In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott describes the process of writing to that of watching a Polaroid develop. Once the photo has been taken the image remains unclear for what often feels  like a painstakingly long time.

As with writing it’s only the faint shadows of a story that first emerge. The image and words are monotone and lacking in details but with perseverance, and in my case often, frustrations, the arduous process slowly starts to reveal a complete picture with stunning details, vivid colors and a scene that you couldn’t have even imagined.

When you try and look at the Polaroid before it’s fully developed or finish a story without working it out and giving it the time it deserves then you miss out on much of the detail that gives the piece life.

I can’t help but think that this analogy also works with traveling too, probably because I’ve been doing a lot of it lately and while reading this part of the book I was sipping Rum Punch while the Caribbean sun wrapped me warmly. I give you permission to roll your eyes in my general direction.

With each recent trip I assigned the adventure an already formed Polaroid without my even realizing it. I had set aside expectations and pre-conceived notions of what I should expect and what I planned to glean from the trip before I had even packed my bags.

On many of my recent trips I spent the first few days frustrated that the reality didn’t resemble the image that my Polaroid so clearly displayed. I fussed over failed expectations and tried my best to control the outcome until I finally realized (and realized again, sometimes it takes me awhile to learn a lesson) that I need to allow this experience to tell me it’s story rather than force one on it.

Once I allowed myself to simply experience I was open to changing of plans, fully experiencing the beauty of that place and the differences of culture. I was able to clearly listen to the story of the trip and the blurry scenes of the Polaroid began to reveal themselves into an image that exceeded my previous shallow expectations.

While I realize that it is nearly impossible not to enter in without some expectations, my hope for future trips is that I can quickly forget my Polaroid in order to make way for the one that is yet to be revealed.


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26 Responses to “A word on travel”

  1. Kasey

    Simply lovely, Ashley. I, too, take great joy in travel, but I definitely form my opinions well before I arrive at my destination. I have my restaurants picked out, and my walks mapped out. And travel, like writing, rarely ever looks like that finished polaroid. I love your new attitude and embracing the unknown, and letting it take over. I’m about to go on a few adventures of my own, and I’m going to try to hold this post close to my heart.

  2. la domestique

    I consider myself a pretty good traveler, but when my husband and I visited France for the first time a couple years ago I went through the same thing. I was cranky, difficult, and frustrated. The language barrier didn’t help, and I was surprised at how anxious I became in a place I was supposed to love. I realized that I felt disjointed by not being able to communicate, and being the people pleaser I am, I couldn’t anticipate what people wanted from me or how I was supposed to act. Here’s hoping we’ll have plenty of practice at this travel thing and letting go of expectations, just experiencing.

  3. Odette

    Your entry carries a policy that I try to carry out in my life. No expectations. This has been so helpful for my relationships with the people I love. Or else we only feel let down by things that were only made up in our minds. I leave to Thailand on my honeymoon soon… I’ll make sure the Polaroids arrive on their own.. 🙂

  4. Michelle

    my husband has a tattoo that he got early in his 20’s that translates loosely to “no way is the way.” powerful words to live by

  5. MG Atwood

    I think that is what I enjoy most about travel….the unknown. I like finding new places, and experiencing places like the locals do. Each trip has it’s own flavor, even when I revisit some of my favorite spots, each one is unique. Let that polaroid roll, baby.

  6. Margherita

    I love the analogy of the developing polaroid with the writing experience: it’s really on point!
    As usual, your pictures are just fantastic.

  7. Debra Brown

    Just wanted to tell you that I love your website and it’s a combination of some of my favorite things; food, photography and writing. Annie Lamott is one of my inspirations and Bird By Bird is a beauty.

  8. meg jones wall

    gorgeous thoughts, and photos. your travel shots are just what i’ve been aspiring for, and i love the polaroid writing analogy too – brilliant.

  9. alison

    That is one of my favorite books!! I love this post. You are an excellent writer. I can’t wait for your book 😉

  10. Mikaela Cowles

    Would that I could be so fully aware of what is going on around me. Each one of those stages (blurry, slowly realized, and fully vibrant) are such a lovely place to be. Thank you for sharing.

  11. tracy

    oh man! I almost ALWAYS have preconceived notions of what my trip is supposed to be like and I always have to have some type of come to jesus moment when things don’t look the way I wanted them to…or anticipated them to be. Most of the time things look WAY better.

    I think it’s just that I let my crazy planning brain get in the way. The logistics of travel clutter my head and I think of the time away as a schedule…not leaving room in my head for free thoughts and play on a trip. It used to be a lot worse when I had to figure out what camera I was bringing on a trip… I appreciate you putting into words what I’ve been thinking, friend!

  12. Emily

    I feel very similar as well. I’ve recently been traveling a lot (five countries in a week and a half. let’s just say I started to giggle uncontrollably when I came across my own bed the other night) and feel that frustration too. But at the end, I also always feel so small. The experience of discovering how little you know about cultures outside of your home always make me feel the immense largeness of the world and how small I really am. And more importantly, how much more I still have to learn about everything, everywhere. That feeling of being inconsequential is both humbling and exhilarating.

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