The world is a fascinating place, Squiders. Every bit of it has its own traditions, its own stories. This can include everything from the urban legends of your hometown to the intricate mythologies to a country halfway around the globe. By traveling, you gain exposure to new places, new ideas, new legends, new experiences.
I’ve gone dog sledding in Alaska, climbed a mountain temple in Japan, camped in the ruins of an Incan city in Peru, hiked through a German forest to a castle that hasn’t ever been captured in its 800-year history, stumbled through the catacombs of “Hamlet’s Castle,” touched the stones at Stonehenge.
Travel can be one of the best ways to open your mind to new ideas to use for stories. It allows you to see and experience new things that you can then apply. You can see how other people live, what other cultures believe. You can go new places and see how they work.
This isn’t just true when visiting other countries, though that might be the most extreme example. You can learn things by visiting the historical and cultural landmarks in your area, by going a few major towns over and seeing what remains the same and what changes. And even going out into nature can be beneficial in the same manner. In fact, many authors routinely hike in order to gain inspiration, and some even compose their stories out in the wild.
WARNING: Unfortunately, we can’t really talk about using traveling for ideas without also discussing the idea of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is a sensitive topic, and many people have strong feelings on different sides of the issue. At its core, cultural appropriation is whenever someone takes elements from another culture and claims them as their own. It is mostly applied to a majority (white people) taking elements from minority cultures, which can be done in a superficial or disrespectful manner, with the original meanings being lost or distorted.
This can be a bit of a gray area for fiction writers, who routinely portray people who are not like themselves in places they are not from, doing things they have never done. It is probably best to use specific things, such as legends and mythology, as inspiration rather than trying to stay close to the original. And remember to treat your sources of inspiration with respect, rather than using them for shock value.
Still, outside of the topic of learning about other cultures and their stories, there’s the simple fact that by traveling, by trying new things, you add to your own experiences, which you can then use to give better life to your stories. A person who has never ridden a horse has a harder time explaining the gait under their character’s saddle, doesn’t quite understand the way your body aches when you climb off. Someone who has never stood on a beach doesn’t know how the breeze blows your hair around or how bright and clear the sky gets.
Yes, you can pick up quite a bit from other media–television, movies, books–but there’s no guarantee that you’re not picking up stereotypes which, in some cases, may be incorrect or misleading. And there’s something to be said to being able to put a more personal spin on things, to separate it from the same ol’ same ol’ everyone sees everywhere else.
What do you think, squiders? Have you used your travels as an inspiration? Do you find a certain type of trip or place tends to whet your creative whistle more than others?