A Different Type of Travel Writing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA friend recently told me she was going to be spending a brief period of time alone in New York City. She and her husband would be going there together for a weekend, but the husband needed to head home Sunday night to get back to work, while she had another event scheduled in the City for Tuesday. So she’d decided to stay down there by herself Monday and Monday night.

But whereas she considered that to be something of a drag, I felt a pang of jealousy. A full twenty-four hours alone in New York. To me, it sounded like a writer’s dream. I imagined a morning of shopping at Century 21 or visiting a museum, eating lunch at Spring Street Natural, then maybe walking around for a while if the weather was nice. But by mid-afternoon, I’d head back to the hotel, buy the largest cup of coffee I could find, and crack open the laptop. Then sit back on the bed and write. And write and write and write. Dinner? Sure, I’d go out and grab something at some point. In New York, you can always find good restaurants open, both sit-down and takeout. Then I’d go back to the room and write until it was time to fall asleep.

Now before you conclude that I’m a serious loner, please let me explain. The truth is, I adore traveling with family and friends, and honestly, when I spend time alone in places other than home, I often experience moments of intense loneliness. But I’ve also gotten some pretty good writing done in those situations.

A number of years ago, I went down to New York for a weeklong writers conference. The conference was great—but very stressful and busy—and although the other writers I’d met would often get together for dinner or a drink when the day was finished, we’d all go our separate ways by about 8 p.m. So I’d walk back to my little hotel in Chelsea and start editing the novel I was working on at the time. I’m not sure why, but during that week, I made several significant breakthroughs in the story. Things I hadn’t been able to figure out at home became extremely clear to me during those quiet evening hours.

Another example happened this past summer, when my family took a cruise to Bermuda. I’d just begun working on a difficult essay before the trip, and had brought my laptop along in the event that I felt inspired to work on it. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d want to—as I was really looking forward to family time, and enjoying the boat and island—but on two of the “sea days” I carried my computer up onto a quiet deck, and in a total of about two hours, cranked that essay out. (See picture above.) Maybe it was the ocean breeze or the salty air, but I really think it was the new atmosphere. There’s something about writing in a foreign environment—something exciting and stimulating and romantic—that seems a little magical for me.

Not that I’d want it that way all the time. Normally, I write at home with my dog and cats, while my other family members are off at work or school, and I love it that way. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not a huge fan of solo travel for extensive periods of time. My favorite vacations are ones shared with people I love. But every once in a while, it’s great to eke out a little time alone in a brand new location and just start typing. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend giving it a shot. And please feel free to share your opinions and experiences in the comments section.

About Mary Rowen

My three published novels, LEAVING THE BEACH (a 2016 IPPY Award winner), LIVING BY EAR, and IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY focus on women figuring out who they are and what they want from life. Music and musicians have a way of finding their way into the stories. I live in the Boston area with my family and pets.
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8 Responses to A Different Type of Travel Writing

  1. It’s always fun to read a post about NYC from a tourist’s perspective since it’s my home. You are definitely correct about there always being a good restaurant open, no matter the hour 🙂 I tend to bring my laptop along when I travel as well but it usually doesn’t get much use aside from occasional checking of the email. I do, however, really enjoy writing while flying. Next time you’re in NYC, you should look me up – I promise not to keep you from your precious solitary writing time!


    • Mary Rowen says:

      Thanks for the comment, Meredith, and I would love to meet you in NY! I absolutely love that city–got to spend a bunch of weekends there while dating my husband, as he worked in Brooklyn for a year and lived in the West Village. I’m so jealous of people who get to live there all the time.


  2. Sarah Monsma says:

    Mary, so well said! There’s something about having none of the usual demands on your time that gets the creativity flowing.


  3. Sarah Monsma says:

    Maybe you’re a good candidate for the Amtrak writer’s residency! Have you read about it? http://blog.amtrak.com/amtrakresidency/


  4. Mary Rowen says:

    Thanks again, Sarah! I heard some people talking about that yesterday. Is there a catch? Because it sounds amazing!


  5. Sheila says:

    Great post and really fantastic perspective! I can absolutely relate on a super small scale: I usually spend one day a week at a local Starbucks to write and always seem to make more progress on those days then when I’m in my typical space. Thanks for this!


    • Mary Rowen says:

      I hear you, Sheila! When my kids were in preschool I would go to Panera almost every day for a few hours and I got SO much more work done than I can do at home. Then I got lazy. Need to start doing that kind of thing again.


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