Travel for Writing Inspiration

Dívčí Kámen, Czech Republic
Great inspiration for my current historic novel
All photos by Melinda Brasher
Many people resolve every year to travel more.  It's not just fun, interesting, and mind-broadening.  It also provides grist for your writing mill.  Article writers, of course, already know this.  But you can also find a wealth of inspiration for your fiction.  Here are some tips to use travel to enrich your writing.

1)  Steal from History.  This isn't only for historical fiction or academic articles.  History--told well--is one long story.  Visit museums, read informational plaques, take walking tours.  You'll find fascinating details of history's crazy characters and its dark and bright moments.  Take elements from here and there and twist them into your own story.  When I was in Znojmo, Czech Republic, the history of the catacombs there fascinated me.  I later incorporated them--in my own style, with many details changed--into my novel, Far-Knowing.

Volunteering at a village school in Guatemala
Seeing different ways of life is good for my writing.
2)  Meet People.  Talk to locals in trains, shops, and restaurants.  Get their stories.  See things through their eyes.  Stay in hostels and meet international travellers with backgrounds and experiences enough to fill hundreds of novels.  If you have time, organize a volunteer vacation to really interact with people.  Of course, you don't want to violate anyone's privacy or steal entire life stories, but let people's tales serve as the seeds of your own work.  On a train to Budapest, I met two Brits who told me a story about having to get off a train once in the middle of nowhere and walk to the nearest station with all the other passengers.  And that's what happens in "On the Train to Warsaw," my first published short story.  All the details and the internal conflict are my own, but I still owe the external conflict to those friendly travellers.

Hah!  The perfect place to drop my poor miserable characters
3)  Explore Nature.  Get out there in the elements, especially in climates and landscapes you're not used to.  Pay attention to the plants, the smells, the feel of it all.  Then plunk your characters down in the harshness or beauty or crazy variety of nature you've discovered and see what they do.  One scene from the novel I'm working on now came from my own scary experience in a Slovakian forest.

4)  Visit Libraries.  Depending on where you travel, libraries may serve as cultural or historic centers.  If you speak the language, ask for their local section of books and see what you find.  In El Salvador once, tired of "sights," I spent the morning in the library, reading local folktales.  One inspired me to write "A Learned Man."

Znojmo, Czech Republic
Which served as inspiration for a setting
 in my novel, Far-Knowing
5)  Imagine your Characters at the Sights you See.  While you're strolling the grounds of a castle or taking in the hum of a modern metropolis, imagine characters there with you.  What kind of people are they?  What are they doing here? How do they react to what they see?  What do they want that they can't have?  What problems lurk for them around the corner?

Record it!
Whenever you travel, carry a little notebook with you to write down these ideas and story kernels.  Then, even if you don't use something right away, you can go back to this idea bank for later inspiration.  Good travels!

Melinda Brasher loves to travel and has filled numerous notebooks with the things she sees on her journeys.  She's also lived abroad in Spain, Poland, Mexico, and the Czech Republic.  To read some of the work inspired by her travels, click the links above or check out Leaving Home, a collection of travel narratives and short stories, many of which were written on buses up mountain roads, in foreign town squares, or sitting in castle windows.  Visit her online at


Karen Cioffi said...

Melinda, great tips on finding writing inspiration and ideas from traveling. I love #4 for those who aren't able to travel Libraries can bring you all over the world, and beyond!

Melinda Brasher said...

Karen, yes. And people can steal from the history of their own hometowns too--or the history in books. Travel just makes it all more real.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Thanks for the reminder. I've neglected using my pen lately--probably because I'm taking more pictures with a new iPhone. But I don't think the pictures are generally as good as prompts as the note-taking.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Multi Award-Winning Author of the HowToDoItFrugally series for writers including the second editions of the Frugal Book Promoter ( and The Frugal Editor ( )The latter is e-book only.for the time being.

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks for the suggestions Melinda. Oh for more travel in the future!

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Travel is a great way to break through writers block.

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