Coming of Age: The Flavor of Travels Over Time

by Keith Savage · 23 comments


Stills and Barrels at Glenfiddich

Making the decision to quit my steady job and reach for a passion was hard.

Very hard.

It required me to believe – not kinda-sorta-think-I-can-do-it, but really believe – in my abilities and to hang consequences on any failure to achieve my goals. It’s so much easier to avoid crossing that line, to continue on in a comfortable life with the mushy half-belief you might have what it takes to capture a dream. But the decision is only the first difficult obstacle; even when you’re walking the walk, there’s always a shadow of doubt trailing behind.

Case in Point

While in Argentina, I remember sitting on my rental apartment’s balcony on a balmy summer afternoon and drinking a large bottle of Salta Rubia beer. I felt that giddiness at accomplishing a major goal: I had quit my job and jetted to the southern cone in search of stories.

But I sobered up quickly. I was all too cognizant of the hard-earned money draining out of my bank account. The good times were racking up, but I couldn’t put my finger on the stories they told. Was this trip actually turning into story ideas that I could write about?

Last week, as I alternated between working on my latest vignette and reading Michael Shapiro’s A Sense of Place, a couple of ideas clicked for me that I thought might help anyone fielding the same internal questions I was.

Distilling the Journey

While my original quest for Argentina didn’t pan out quite how I’d anticipated, I was still being mindful and collecting copious amounts of notes, feelings, descriptions, and images during my travels. Tons of information flood the senses and, much like liquid in the process of distillation, only a fraction – the spirit – is retained. This is a highly (subconscious) editorial process made unique by a person’s particular point of view. Several people on the same trip will come away with several unique perceptions of that experience.

The notes were neutral, flavorless spirits sending my self-doubt on an extended bender. They weren’t stories.

Not yet at least.

Aging the Memory

In A Sense of Place, Isabel Allende says “Music is about silence…life is about pause,” to which Jonathan Raban might add “stories are about forgetting.” Soon after a trip the mind is so full of details it can’t yet see the important ones amongst the chaff. Writing about my time on Machrie Moor in Scotland, which happened more than four years ago, it became clear to me that what I needed was time. Time after the experience to see the story I would tell. There’s no substitute for it. Just ask the whisky-makers of Scotland. Or Mr. Raban:

…a kind of forgetting has to take place first, because otherwise you’re just landed up with the shapelessness of the journey instead of that imagined shape the journey begins to take on once you’re far enough away from it for the irrelevancies to have leaped out…

Of course a story can be written up, a portrait drawn up in the midst of the journey or directly after (deadlines make it so), but it’s interesting and exciting to think of the character that experiences will take on with age. Do we only end up remembering the highlights and darklights, as Ms. Allende suggests?

How do your travels translate into your stories, journals, or drawings? Is the “story” apparent during your trip or do you need to let it age?

Part of this post’s by John M (2007) via Flickr under Creative Commons


Brooke vs. the WorldNo Gravatar January 24, 2011 at 5:09 AM

Keith, I love blog posts like this. Your analogy is spot on, and I totally agree. You never know how things change you until after the change has happened.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 24, 2011 at 9:44 AM

Sometimes change just takes a little time. It’s nice when, as writers, we can give it that time.

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AndrewNo Gravatar January 23, 2011 at 3:59 AM

I really love your distilling imagery. It is so cool how you describe your thoughts and mental processes and still stay so perfectly within your Scotland theme. Bravo.
The image of distilling memories is one I am quite taken with. To apply heat and stress to release the worthwhile bits from the rest and still have enough left for flavoring of the raw experiences. A bit difference process or a slightly different cask produces a unique spirit that though similar to countless others is yet unique.
We have talked about forgetting before. That forgetting comes up again as a part of that distilling. Unimportant parts drop away leaving a clearer picture of the story.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 24, 2011 at 9:43 AM

Sounds to me like you understand this concept pretty well, Andrew.

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joshywashingtonNo Gravatar January 20, 2011 at 2:54 PM

I think in narrative. I find it far easier to write about an experience as close to the event as possible, before I wash them off my skin and flush the finer emotional details from my mind.
I love what you are saying about distilling memories though. This can lend a perspective to an event, to the person you were, what you expected, what disappointed, and ultimately how it affected your overall journey.

That story is apparent to me because the words never stop falling off the page of life, the story never ends…some chapters are page turners and some are banal and sluggish…but that is where the character encounters his/her demons and discovers a new drive…at least that is the way it reads in my head!

Viva Scotland!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 20, 2011 at 3:25 PM

Josh, we should swap minds sometime. It’s interesting to hear that you think – in the moment – in narratives. Does that distance you from the experience at all? Sounds very cool though. I like the way you think.

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CharuNo Gravatar January 19, 2011 at 11:38 PM

I’m very slow when it comes to “processing the experience.” So many of my trips are rushed and I forget to enjoy the little things that slower travel and simmering of thoughts demands. Sometimes, the angle is all too important. If I don’t have a unique vantage point, my story is still born. That takes time…

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 20, 2011 at 8:44 AM

I’ve been thinking about angles a lot lately, so that particular point resonates with me. As for processing the experience, something as simple as setting checkpoints down the road after the trip might be enough. The worst thing of all would be forgetting to reflect on the experience.

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AnnieNo Gravatar January 19, 2011 at 6:20 AM

I’m really glad I just chose to read this post when I did. I was thinking this morning about all the backed-up travel I still have yet to blog about and I’m here blogging about my latest travel (London) before a trip that happened 5 months ago (Portugal). It’s so true, when I first arrive home or at least at the computer after journey. I have nothing to say. I think I have failed as both writer and traveling, how could I have nothing to say?

Some come naturally right away while others take time for me to see which part I want to tell.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 19, 2011 at 9:23 AM

I have to say, it’s nice to know I’m not the only person who grapples with this issue. Toss out the idea of failure. Think of it as an investment, much like whisky – the longer you age it the better it tastes. 🙂

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ClaireNo Gravatar January 18, 2011 at 3:57 PM

I agree with some of the comments above-my stories come more after I am home and dwelling on my adventure. Sometimes it’s not even a story while I’m there, but then morphs into one after I process everything. Of course there are obvious stories like the time you got robbed, climbed the volcano, or played with the kids. But there are those other moments that you don’t often realize are moments until you miss them back at home! Plus, sometimes you are just too caught up in getting from place to place and the little dramas you encounter along the way to really think about a story.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 18, 2011 at 4:11 PM

Hey Claire. I like how you point out the fact about the obvious stories – it really meshes with what I felt in Argentina.

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AndiNo Gravatar January 18, 2011 at 9:35 AM

I try to live in the moment when I’m traveling, so that my experiences are as authentic as they can be. So, I would say I need to let them age a bit before I can start telling them.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 18, 2011 at 11:49 AM

Excellent point. As I mentioned in my reply to Audrey’s comment, it seems like the deeper you are in the experience the harder/longer it is/takes to understand it in a greater context.

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Christy @ Ordinary TravelerNo Gravatar January 18, 2011 at 9:33 AM

I completely agree. I think I realized this recently after coming home from the Dominican Republic. We did a lot of surfing and relaxing on the trip, so at the time we were wondering if we would have much to write about. It took about 3 weeks after coming home, and now I can’t stop writing about the place! 🙂

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 18, 2011 at 11:48 AM

It’s pretty cool when you think about how much “invisible” work the brain is doing.

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Olov LindgrenNo Gravatar January 18, 2011 at 3:04 AM

I think there is a point of telling both stories. Giving the reader an instant snapshot of the present moment can sometimes give the reader a sense of what was going trough your head at that excat moment, your feeling and perception of that precise moment. On the other hand, letting stories and memories age before sharing them with the world usually bring some more clarity, depth and reflection to that situation. I think sharing both sides best documents the actual event. Living and reliving moments is what life is, in a sense.

Hoping to catch both stories with moleskin and DSLR in hand:)

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 18, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Letting stories and memories age also gives you a chance to artfully apply narrative devices to frame the experience and to convey a meaning.

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Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The WorldNo Gravatar January 18, 2011 at 1:19 AM

I agree with Audrey above. I write my personal journals pretty much every day, but they’re more like notes or shorthands — somewhat boring in a ‘I did this, then this, then this happened’ way. Stories, if they ever appear, usually involve looking back at these notes and reflect on how certain events made me feel and why. Not being the most self-reflecting person, this takes time.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 18, 2011 at 11:37 AM

Yes, sometimes a trip needs to reach completion before the events within it make sense. There’s a contextual meaning that isn’t always readily apparent.

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AudreyNo Gravatar January 17, 2011 at 9:18 PM

People often ask why we don’t blog more “in the moment.” While we do sometimes write up things that happen that feel that the need to be shared immediately (e.g., experience snapshots), we often take notes in the moment and then write the posts later. True, part of this is that we’re always “catching up” and running behind. But another part is that sometimes it takes time for stories or meaning to appear. Sometimes it takes time to reflect and notice a story line that we didn’t see when we were too close to the situation. Sometimes we find that traveling to different parts of a country or to different countries in a region helps put an experience or a part of a country in perspective of how it relates to a bigger picture.

So while I do think that there are experiences and thoughts that are immediately apparent, sometimes stories do take time to age.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 18, 2011 at 11:36 AM

I think that needing time to puzzle out the narrative is especially necessary for those experiences in which you’re really living in the moment and not a detached observer. I like your point about experience snapshots – sounds like they lend themselves well to sensual details like sounds, smells, and tastes.

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