Exposing Your Characters Through Travel

italy countryside
I’m going to Italy! (Yes, lucky me!) And unlike getting into the car for a day trip, I’m thinking of this as travel. That led me to think about how people travel, where, and why, and the myriad of ways travel exposes the traveler.


How people travel

Consider a character who chooses to drive cross-country rather than fly. Why? Flight phobia or sight-seeing? What about the woman who rides horseback from coast to coast, alone? The man who walked from Rockaway Beach in NY to Rockaway Beach in OR? What’s the difference between a bicycle tripper and a motorcycle tripper? Who chooses a bus tour vs. an ocean cruise?
Even within a mode, consider the differences between someone chauffeur-driven and someone driving a Toyota Corolla. What about someone flying first class vs. a tourist on a plane?


Why travel?

I won’t go into depth, but I’ll mention some possibilities: work, pleasure, a family gathering, attendance at a wedding or funeral or coronation…


Exotic or mundane? City or rural? A safe pace or one edged with danger of some sort? Revisiting a place or seeking something new? A place steeped in history or a modern resort setting?
beach dock at sunset
If you stop here, you will certainly have a much richer character than you would had he or she stayed put. You can have established interests, skills, socio-economic class, work status, maybe something on family status…


But taking it farther is an even greater opportunity. Don’t hesitate to go for personal and quirky! There are issues of style to consider in revealing your characters.
Peg Bracken mentioned a friend in one of her books who traveled with her own martinis: the bottom of her suitcase was lined with individual martinis in vacuum-sealed bags, prepared by her own hand.
What people feel is essential reveals a lot. Consider the woman who travels with ten books, the woman who packed thirteen pairs of shoes. What if it’s the same woman?
I know a woman who prepared for a two-week trip to Europe by planning what she would wear, in what combinations, every day she was gone in order to avoid repeating an outfit. Everything was laid out in the spare room a week before departure. I also know a couple who packed for four months in Singapore at midnight before their morning departure, in two small carry-ons and one big hard-sided suitcase.


travel camera bag
Some people pack everything they can think of that they might possibly want or need, from Scotch Tape to crochet hooks, night lights to batteries, and fifteen OTC drugs. Others pack their toothbrushes and razors, and don’t even stress over remembering those—the philosophy being “I can borrow or buy anything I need when I get there.”


Is your traveler relaxed or drinking to relax? Tolerant of the crying infant or calling the flight attendant every thirty minutes?


BOTTOM LINE: If it’s relevant to your story, bring travel into your character’s life! Even anticipating travel can reveal character traits that just lose their punch when told. And BTW: you can get a mini-version of this by revealing what’s in a woman’s purse/handbag/shoulder bag or a man’s pockets.


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