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Thursday, August 20, 2015

6 Innovative Ideas to Structure Your Travel Essay and Jumpstart Your Writing

by Jillian Schedneck 

I’ve learned to jumpstart my travel writing through inventing interesting structures for my story. Innovative ways to organise the elements of my travel essay can help me locate where my essay begins, and it can even help me decide the entire arc of the story I’m going to tell. Inventing different ways to structure an essay even gives me more ideas for essays that I had never thought about before.

Amritsar, India, January 2013

Here are five innovative essay structures I’ve used to jumpstart my travel essay writing:

1. Your expectation vs. reality

This kind of essay would describe your mental image of the place you are going before you arrive, and what you expect will happen there. The following section would focus on the actual details of your travel journey. Whether your expectation was better or worse than the reality, the distance between our expectations and actual experiences is an interesting space to explore.

2. Love and hate

This essay could be set up in alternating sections, first describing all the wonderful things about the place where you’ve visited or lived, and then describing the things that bother you, that are unjust and ugly. The two sections can work together to highlight the strong and contradictory emotions this place evokes in you.

3. Jump cut to different scenes

This is an interesting way to get to the action of your story. Each section could be a small or even important moment of action in your travel story. You can leave out the summary details and give the reader only those moments of interaction of exchange between yourself and other characters, or within the place itself.

4. A braided essay

A braided essay traditionally has three parts, or three separate but interrelated stories that inform each other throughout. These essays are often reflective and lyrical, and require some work from the reader to put together the meaning of the three pieces of your essay. An example might be the story of your first night in a new place, a connected story based on an important historical event or person from that place, and the story of one of your important relationships that relates to why you decided to go on this trip or why you decided to leave. All three of these stories would be woven together in a braided essay.

5. Describe one night, or even a memorable hour, of your travel experience

Zoom in on one particular night or moment from your time in this new place. It could be your first night there, or your last, or somewhere in between. This should be a moment of change or realisation, when your perspective widens in some new way. Get up close and make the reader feel like they are there with you. Use all five senses to bring the reader into this important moment.

6. A reflective essay of a travel experience from five or more years ago

This essay can focus much more on summary than number 5. Zoom out to give the reader a wider perspective on that past travel experience and its meaning to you. Describe how you now feel about what happened on that trip all those years ago. Who was that person? How have you changed since then? What does that younger you have to teach you now, and what do you have to teach her?


Jillian Schedneck is the author of the travel memoir Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights, published by Pan Macmillan in 2012. Her travel writing and essays have appeared in over a dozen international literary journals and magazines, including Brevity, Redivider, The Common Review and Literary Traveler. She received an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from West Virginia University in 2006 and a PhD in Gender Studies from the University of Adelaide in 2013. She is currently completing her novel Hungry for the World and Its Glow, which focuses on three young women's very different travel experiences.

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