Transforming your Travels into a Meaningful Memoir

Jillian Schedneck

Guest Post by Jillian Schedneck

Jillian SchedneckJillian Schedneck devoted three years on a MFA in creative nonfiction writing, after graduating she moved to the Middle East to teach writing. She met students from all over the Arab world, and learned that the power of story easily bridges cultural differences. After returning to the United States two years later, she wrote a travel memoir “Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights” that was published in 2012.

Today Jillian shares how including a meaningful backstory can help you avoid writing a one-dimensional memoir.

How to include meaningful backstory into your travel stories

Your travel stories will connect much more with your readers if you include a backstory that resonates. Let’s say you’re writing about your hunt for the perfect rug in Istanbul. Sure, the reader will want to know if you find what you’re searching for. But the story will be more meaningful if you write about the particular reason you’re seeking out this most fantastic rug.

  • Does this interest stem from your childhood?
  • Did your aunt collect patterned rugs?
  • Did she always wish she could travel and purchase these beautiful objects?
  • Did you have a special connection with your aunt?
  • Specifically, what does this search mean to you?
  • How does it connect to your past?

Counterintuitively, the more specific you are about your own backstory and associations, the more readers of all kinds will connect with your story. Once they can grasp the personal backstory, they will be much more inclined to root for you and want to know what happens to you.

Jillian Schedneck


Sensory Details

Typically, some sensory detail triggers a memory. Have that sensory detail—the feel of the rug, or its precise geometric pattern—bring the reader back into a memory. Don’t go too deep, but just enough to get the gist of why you were reminded of this moment. Then bring us back to the ‘present’ of that original scene that triggered the memory.

Sometimes your memories will be small suggestions, and other times they will be quite significant. But don’t let your memory take over. Remember the present of your story and bring us back to that whenever you can, adding action, detail and dialogue to the present scene.

Remember your memory’s purpose: to inform that present scene. Only include details that will help the reader create a fuller picture of the present moment.

Transition between Tenses

Avoid skipping too far ahead once you return from a memory to the present scene. Land the reader right back where you left, or your reader will be confused and wonder what happened. Use a sensory detail to bring us back to that present moment. If you’ve been describing the gestures of your rug seller, then bring us back with a description of another gesture from the seller.

Jillian SchedneckAvoid One-Dimentional

Your story will only be one-dimensional if you exclude pertinent backstory from your travel story. Adding that personal meaning for your quests, fears and obsessions, will make your story much more appealing to readers.

Free Writing Guide and new e-Course

I write more in depth about this topic and others related to travel memoir writing in my free guide ‘How to Transform your Travels into Meaningful Memoir: An Insider’s Guide‘. I’m developing e-courses for new and dedicated travellers.

Get in touch at I’d love to hear what you struggle with the most in your travel writing and what you’d like help with.

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Author Bio

Jillian Schedneck

Jillian Schedneck runs a website for travel memoir writers called Writing From Near and Far, and is the author of the travel memoir Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights.