Writing a Travel Memoir

I knew my mother had written letters home from her trip to Europe in 1954, but I had never seen them. In fact, I had no idea they still existed. Until one day in 2007.

With plans to rent a slide projector so that we could look at Mom’s slides of her trip, I asked her what it was like to be on the Queen Mary. I was looking for the details, and she referred me to her letters. Letters?! What letters? Much to my surprise, my mother’s letters were in a box in the next room waiting to be read. All 69 of them.

I began reading them out loud. Written on airmail stationery, in black or green ink (Mom’s favorite color), the letters were written to my grandmother back home in South Dakota. I stumbled over the words, squinting at her writing, and promised to type up the letters so that she could read them on her own.

TTA Letters

As I typed up the letters a month later, I was captivated. The letters were full of life and personality and included details of the people she met, the food she ate, the places she visited, and the unplanned events that just happened.

The following spring, I showed the letters to Mom and her friend, Kit. In 1954, Kit and Mom (or Rusty as Kit called her) traveled for 3 months together, from New York to Europe, calling their trip, “The Tucker ~ Tyler Adventure.”

As I watched the two women in their 70s giggle at their memories, I began taking notes. I learned that Kit’s families had saved her letters as well, but it wasn’t until 2010, that I approached Kit’s daughter with the idea to put the letters of their trip into a book.

The Tucker ~ Tyler Adventure, written by Katherine Tucker and Marialyce Tyler, with their daughters, Nancy Cowan and Tara Taft, will be published soon. For the next several weeks, I will include a few background details about their trip, extras that weren’t included in the actual book, and I’ll let you know when the book is available.

It’s 1954. Pack your suitcase and get ready to travel to Europe with Kit and Rusty aboard The Tucker ~ Tyler Adventure!

The Lost Art of Travel Letter Writing

When I traveled for 3 months in Australia, I felt a little guilty. Not about the trip. I was happy to be there. I was in between jobs and paying my own way. I was in my 20s and without any responsibilities. But I knew I should be writing letters home. Descriptive and detailed letters like my mother had written to her mother when she traveled to Europe in 1954.

But it took so much time, and I just didn’t have the patience. It was all I could do to keep a journal and write a postcard now and then, and that was in the days before email and texting.

When my mother traveled throughout Europe in 1954, she wrote 35 letters home in just 3 months. Plus postcards.

Postcards

Her writing was so detailed and descriptive that her hometown newspaper published excerpts of her letters (after her mother edited them, of course).

Fort Pierre Times

I still keep a written journal when I travel, though I usually start out strong and by the end of the trip, I’ve slowed down or even stopped; the details of the last few days left only to memory.

Journals

 

Though I blog about my travels, and document the details with photographs, letter writing is a more intimate mode of expression. There’s a difference in the process as well as the outcome when typing and using a mouse to record travels vs. the hand to pen to paper approach.

When was the last time you wrote a letter to share your travels? Or even kept a journal?

 

When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).

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Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.

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Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Color

My love of color is evidenced by the colors of the home in which I live. My house is red, my car is green, my bedroom is lilac, my bath is aqua.

As I travel, my eye is drawn to color. I found red in a hibiscus in Central Park, in the comb of a rooster in South Africa, in the shirt of a man on the 4th of July in Boston, in the strawberries and radishes at a farmers’ market in California. I found orange in the flames of a campfire in New England, in the wings of a butterfly on Cape Cod, in a tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, in a handpainted sign on the Brooklyn Bridge.

I found yellow in a meadow in the Sierras, on a New York taxi cab, in a candle in Frankfurt, and in bubbling macaroni and cheese. I found green in the leaves and on the wings of a bird, and on a girl’s sunglasses on the beach.

I found purple in the lilacs in front of Louisa May Alcott’s house and inside a hot air balloon. I found blue in the skies everywhere I went.

The Next Big Thing

When I’m not traveling and not blogging, I’m writing and editing a book about travel. In “The Next Big Thing Blog Hop,” writers tag other writers with blogs to answer 10 questions about their work, then they tag more writers and so on. Readers can then discover what will be coming their way. I was tagged to participate in the blog hop by the poet, Donna Johnson, whose first collection of poetry, “Selvage,” was recently published by Carnegie Mellon Press. So, here are my answers to the 10 questions.

What is the working title of your book? 

The Tucker Tyler Adventure.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea came from a trip my mother, Marialyce Tyler, and her friend, Katherine Tucker, took in their early 20s. In 1954, the two women traveled by ship, train, ferry, and car throughout Europe, visiting 14 countries and staying in 42 cities in 3 months. On little more, and sometimes less, than $5 a day, they stayed in hotels, bed and breakfasts, and private homes, met Americans and Europeans, toured museums, and ate the local cuisine.

PostcardsWhat genre does your book fall under?

Travel memoir.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

From the 1950s: Deborah Kerr and Grace Kelly. Current day: Amy Adams and Reese Witherspoon.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A glimpse into the lives of two young women and the 1954 world in which they traveled.

Will your book be self-published or by a press?

Self-published.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About 2 years. As Kit’s daughter, Nancy, and I wrote the book, we cut and pasted the best or most interesting descriptions and tidbits from over 60 letters, plus postcards, a journal, and many slides.

Rusty's letters

What other books would you compare this to within your genre?

I don’t know of any nonfiction book quite like it. 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Besides the fact that the letters were kept by both women and their families for over 50 years, I love reading them. The two young women both wrote with such enthusiasm and personality. In 2010, we decided to put the letters into a book. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Marialyce and Kit sailed on the Queen Mary, bought a car in Paris, broke a window near Stratford, ran out of gas near Oxford, were robbed in Luxembourg, and were sung to in Venice.  They were young and impressionable and their writing reflects their wonder at the sights they see.

Queen Mary

Shopping Around the World

Where did you go this holiday season? I stayed near home the month of December but went shopping around the world and bought several gifts handmade by women and children in places like Sri Lanka, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Thailand. Each item made me pause and smile, and I have no doubt, they made the recipient feel good, too.

I oohed and awed at jewelry made in the Philippines and in India from genuine pearls. Pearls with Purpose was created to instill self-sustainability and hope in women throughout the world.

I smelled the candles and admired the containers at Prosperity Candle, a company whose mission is to “empower women to rebuild their lives through candle making, one gift at a time.” After training women as candle making entrepreneurs in Baghdad, the company began working with Burmese and Bhutanese women refugees living in Massachusetts. If you buy a candle, you can email its creator through the organization’s website.

I bought recycled bead bracelets made in Uganda from BeadforLife. Bead for Life teaches women the art of bead making as well as entrepreneurial and business skills so that they may successfully run their own sustainable business once they graduate.

I bought bracelets for gifts and a necklace for myself from Emerge Global, an organization which supports teenage girls in Sri Lanka, ages 10-18,  who have survived abuse and helps them develop business and life skills needed for self-sufficiency.

IMG_0814I gave animal shaped ornaments made from soapstone to my family to hang on our tree. Venture Imports sells these ornaments and other carvings which are cut with machetes by Kenyans as part of the Tabaka project. Tabaka was established to eradicate suffering throughout the Kisii area of Kenya and provide an opportunity for a better quality of life by providing fair wages and the ability to market products outside of Kenya.

And I don’t know about you, but when I’m shopping, I sometimes buy gifts for myself. So, what did I buy?

I bought a string of lights and flowers made from real leaves of the rubber tree and the bodhi tree by Burmese women. Money from the sale of “flowers from real leaves” supports local women and other projects at Whispering Seed, “a village-based sustainable living and learning center and home for children who have been orphaned, abused and neglected along the Thai-Burmese border.”

I bought a bracelet for myself from the Mmofra Trom Bead Project whose motto is “Give the gift of education, one bracelet at a time.” Children in Ghana string beads made from recycled glass to help fund their high school and college education. The beads are made by local Ghana artisans.

In the past, I’ve given shares of animals as gifts through Heifer International and bought jewelry and art from Ugandan artists through Project Have Hope, an organization that empowers women in the Acholi region of Uganda. What unique and handmade gifts did you discover as you traveled around the planet this past holiday season?

Layover in Frankfurt

Groggy and spacey from lack of sleep, we stumbled through customs, followed signs, climbed and descended escalators, somehow finding our meeting place at Frankfurt’s international airport. Holding a “Frankfurt On Foot” sign, a man with a closely trimmed blond beard stood leaning against the wall. Dressed in stone washed jeans, white converse sneakers, and a windbreaker, Hondo introduced himself as our guide for our walking tour of Frankfurt.

We were on our way to South Africa and with 9 hours in Frankfurt, sandwiched between two long red eye flights, we needed to stretch our legs. After reading positive reviews on Trip Advisor, I booked the tour with Frankfurt On Foot. For 75 euros, an English speaking guide would meet our family of four at the airport, guide us around Frankfurt, then bring us back to the airport in time for our next flight. I emailed our arrival time to the owner, and confirmed our tour with no money down.

After connecting with Hondo and storing our nonessential carry-ons at the luggage storage area (20 euros per bag for up to 7 hours), we put our faith in Hondo, following him through doors, down escalators and onto a train headed into downtown Frankfurt.

For the next few hours, we followed Hondo around Frankfurt, learning about life in Frankfurt and Germany, listening to stories of the city’s history and seeing descriptions of the old and new. We wandered among numbered trees and shiny buildings, watched children playing in an outdoor fair, tasted sausage and shouldered our way through a crowded plaza. We had our pictures taken with the Bull and the Bear, glimpsed the city’s preparations for the Iron Man Triathlon competition, its bleachers and scaffolding unfortunately blocking our view of Old Town. We rode the street car, watched a beer party cycle past, visited St. Bartholomeus’s Cathedral and found Anne Frank’s name on the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Wall. We listened to stories of the city’s history, and its plans for the future. We ate schnitzel and hard boiled eggs with green sauce, bread with molasses and raisins, and those of us old enough, tasted the city’s beer.

Eventually, we headed back to the airport, our heads swimming with information, our cameras full of photos, our feet and bodies ready to sit again.