Travel Writing: Our ‘Pirate Code’ for the Road

by Kana Tyler

Surely I have the world’s best job: I get to Travel, and I get to Write about it. My Travel Sidekick (a.k.a. Husband) and I have sketched out some “road rules” for these trips–though, like Captain Barbossa’s Pirate Code, they “be more like guidelines than actual rules.” Here’s our formula, if you will, for deriving the best experience out of the trip, and the best story out of the experience…

0. Understand the difference between drive-time and travel-time. If you get into your vehicle and diligently follow the directions to your destination, you’ll arrive in about the amount of time that MapQuest says it will take. That’s drive-time. We, on the other hand, prefer to Stop along the way. We stop a LOT. We turn the car around to investigate whatever eye-catcher just passed, we pick up rocks, we hike up hillsides, sit on tractors, chat with people, take pictures, nose our way down side roads, find things to eat… All in all, we probably spend four or five times the MapQuest estimate on inquisitive adventuring. That’s travel-time. We enjoy experiencing the places we travel.

Kana at work in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains

1. Don’t fixate on the experience you expected and ignore the one actually in front of you. Sometimes the most story-worthy experiences are the ones we just stumble into, so we make it a point never to be in a hurry to get somewhere else.
2. Preparation before a trip allows for spontaneity during it. I read ahead comprehensively, as if we might want to see absolutely anything (because we might), and we pack as if we might do absolutely anything (because we might). I do a lot of web-reading before we leave, to get an idea of what sights or attractions are in our path (and what hours those can be seen), so when we’re on the fly we have a menu of ideas. Not a have-to-hit-it checklist, but an awareness of options. With the same philosophy, our “daytrip bag” is packed for options. If we have some snacks and a blanket, we can picnic; if we have tackle and poles, we can fish; extra maps allow us to navigate when we veer off our expected route; swimsuits and jackets and hiking sticks give us options to make spontaneous choices. The more we experience, the more I have to write about.
3. Take notes. Three-quarters of my travel write-ups stem from our comments, observations, and jokes along the way. I’m jotting things down almost continuously so I can “unpack” the whole experience when I sit down to write about it. I confess I’m an iPad addict–on any given trip I’ll be scribbling notes on the screen, snapping “information”-pictures (of signs, historical markers, etc.), recording conversations, and geo-tagging our track while we go.
4. The journey is about the stories. Ask questions. Read everything. Eavesdrop. We don’t really hit the road to look at pretty mountains or flowers; scenery by itself would become boring pretty quickly. What makes travel worthwhile is the stories we uncover (and the ones we play out)–whether it’s a geological story encased in the rocks, a place’s history, the stories of people we meet, or the story of our own thoughts and observations, the journey isn’t measured purely by the map.

Kana Tyler is a writer for Western Byways magazine, which can be viewed online at

One Comment

  1. Grandy Anne

    I want to climb into your daytrip bag. I’ll even pack my own snacks!

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