This blog was featured on 07/28/2016
Travel writing

To keep me on task and trying new things, I enrolled in an online Travel Writing course this semester.  Our first assignment was a travel essay, conveying the feeling of a place through storytelling.  Here is my first attempt.

Mes Chausseures

Last summer my daughter and I spent several weeks in the South of France.  As temporary residents of a small seaside village, we spent our days swimming in the Mediterranean with local women, searching for the best baguette, shopping in local markets, and doing our best to blend and experience the local culture.  

My husband joined us the last week and we were thrilled share our new home.  The afternoon he arrived, we took him to our favorite local beach to wash away the jet lag with some salt water.  He insisted on renting the stereotypical Riviera style chairs with umbrellas from the beachfront cafe rather than laying on the sand with the locals.  It was a warm July day and we all went for a swim.  From about 25 yards offshore I just happened to look up and see a young couple stroll across the beach, stop and pick something up near our chairs, and continue walking.

“Camille, those people just picked up your new sandals!” 

“No, surely not....” my 15 year old mused.  After all, we hadn’t had any problems thus far.  But we still started to swim to shore.  As the three of us hit the beach, I watched the young man drop the sandals and his girlfriend slipped them on her bare feet.  We started running

My husband went all-out American yelling, “STOP THIEF!” in his Southern accented English.  I instructed my daughter to return to our fancy chairs.  She later said she watched her two bathing suit clad, soaking-wet parents run up the hill then turned to see 100 sets of French eyes looking at her.

The sidewalk, beautifully landscaped with tropical plants, went up the bank and spat us out on a city street.  A uniformed bellman, splendid in his gold braided epaulettes and tall chapeau,  looked at us in amazement as I blurted something about, “le garcon” and “mes chausseures” and my husband yelled, “WHICH WAY DID THEY GO?”  The bellman’s white-gloved hand pointed and I saw the young couple running up the sidewalk toward the next village.  I followed.  As I started to run, remember I was in a bathing suit with no shoes, I realized, “these are out of shape, cigarette-smoking, European teenagers and I ran a half marathon this spring” and I began to gain ground.

Meanwhile, Captain America had flagged down a couple of parking cops on bicycles.  While I am sure they did not understand his verbal language, they got it.  They pedaled past me, marched the delinquents back down the hill where they were chastised profusely and handed over my daughter’s new french sandals.

Triumphant, my husband and I headed back down the hill.  As we emerged from the sidewalk, we were met by 100 sets of expectant eyes and cheers and kudos from the local side of the beach-not the umbrellas.


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  • Elizabeth, I commend you for trying a new writing style!  And travel writing is such fun.  There are several types of travel pieces, as you have undoubtably learned.  Looks like you are working on a travel essay.  Travel essays are organized much like regular personal essays, often employing the ABDCE format (Action, Background, Development, Climax and Ending), but with an emphasis on place.

    If you were to play around with that format, your story might start with "Camille, those people just picked up your new sandals!" and move into describing how you and your daughter were waist-deep in the warm waters of the French Riviera (or something, you get the idea).  As a suggestion, I'd then give background about the sandals -- where they were bought, how the interaction went...something that would give the reader a real feel for this little French village and why the sandals were important.  ...A scene that shows us the village's character and characters.  Then you can return to the action of chasing the thieves down the street barefoot and bathing-suit clad.  

    You probably also have had a session on "show, don't tell."  What did it feel like to run down the street?  Was the pavement hot on your feet?  Rocky?  Were your boobs bouncing?  Were you embarrassed?  Empowered?  Angry that these people would steal your daughter's shoes?  Were you self-conscious about the white sunscreen on your nose?  Did you smell roasting coffee as you sprinted past cafe-loungers?  Bring us into your skin!  And bring us into this place to differentiate it from any other beach.  

    I like reading the Best Women's Travel Writing series published by Traveler's Tales.  I get great examples of different travel essay writing styles to play around with in my own writing.  (I'm in the 2011 book with the essay you can hear me read on my website -- link below.)

    Good luck with your travel writing course -- and with your travels!  

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt

    Mosey on over to my web site and sign in for your free gift -- an mp3 of me reading my book's first chapter about a beggar in Iraq! ...And a pre-publication discount!