When you travel, chances are you will want to share your experiences with people you care about. But exactly what and how are you sharing? Are you sanitizing the negative, showing only the good and the beautiful? Or are you complaining, mopey, and negative? Both of those are an extreme form of curation -being highly selective about what you convey and showing it through a particular emotional lens. When you are too selective, people miss the nuances which often give a place its richness.
Transcription lies at a different point on the continuum from curation. Transcribing is about recording something as faithfully as possible, with as little of your own interpretation as possible. Transcriptions can then be interpreted by others, making it possible for multiple interpretations to arise, hopefully with some common ground between them. But travel transcriptions on their own would likely be quite dull. How excited do you get at the thought of viewing the 500 photos your friend took on a weekend ski trip with people you don’t know? Or reading a list of every physical detail your friend saw at the Eiffel tour (2.5 million rivets, 1665 steps to climb to the top of the tower, an average of 19,123 tourists visiting per day, crying child, man in red shirt who needs a bath, 50 loud motorcycles that passed while he waited in line for an hour, or the middle-aged couple he saw smooching at the top viewing platform of the tower).
So for a traveller reporting back to his or her social circle (or even just recording for his or her own future use) which approach is better, curating or transcribing? Neither approach feels fully satisfying somehow. Then, what’s the alternative? You could alternate between the two. Or you could continue to curate, while using some aspects of transcription to spice up or round out your curation. Here are some ideas for how you might do this:
Think about yourself and your own blind spots
Do you typically inclined to overemphasize the beautiful over the ugly? The historic over the modern? Bright colours over dark? The aesthetic over the functional? The liberal over the conservative? Whatever your blind spot, consider making space for it in one of your reports back home. As an example, if you tend to ignore the functional, try exploring (and posting about) a local utility or system that helps the city thrive. You may even find it interesting and beautiful in its own right. On one trip to London, my husband and I made a point of doing a Thames river tour that went as far as the Thames Flood Barrier. It’s a piece of critical infrastructure that keeps river surges from causing damage to the city.
Use help to dig deeper
Dig deeper by looking at your destination through the eyes of one of its historic, political, or artistic figures. We’re planning an upcoming visit to Mexico City, and I’m going to try to read up on artist Frieda Kahlo, the ultimate selfie queen , and how she experienced life there. I’m looking forward to making at least one Facebook post comparing my impressions of a given site to the impact it is known to have had on her experiences and artwork.
Join the debate
Before you go, look into some of the political debates impacting the community you’ll be visiting, and try to find out what they might mean for a community’s future (discussed also in five tips for living like a local). Shape your postings back to your network with this awareness. Advanced tip: if you’re a liberal, focus on the conservative viewpoint, and vice versa.
Know your audience
Think about an interest or hobby of a close friend or relative and make space in an email to him or her discussing (and or taking photos at) your destination from that perspective. Photograph the classic cars of Havana for the car enthusiast in your life, the costume exhibits of the Victoria & Albert museum for your fashion-forward nieces, or the wildlife for your budding biologist brother.)
Show your discomfort
Consider documenting a travel experience when you stretched beyond your comfort zone is part of that. Did you get lost navigating somewhere interesting? Feel uneasy or unsure? I once went to a conference alone in Houston, Texas. While not afraid to go to Europe alone, or New York or San Francisco, something about Houston scared me. I left my wedding ring at home (swapped it for a cheap fake band so I didn’t feel naked or dishonest) because I was afraid of being robbed at gunpoint. I suspect my fear was a response to the state’s overt gun culture and permissive gun laws. I tried to curate my way out of my fear when posting to Facebook, by sounding amused about the bad urban design, and trying to be light about my time there. In hindsight, this was insincere. My reports back home might have been more interesting if I had (at least once) been more up front about my fears and how they limited me. Even if it didn’t change what I saw or when or how I saw it, perhaps it might have been more interesting if I explained that I chose not to disembark at one light rail stop on my tour of the entire transit line, because I saw people through the window looking at each other with hungry eyes. How for the first 30 minutes on my drive out of town in a rental car I kept waiting for an aggressive Houston driver to cut me off. And how this stressed me out so much that my fingers cramped from gripping the steering wheel too tightly.
How we talk about, and record our travel experiences plays an important role in their authenticity- both for ourselves and to others with whom we share them. There is value in reflecting more on your choices as you curate these experiences, and on the ways that you might enhance their breadth and or honesty (while keeping them interesting and relevant).