year of traveling around the world on a mission trip called the World Race. You can follow him and his writing on his blog or via Twitter: @curtdevine.

I recently returned from a year-long trip around the world. As I reflect on my journey, I realize I’ve learned some unexpected lessons about traveling and writing. And it all starts with feeling stuck in Nepal.

Travel Writer
Photo credit: Curt Devine

Writer’s block on Everest

As I sat in a mouse-infested bungalow in the middle-of-nowhere Nepal, I couldn’t write a word.

All I could think about were the beads of sweat sliding off my face, splashing onto my keyboard. I tried to concentrate, but when an idea came, a fly would buzz in my ear and steal the thought away.

Outside, I could hear shouting farmers, screaming chickens and the groans of the neighbor’s injured cow. The noise was unbearable.

After a half hour of zero inspiration, I looked down at my laptop and saw I had written six words: Shut up, shut up, shut up!

Write from the heart

I used to watch the Travel Channel for hours. Tantalized by the television, I would imagine the stories that awaited me.

The Philippines, Cambodia, Kenya, Tanzania, India and Romania — I assumed these countries and more would be packed with adventure, giving me ample inspiration for writing magazine articles and blog posts.

Yet, there I was in Nepal, staring blankly at my computer screen with nothing to say.

I had such high hopes that travel would cure my writing pains, that great stories would jump out of real life and fall neatly into my word processor. But they didn’t.

I stood up and paced around the wooden bungalow, accepting the fact that I had no exciting tales to awe my readers with. I was defeated.

Then I had a radical thought.

What if I was honest? What if I stopped trying to impress everyone and simply wrote from my heart?

What happened next

First, I deleted the six furious words that mocked me on the empty screen.

Next, I prayed for help in rejecting my fears of failure.

Then, I went for it.

After typing heatedly for about an hour, I didn’t know if what I had written was garbage or gold — I only knew it was honest.

I walked a mile to a ransacked Internet cafe, posted the article and put it out of my mind.

A week later, I checked my inbox only to find a flood of comments and messages about the piece.

Friends said that they connected more with it than anything else I had written. Others thanked me for my brutal honesty. One guy even said he didn’t believe in God, but because of the way I described my struggles, he wanted to dialogue about faith.

Where you are doesn’t matter

Wild stories and tall tales are great, but the most powerful writing always comes from the heart.

I can’t deny that I had great opportunities on my journey to write about orphans in the Philippines, prostitutes in Thailand, and gypsies in Romania. I would encourage every writer to travel and get fresh perspective. But at the end of the day, people connect with honesty, not grandiose content.

I’ve heard it said that stories live in our blood and bones.

After 25,000 miles, 3-dozen cities, 18 different languages and 5 sicknesses, I’ve realized I don’t need epic experiences to write well. I just have to stay to true to myself, my muse, and my audience.

And so do you.

What have you learned about writing from traveling? Share your own epiphanies in the comments.

Do you have a story about traveling and writing? Include the link in the comments.