If your characters move from point A to point B by foot, plane, train, bus, motorcycle, boat, or griffin, you’re now writing a traveling scene.
Here is how to write traveling scenes:
Write traveling scenes by integrating purposeful journeys, vivid sensory details, character interactions, and varied pacing. Incorporate cultural nuances, effective dialogue, and logical consistency. Whether a short voyage or a long expedition, each traveling scene should enrich the story.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to write traveling scenes that readers love.
What Are Traveling Scenes?
Traveling scenes depict the journey characters take from one place to another.
These scenes serve as transitions, character development arenas, and sometimes even plot catalysts. Travel allows characters to interact with new environments, face challenges, and grow as individuals.
It’s during these journeys that many stories expose the character’s vulnerabilities, strengths, and evolution.
For me, traveling scenes have always been a way to not just move characters around, but to move the plot forward.
It’s that suspense-filled moment where Frodo and Sam tread cautiously through Mordor or when Elizabeth Bennet travels through the English countryside, unveiling the tapestry of her thoughts and emotions.
But, wait, there are actually more than one type of traveling scene.
Types of Traveling Scenes
Before you can pen prose readers palpitate over (surely I get bonus points for that alliteration :), you’ve got to nail down which type of traveling scene you want to write.
Here is a list of the major types of traveling scenes:
- The Quest — This is a journey with a purpose. Think of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, setting out to destroy the One Ring.
- Escape and Pursuit – The character is running away from something or someone, like Maximus in Gladiator, escaping his captors.
- Discovery and Exploration: — Here, the character is on a journey of exploration. Christopher Columbus setting sail to unknown lands is a classic example.
- The Pilgrimage — A spiritual or religious journey. The pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajj, or Santiago de Compostela in Spain come to mind.
- The Romantic Getaway — Think of two characters escaping to a secluded spot, away from the world. Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice when they stroll in the Derbyshire moors.
- Transformational Journey — Where the trip brings about a significant change in the character. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert offers a rich tapestry of transformational journeys.
- The Return Home –This is the journey back to one’s roots or home, often after a long time. Odysseus’s journey back to Ithaca in The Odyssey is an apt example.
- Forced Relocation — When a character has no choice but to move. The Cherokee Trail of Tears or the Jewish diaspora are historical examples.
- Business Trip — A journey made for work-related purposes. Ryan Bingham’s constant travels in Up in the Air depict this type.
- Family Vacation — A trip made with family members, often filled with quirky moments. National Lampoon’s Vacation is a comedic take on this type.
Don’t rush this part.
Choose the right type and mix up the types of traveling scenes in your stories so that readers don’t get bored.
21 Best Tips for Writing Traveling Scenes in Your Story
Time to get down to the nitty gritty of writing traveling scenes.
Read through these tips that have served me well in writing and publishing several books and short stories over the last three decades.
Tip #1: Start With a Purpose
Every journey should have a purpose.
Whether it’s a quest for a hidden treasure, escaping from danger, or merely discovering oneself, the motive is the driving force behind the scene.
A purpose gives direction to the narrative and keeps the reader invested in the journey.
Personally, I’ve always found that when I start with a clear purpose in mind, the traveling scene writes itself.
It’s like planning a road trip; knowing your destination makes choosing the route easier.
Example: Lila packed her bags, determined to find the lost city and reclaim her family’s stolen heirloom.
Tip #2: Incorporate Sensory Details
Engage your readers by incorporating sensory details.
Let them feel the icy wind, hear the bustling marketplace, or taste the salty sea air. Detailed descriptions can make a scene vivid and immersive.
When you travel, make it a point to jot down the unique sensory experiences you encounter.
It’s amazing how the rustle of leaves in a forest in Germany differs from the ones in my hometown.
Drawing from these notes breathes life into your scenes.
Example: The market bustled with energy, the aroma of spicy curries mingling with the metallic clang of blacksmiths at work.
Tip #3: Add Conflict and Obstacles
A journey without challenges can quickly become monotonous.
By adding conflict or obstacles, you not only heighten tension but also provide opportunities for character development.
During one of my trips, my got lost in downtown Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
The frustration, the unpredictability of the situation, and the eventual resolution of the problem offered me a wealth of material to use in my writing.
Example: As Jake’s car neared the border, a sudden roadblock loomed, manned by armed guards demanding papers he didn’t have.
Tip #4: Showcase Character Interactions
Traveling scenes can be a great way to show characters interacting with each other, especially if they are confined to a tight space like a car, wagon, or ship.
These interactions can reveal character dynamics, backstories, and hidden tensions.
I recall a roadtrip I took with friends in college where tight quarters led to both hilarious exchanges and intense confrontations.
These moments can be a goldmine for a writer.
Example: In the cramped confines of the spaceship, tension grew between Captain Aria and Engineer Leo, their differing views sparking heated debates.
Tip #5: Use Varied Pacing
Not all travel needs to be at a breakneck pace.
Use varied pacing to highlight different parts of the journey. Slow down to let readers savor a beautiful landscape or speed up during a chase.
Think about your own travels.
You’ve probably had days of leisurely exploration contrasted with rushed airport dashes.
Both can be used effectively in a story.
Example: For days, they trekked through the barren desert, but as they sighted the oasis, they broke into a sprint.
Tip #6: Include Local Culture and Traditions
To make your travel scenes rich and authentic, delve into the local culture, traditions, and customs of the places your characters visit.
Once, while visiting Japan, a friend of mine was deeply moved by a traditional tea ceremony.
The ritual, the precision, and the significance behind each movement offered so much depth to their understanding of Japanese culture.
Example: At the village festival, Mia was invited to partake in the Moonlight Dance, a ritual honoring the harvest goddess.
Tip #7: Remember Physical Needs and Challenges
Traveling can be physically demanding.
Characters might face hunger, exhaustion, or even injuries. Addressing these challenges adds realism to your scenes.
If you’ve ever embarked on a rigorous hike unprepared, then you know the sheer exhaustion and muscle pain that comes afterward.
Such experiences can add depth to your narrative.
Example: Hours into their mountain hike, Ben’s legs started to cramp, and their water supply dwindled dangerously low.
Tip #8: Introduce New Characters
Travel scenes provide an excellent opportunity to introduce new characters that can add flavor to your story.
These can be brief encounters or new allies/enemies for the protagonist.
On one of my trips, I met an intriguing stranger on a train, and our short conversation left a lasting impression.
Such fleeting encounters can add layers to your story.
Example: On the coastal path, they encountered an old fisherman, Selby, who shared tales of ghostly ships seen on foggy nights.
Tip #9: Use Flashbacks and Memories
During travel, characters often have time to reflect.
This can be an opportunity to introduce flashbacks or memories that shed light on their past, motivations, or fears.
While traveling alone (like my trip to Vegas last December), I often find myself reminiscing about the past.
These introspective moments can provide depth and backstory to fictional characters.
Example: As she sailed closer to the island, images of her childhood there flooded back, from beach picnics to sunset stories.
Tip #10: Change the Mode of Transport
Variety is the spice of life. Change the mode of transport to keep the journey interesting.
Whether it’s by foot, car, horse, boat, or flying carpet, each mode offers a unique set of challenges and experiences.
One of the most memorable parts of my travels in Brazil was a sudden switch from rental van to school bus.
The unexpected change was both challenging and entertaining.
Example: In The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, the fellowship travels by foot, boats, and even eagles, making their journey varied and adventurous.
Tip #11: Highlight the Emotional Journey
While the physical journey is most obvious, there’s often an underlying emotional journey.
This can be a process of self-discovery, reconciliation, or even overcoming personal demons.
This emotional arc can be as crucial as the actual travels and can provide a depth that resonates with readers.
Example: Each mile Jack traveled away from home made him reflect on his choices, the weight of his regrets growing heavier.
Tip #12: Utilize Nature and Weather
Nature and the weather can be significant players in traveling scenes.
A sudden storm, the beauty of a sunrise, or the perils of a desert can influence the characters’ journey, create conflict, or offer moments of reflection.
Nature isn’t just a backdrop — it’s an active element that shapes the story.
Example: As they entered the forest, a sudden downpour turned the path muddy and treacherous, making every step precarious.
Tip #13: Make Use of Maps and Geography
Maps, landmarks, and geographical features can inject authenticity into your travel scenes.
They can serve as tools, obstacles, or points of interest for your characters.
Mentioning real places or creating fictional ones with depth can help readers visualize and invest in the journey.
Example: Holding the ancient map, Clara traced the route to the hidden waterfall, marking potential dangers along the way.
Tip #14: Address the Passage of Time
Travel often takes time.
It’s important to address the passage of time in your narrative, whether it’s through changing seasons, characters’ physical changes, or evolving relationships.
This not only provides a realistic feel but can also highlight the length and significance of the journey.
Example: In my novel, Wicker Hollow, I routinely reference the time of day and night, since the entire story occurs in less than 72 hours.
Tip #15: Use Symbolism and Themes
Travel scenes can be enriched by incorporating symbolism or recurring themes.
A river could symbolize a character’s personal transformation, or a mountain might represent an insurmountable challenge.
Such symbols can provide a deeper layer of meaning to the journey.
Example: The river they traveled along became a metaphor for Elsa’s own life: sometimes calm, at times turbulent.
Tip #16: Inject Humor and Light Moments
While challenges and conflicts are essential to keep the narrative engaging, it’s equally important to include moments of levity.
Humorous incidents, quirky characters, or light-hearted banter can provide relief and endear the characters to the readers.
This brings up a great point about storytelling.
Namely, contrast. Keep readers guessing and engaged with a balance of serious and silly moments.
Or, at least, moments of relief.
Example: In the hot air balloon, Eric’s hat flew off, landing on a goat far below, much to the group’s amusement.
Tip #17: Emphasize Cultural Differences
When characters travel to unfamiliar places, cultural differences can play a significant role in their experiences.
These differences can lead to misunderstandings, appreciation, or even conflict.
It’s a great way to highlight diversity and enrich the narrative.
Example: In the city square, Tom tried to buy a loaf of bread, but ended up with a live chicken due to a language mix-up.
Tip #18: Use Dialogue Effectively
Travel scenes provide ample opportunities for dialogue.
Conversations can (and often do) reveal character motivations, backstories, and dynamics.
They can also be a means to convey information about the journey or the destination without resorting to lengthy exposition.
Example: “We can’t keep heading west,” whispered Nina, eyeing the ominous clouds. “Storm’s coming, we need to find shelter.”
Tip #19: Make Use of Foreshadowing
Hints about future events can be sprinkled in during travel scenes.
A fleeting comment, a mysterious character, or an ominous landmark can foreshadow events that will become significant later in the story.
Always give readers a reason to keep reading.
Example: An old woman at the train station warned them, “The mountain doesn’t take kindly to strangers after dark.”
Tip #20: Ensure Logical Consistency
You’ll need to maintain enough logical consistency so that your story “feels” real.
At least, real enough.
Make sure that the distances covered, the modes of transport used, and the challenges faced are realistic and consistent with the story’s setting.
You don’t need to get every fact and detail right — but it helps.
Example: They rationed their food carefully, making sure they had enough supplies for the two-week trek across the wilderness.
Tip #21: Conclude with a Sense of Arrival
After all the challenges, conflicts, and experiences, reward readers a sense of arrival.
This doesn’t necessarily mean reaching a physical destination.
It could also be an emotional or psychological realization. This culmination provides closure to the journey segment and sets the stage for subsequent events.
Example: In The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Santiago’s journey concludes not just with his arrival at the Pyramids but also with his profound realization about where his treasure truly lies.
Check out this video on how to write traveling scenes:
Biggest Mistakes When Writing Traveling Scenes
Avoid these mistakes when writing your traveling scenes:
- Lack of Purpose — A journey without a clear purpose can seem directionless and bore readers.
- Over-Description — While it’s essential to set the scene, excessive description can slow down the narrative and disengage readers.
- Ignoring Character Development — Focusing solely on the journey and neglecting the emotional growth or changes in the characters is a missed opportunity.
- Unrealistic Challenges — Imposing too many or improbable challenges can break the reader’s suspension of disbelief.
- Monotonous Pacing — If every travel scene has the same pace, it can become predictable and lose its impact.
- Forcing Conflict — Introducing conflict for the sake of drama can seem contrived if it doesn’t serve the story.
- Neglecting Cultural Sensitivities — When writing about real places, ignoring or misrepresenting cultural aspects can be off-putting to readers familiar with that culture.
- Overusing Flashbacks — While introspection is natural during travel, excessive flashbacks can detract from the journey itself.
30 Words for Writing Traveling Scenes
Use these words for writing traveling scenes in your stories:
30 Phrases for Writing Traveling Scenes
You can also try out these phrases in your travel scenes:
- “Setting off at dawn…”
- “As the landscape morphed…”
- “Journeying through uncharted territories…”
- “The road stretched endlessly ahead…”
- “With each passing mile…”
- “A sense of wanderlust took over…”
- “Trailing through winding paths…”
- “The rhythmic chug of the train…”
- “Navigating the bustling streets of…”
- “Under the canopy of stars…”
- “The horizon beckoned with promises…”
- “The aroma of distant lands wafted…”
- “Bounded by the thrill of discovery…”
- “Cruising the serene waters of…”
- “Against the backdrop of towering mountains…”
- “Whispers of ancient travelers echoed…”
- “Mingling with locals, they unearthed stories…”
- “An unyielding desire to explore…”
- “Lost amidst nature’s embrace…”
- “Charting a course through…”
- “The map unfolded tales of…”
- “Strangers in a foreign land…”
- “The crossroads posed a dilemma…”
- “With backpacks hoisted, they ventured…”
- “Guided by the northern star…”
- “Chasing the setting sun…”
- “Destinations yet to be etched in memory…”
- “Embarking on a soulful sojourn…”
- “The trail narrated tales of yore…”
- “Every twist and turn held a new surprise…”
3 Examples of How to Write Traveling Scenes
Here are three examples of how to write traveling scenes in three different genres of fiction:
The company of elves and men traversed the Enchanted Forest, the ancient trees whispering secrets only the elves could understand. But danger lurked, as shadows shifted and eyes gleamed in the darkness.
It was said that the forest played tricks on those who dared to cross it, bending reality and illusion.
As they reached a clearing, a shimmering portal appeared. The entrance to the mythical city of Eldoria.
Amelia, a young woman in the early 20th century, boarded the grand ship set to cross the Atlantic.
Dressed in her finest, she marveled at the luxurious interiors, a stark contrast to her humble beginnings. As the ship set sail, the shoreline faded, replaced by the vastness of the ocean. At night, grand ballroom dances were held, and by day, tales of adventures in the New World buzzed.
But amidst the festivities, whispers of icebergs grew louder.
Commander Rayne gazed out of the spaceship’s window, the stars stretching out, a dazzling canvas of light and darkness.
Their mission: to reach and colonize the exoplanet dubbed “Nexa.” As they entered hyperdrive, time warped around them. A sensation of weightlessness enveloped the crew. On Nexa, they would face an environment unlike any other, with floating islands and rivers of light.
But first, they had to survive the journey through the quantum tunnel, a challenge many had failed before.
Final Thoughts: How to Write Traveling Scenes
Crafting compelling traveling scenes is a blend of imagination, authenticity, and keen observation.
If you want even more information about writing scenes, check out some of the articles listed below.
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