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3 Writing Lessons Learned While Backpacking Europe

The Eiffel Tower, after 10PM :)
You know that sinking feeling in your stomach when something goes wrong, and there are no clear solutions? What about that awesome feeling when - against all odds - everything turns out okay? (More than okay?)

Backpacking western Europe for three weeks, from mid-July to early-this month, was a seriously amazing and unlike-anything-else experience. From London to Rome, my BFF/travel partner and I took a lot of rides on the aforementioned Feelings Rollercoaster. We dealed with issues we couldn't have predicted, and we saw beauty we couldn't have imagined. I came home with the sense that I had inadvertently learned a few things - not just about traveling and myself, but about writing.

It's easy to apply travel lessons to story-writing, maybe because the two activities are so similar. Just like traveling, writing takes you into another world, one where you don't know exactly what's going on, but are always hoping for the best. To use two cheesy expressions, both writing and traveling expand the mind and help you see things from a different perspective.

So what were these double-applicable lessons? I'm super happy to share!

Outside the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice! :)
#1: No expectations are great expectations. When you're about to commit a large amount of time to something, it's easy to fall into the trap of envisioning it going perfectly, down to the very last on-time plane arrival - or perfectly wrapped-up plotline. But stuff happens, whether it's a transportation delay or a surprise plot hole. And when it's your first trip someplace, or your first draft, it's easy to imagine how the story will go. But it could end up being way different... and not in a bad way. Keeping flexible and open to changes, or plain old surprises, is key to having a good trip and to writing a good story.

#2: Negative thoughts? Kick 'em into the Seine! Arriving in Paris, the BFF and I were met with clouds, rain, and cold. It mostly stayed that way for the four days we were there. But you know what? It wasn't that bad. It would have been easy to spend the whole time complaining and wishing it were sunny. But we were in Paris - and traveling there was awesome, cold rain or not. It's good to think of writing in the same way. Even when problems arise - even when it seems like the clouds will never part over your story - remembering how wonderful it is just to be writing can mean the difference between existential despair and a finished draft.

The beautiful streets of Nice!
Or to put it another way: would it have been better to be at home (AKA not writing), where it was sunny, than in cold and rainy Paris? No way, dude! When you're trying to travel/write, negative thoughts in general don't have much use. So it's best to kick 'em to the curb.

Rome's tiny cars FTW.
#3: Fearing mistakes = a mistake. This ties in with #1 and #2. In both writing and traveling, making mistakes is inevitable. After years and years of experience, maybe it's possible to pull off a book/trip without a hitch - maybe. But when it comes down to it, these are two messy activities, and worrying intensely about possible mishaps or roadblocks is like worrying about gaining weight at an all-you-can-eat candy buffet: it's going to ruin the experience.

Is it good to take precaution? Definitely. Pre-planning, outlines, rough drafts, travel insurance, safety gear: these are all things meant to stop mistakes from occurring, or at least from having long-term consequences. But mistakes themselves aren't bad, and it's no use avoiding them like they're death traps. You can always recover (i.e.: by thanking the stars your travel partner had an extra copy of your train ticket) and walk away having gained important knowledge (i.e.: don't leave train tickets on hostel beds). And gaining important knowledge is part of what traveling and writing are all about!

Well, that's it for writing lessons learned while backpacking Europe. The trip really was incredible - I wish every single one of you had been there with me. And I can't wait to go on another one... and possibly learn a few more things! :) Bon journée, everyone, and ciao for now!
Emilia Plater

Emilia is a YA author who avoids studying, food that isn't covered in cheese, and waking up before 10:30AM whenever possible. A bundle of confusions.

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  1. Wow. The pictures are looks like you had a fantastic time! I really love how you weave writing lessons into many of your posts that contain adventures from your real life. It makes for a really interesting and heartfelt blog post. :)c

  2. Sounds like a great trip! I never really thought of comparing my travel experiences to writing, but those three lessons are dead-on. Thanks for the tips and the great pictures.

    Also, I bet you'll never leave your train ticket on the bed in the hostel again. :)

  3. So young, so wise, so pretty! I love the traveling/writing analogy, and all the points you made here are absolutely true. Life and writing are a journey and we have to enjoy every twist and turn!

    Now excuse me while I try to jump into your pictures. *dreams*

  4. "You can always recover ... and walk away having gained important knowledge..."

    Not only recover, but perhaps even discover a magical, hidden road you'd never considered before that ends up becoming the best part of your travels/story. Great post and great photos! Can't wait to be there!

  5. What an incredible trip, and such an insightful reflection. Thank you for sharing. And the photographs are to die for.

  6. Wonderful post, Em! Love the pics too!

  7. Great advice. And wonderful photos.

  8. so that's where you've been for so long, emilia! i've missed you on your blog! like, a lot.

    anyway, this post is awesome. as in, i-tweeted-about-it awesome. (i don't do that very often, see.)

    also: I WANT TO GO BACKPACKING! preferably to new zealand...but yeaaah, i'm glad you had fun!

  9. I love this. Photos. Stories. and new experiences. Cheers.


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