Sunset cliches: how to make your travel journal interesting enough to read again

(Edit: My online course Travel Journal School is not currently open for enrolments – but you can sign up for the mailing list to be advised when this happens next.)

Ever written about a sunset in your travel journal?

Chances are that you mentioned the standard yellow/orange/pink/red colours and then threw in a bunch of romantic cliches. It’s hard not to because we’ve all read and heard and talked about sunsets using the same overused phrases forever.

In the course I used to teach at the local university about helping make your travel journal interesting, I always gave my students an exercise to write a journal entry about this sunset photo in Croatia. I had a bunch of rules to keep their writing sounding interesting enough to want to re-read it some day, but the biggest one was to try to avoid using cliches.

Croatian sunset cliches - Travel Journal School

This was always tough, so I thought I would ask six of my clever writer friends to do the same exercise and see what they came up with! Hopefully their ideas will give us all some inspiration to keep our travel journals a bit more interesting (and less cliched) in the future. I really love that all six of them came up with something completely different from each other.

Journal Entry 1: Natasha Lester

Only one damned boat for hire on the entire peninsula! My dreams of sailing into the sunset while holding the hand of my beloved were disappearing as fast as the daylight. I could see that the couple on the already-hired boat were smooching like the teenagers they no longer were and that they had no intention of returning to shore in a hurry.

Time to be resourceful. ‘We could climb to the top of the hill and watch the sunset from there?’ I suggested.

‘Okay,’ he responded.

Which would have been a fine idea except for the little white flowers I found on the climb up, which clustered together to form lacy parasols. I picked them for fun and they turned out to be poisonous giant hogweed.

The only sunset we saw that day was the itchy, blistered fiery red one all over our arms and legs. Oh well, at least we were holding hands—but in the emergency room of the nearest hospital!

(More about Natasha at NatashaLester.com.au – or read her great novels What Is Left Over, After, If I Should Lose You or, most excitingly, her soon-to-be-published novel set in New York City, A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald.)

Journal Entry 2: Laurie Steed

I flew to Croatia. You’d been at this very spot, I was told; the man at the kiosk explained it as though I were a police lieutenant, or customs official in search of an illegal immigrant.

I offered a bribe, but he refused. A man in no need of money, his kiosk seemed both his home and haven, away from sons that drew on the walls, daughters that took his finest ties and dyed them blue.

I ordered a beer, dust coating its label: Ražnjići, skewers blackened at either end, but juicy, tender cubes of fatty lamb that left a coating on the tongue. Took a seat on a nearby rock. Talked to you, with you, until a tourist stopped and stared. I lifted my beer in greeting, and he replied, a light tilt of his glass, holding my gaze as if daring me to speak.

(More about Laurie at LaurieSteed.com, get a taste of his brilliant writing with his short story Orbiting, or watch this space for his forthcoming novel.)

Journal Entry 3: Cristy Burne

I always feel kind of lonely watching the sun set. Luckily, I’m not alone. There’s also:

  • An earnest-looking man with a spiky beard, chatting incessantly to a young couple; he has multiple piercings through his upper lip, she wears a burgundy beret.
  • A scruffy man sitting alone on a wooden bench, his briefcase flic-flacked open to reveal a battered pink bunny, a box of fine chocolates, and an electric drill.
  • Two overly-thin girls in overly-short skirts; they’re sharing an iPod, one ear-bud each, and soaking up the last of the sun, chatting loudly about boys and booze and which clubs they’ll go to tonight.
  • A family of tourists from somewhere in Asia, twin toddler boys and a girl of about seven. Many, many photos.

Which leaves only me, watching the people instead of the sunset, and wondering about dinner. I think I’ll try that seafood place tonight.

(More about Cristy at CristyBurne.com or look for some of her Takeshita Demons series – books for 8-12s with Japanese demons – I read the first one and loved it.)

How to make your travel journal more interesting by avoiding cliches

Journal Entry 4: John Harman

Colin said we should climb the hill to watch the sun set. It was a steeper haul than we’d expected and some of the older ones were a little wheezy when we got to the top. But it was worth it. To my mind, sunsets are like beautiful women: they are all beautiful; yet each one in its own way. This one glowed with the mystery of history; the amaretto sky barely lighting the slate grey Adriatic. Two thousand years ago a Roman soldier may have stood here and looked out towards his homeland just three hundred kilometres across the narrow sea. Centuries later, another sunset-lover may have watched the great, three-decked, Venetian tri-marines rowing south to do battle with the Turk at the battle of Lepanto. Now, there is nothing but a small yacht sailing between us and a dark island.

There is something evocative and moving about watching the sun set; like seeing a lover leave us for the last time. Maybe it’s because, as a species we were once afraid of the dark; and the yearning to hold back the dying of the light is still there: the feeling of … don’t go, don’t go. Yet, it’s also theatrical. We are conscious of ourselves as spectators gazing out onto the brightly lit drama of the departing sun. Even though we know where the sun has gone; that it’s now midday in New York, we wonder – what is over that horizon? No wonder all the great migrations were from east to west. They wanted to know where the sun had gone.

(More about John at JohnHarman.com or grab one of his novels, like Money for Nothing, Called to Account or Dangerous Assets.)

Journal Entry 5: Kelly Exeter

So I hit a threshold of ‘just really over everyone’ today. The plan was to go out on an all-day excursion which finished up with an evening boat ride to watch the sun set over the islands.

The boat and sunset bit were definitely appealing but after 10 days of being in close confines with my family, the opportunity to skip the whole excursion thing and just stay home by myself for the day won out. So I pleaded a migraine and waved them on their way. And then proceeded to spend the entire day reading and napping, reading and napping. So good!

By the end of the day, however, I did need to get out. So I strolled into town, checked out a few of the shops … and then a set of stairs caught my eyes. I figured that whatever was at the top of those stairs would afford a great view of something. And … boy was I right. Check it …

(More about Kelly at A Life Less Frantic or get a way better grip on life with her book Your Best Year Yet).

Journal Entry 6: Emily Paull

At the end of that day, even though the air was still thick with humidity, we decided to climb to the top of the mountain overlooking the bay. The sounds of the city receded in waves until finally there was only a kind of natural silence– birds, waves and the wind– to keep us company. The view was astounding. The sky had turned a myriad shades of pink and orange, and a mist was visible on the horizon. We could see the whole of the island in the middle of the bay. From up there, it looked so tiny I imagined I could walk around it in a few steps. The last of the sailboats were still bobbing around, but the water was flat and calm. As we made our way back down the hill, we could already taste the fish we would have for our dinner, perhaps caught in that very bay.

(More about Emily at The Incredible Rambling Elimy.)

So how can this make my travel journal more interesting?

I love how the responses are all totally and utterly different. And of course our travel journals should all be totally and utterly different, because our experience – even of exactly the same event – is different.

When I’m trying to write a journal entry that I will actually want to read again (or maybe even share with friends or family), I try to remember to describe things in new and different ways – not use the same cliched phrases that I have heard people say over and over again. And I think these writers have given us some great examples of how to do that. Do you have a favourite? Let me know in the comments!

 

Interested in Travel Journal School?

In case you’re curious about Travel Journal School, there are plenty of ways to get more information – the best one is to sign up for the Travel Journal School email list so you’ll know when a new course is starting. They run online for 6 weeks and include videos, tutorials, homework exercises and a private Facebook group. You can also sign up here to get a free bonus module so you can test out what Travel Journal School is really like.

Comments

  1. I’m sorry I didn’t get time to participate, Amanda—I’ve not had time to write a thing lately. But these are all great travel diary entries, and all so different—I wonder how many are true …

  2. These are all so good and have really made me think!
    They are all fabulous but I really liked John’s and the way he told a story. xx

  3. This is a such a fabulous exercise! Such different responses and styles…and provides inspiration that there are many ways to journal. I find that the stories I retell about photos I show people often have very little to do with what you can actually see in the frame, and a lot about what you can’t!

    • Oh yes Fairlie, you’re so right – the story is very often just outside the frame! Or they’re simply a prompt to something else in your memory. I do love all the different styles here too – they all did such a great job.

  4. Admired all but think Kelly and Crista’s took my fancy most. Thought provoking alright!

  5. Thanks for this, it’s all too easy to get sucked along with the travel blogger monotone…

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.