The Traveling Writer

The Traveling Writer
Terry Odell

Traveling Writer I’m back on my mountain after a 12-day “vacation.” (Can writers ever take vacations?) I was part of a photography tour of the Dalmatian coast, starting in Split and ending up in Dubrovnik (with an add-on day to Bosnia & Herzegovina). I’m recapping some ‘travel’ bits on my own blog, but this is a writing blog, so I’ll talk about the trip from a writer’s perspective.

In my current WIP, one of my main characters is an aspiring photographer, so I’ll be able to incorporate some of the lessons I learned into this book. Of course, I didn’t have to go to Croatia to learn these techniques, but as long as I was there …

However, this is about using travel for a book that hasn’t been written yet. Last time, I talked about things I’d be looking as writing fodder. While I don’t want to downplay the fantastic time I had on the trip, as writers we know that only trouble is interesting and it’s critical to create tension. With that in mind, here are some observations that might make it into the book I hope to write next.


  • There’s the one who’s always got his head down, looking at his phone, who’s up-to-the-minute with current technology.
  • Contrast him with the one who doesn’t even own an ATM card. How’s he going to get cash in the local currency?
  • The one who can’t grasp that the entire world doesn’t work the way it does at home.
  • The one who hasn’t learned to use his inside voice.
  • The one who won’t try any local cuisine or eat anything that looks the least bit different—even if it’s salad greens.
  • The one who can’t seem to think for himself (or read the daily itinerary/schedule) and has to ask for explanations of everything.


  • To Americans, so much seems old in other countries. Diocletian’s Palace in Split, for example, was built back in the 300s. Here, if we have a building over a hundred years old, it’s likely going to be torn down and replaced with glass and chrome. There, they simply cobble on improvements like better wiring, air conditioners and the like.
  • Weather is unpredictable, which can lead to plan adjustments. We had an unexpected appearance of Bura winds, which brought high seas and colder weather, meaning we didn’t get to follow our itinerary precisely.
  • Hotels and the cruise boats run EITHER heat or a/c. No quick adjustments when there’s an unexpected change in the weather.
  • Plumbing can create tension. Figuring out how to adjust the water temperature in the boat’s shower challenged many of the passengers.A character might have the wrong clothes, with no place to buy more.
  • There’s no grace period in schedules. If they say the bus will leave at 19:00, as soon as the clock ticks over, it takes off.

Docking in ports. The ships line up parallel, often 5 deep, so you have to cross through them to get to the dock. “Minding the gap” could become an issue for a passenger with mobility issues. (You can click any of the images below to enlarge)Traveling Writer
Traveling WriterLanguage. That can be a biggie. I’m guessing most Americans aren’t as familiar with Slavic languages as they are with Latin-based ones. Even if you’re reading signs along with a tour guide, what she’s saying doesn’t look anything like what you’re seeing. Our phonics don’t work there.

The Croatian alphabet has the following additional letters: č, ć, dž, đ, lj, nj, š and ž but doesn’t have q, w, x, or y.
There’s a death of vowels (Island of Hvar, and Krka National Park) and they seem to toss Js in at random.

Traveling WriterHint: Download Google translate, set it to the language of the country you’re in, and you can use the phone’s camera to get a translation of writing. Great for notices on shopfronts, menus (although almost all have English translations), brochures, signage at venues. Schools start teaching English at an early age, so most people have a rudimentary grasp of the language, especially those in the service industry.

Okay, that’s enough “trouble.” A little more about the trip from the tourist standpoint.

Everyone was friendly. Our boat had about 30 passengers. Eleven of us were on the photo tour, and another couple was from England. The rest were Germans. The tour company used to give tours only in English, and international passengers were aware and dealt with it. Because of Covid, the company needed to expand its market, and offered dual-language tours. This meant that all communication on board and on our guided tours was given twice: once in English, once in German. I heard a lot of German growing up, although we didn’t speak it at home. I took two years of German in college. After a couple glasses of wine, enough of it came back so I could make myself understood to some of the German passengers. (Impressed the heck out of my son!)

The food was amazing. We had the typical European buffet breakfast every day, and lunches were four course fine dining meals. Any of the courses would have been a full meal for me. How our chef on board produced this in a tiny kitchen never ceased to impress.

Portions everywhere were huge. A personal pizza would feed two easily—and with Italy so close (now and historically), pizza was everywhere. So was gelato.

And perhaps Croatia’s most recent claim to fame (and a boost to its economy): Game of Thrones was filmed there. There are memorabilia shops, special guided tours, and LOTS of people taking pictures.

Traveling WriterAs someone who never watched the show, I simply admired the scenery and buildings for what they were, not what they pretended to be.

Traveling WriterIn closing. This was a photography trip for me, so I have been working on getting my images sorted, processed, and uploaded. If you’d like to see some of them,  I’ve started a slideshow, which is still getting updated. (Click the triangle at the top right to start the show.) A lot of these images are “assignments” from our instructor, so they’re not typical travel-brochure shots. He suggested we try things like car trails, close-ups, long exposures, low angles (hard on aging knees), monochrome, motion blur, multiple exposure, pan blur, panoramic, reflections, textures, varying depth of field. Can’t say I tried all of them, or was successful at the ones I tried, but it was a fun way to look at the country alongside of the history provided by our tour guides.

Notes to self. Take pictures of signs so you know where you were. Update a journal no matter how tired you are at the end of the day. Don’t expect your brain to work the way it does at home. Think of “conference brain” and how all the new input overloads it. I knew I wouldn’t be writing, so I brought along a printout of as far as I’d gotten in the current WIP, thinking I could do some preliminary editing. Despite reading the words, trying to fool myself into thinking I was editing turned out to be a wasted effort. So, it’s back to work I go.


Image by Rebecca Scholz from Pixabay

One last tidbit. Residents of the Dalmatian coast prefer German shepherds. Dalmatians, they say, are too much trouble.

All right, TKZers. Questions? Comments? Suggestions for others?

Trusting Uncertainty by Terry OdellAvailable Now Trusting Uncertainty, Book 10 in the Blackthorne, Inc. series.
You can’t go back and fix the past. Moving on means moving forward.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

29 thoughts on “The Traveling Writer

  1. Terry, thanks for taking us along on your trip, after the fact. If your WIP is half as interesting as your post this morning you have a winner. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  2. Terry, thanks for the vicarious vacation! I know what you mean about overload. When everything is new and different, the brain is so busy absorbing, you can’t concentrate on “normal” activities, like editing.

    Fun tidbit about Dalmatians. Maybe they just prefer to be on the Budweiser wagon with the Clydesdales.

    • Add in the dual language, and it really clogs the brain,
      Funny thing. If I went to the lounge to “edit” and the crew was having dinner, my brain blocked out their talking because it had no clue there was anything of note in Serbian. But if there were other English or German-speaking people, it created a distraction. (A reason I can’t write in coffee shops, etc.)

  3. Great post, Terry. Beautiful pictures. Interesting stories and advice about your travels. I hope you learned some new photography tricks and came up with some new ideas for your WIP. Thanks for taking us along. Eager to read your book when it’s finished.

    Have a good day!

    • Thanks, Steve. I did learn some new photography techniques. Whether I remember how to use them is another story (and a potential plot point!)

  4. Enjoyed reading this travel post. May I add that simply wearing a smile breaks all language barriers? Works for me everytime and everywhere.

    Overall, TKZ is a splendid blog. Mahalo.

    • Thanks, Elaine. And speaking of smiling–what with all the concern about wearing masks and hiding our expressions–smiles still show. There was a toddler aboard our return flight–couldn’t have been more than 2–so he’d grown up seeing masked people. He looked at me (and I was appropriately masked for the flight) and I smiled at him. He smiled back.

  5. Thanks for taking us along on your trip, Terry., and welcome back! Sounds like you had a wonderful adventure.

    I liked the list of characters you came up with. Traveling on a tour can be like an international smorgasbord. You’re not always sure what you’re going to get, but to a writer, it’s all delicious.

    I look forward to reading your next book.

  6. Terry, your photos are spectacular. I can’t wait to see more.
    Your two posts on travel were quite timely and helpful for me. I recently returned from a canal boating holiday in France which has provided me with an idea for a new book and I am frantically taking notes.
    You are so right about writing in the journal every day. I tried to keep up my journal but slipped many days, so I have spent the past two weeks trying to capture all the details—thank God for our photos which help trigger the memories.
    Thanks for taking us on your trip!

    • Thanks, Barb. If you think my photos were spectacular, you should see my son’s (the photo instructor). We shot a lot of the same subjects, and mine don’t compare. Then again (she says, rationalizing), he knows a lot more about post-processing than I’m willing to learn.
      And yes, having photos helps remind us of where we were. Now, if I’d remembered to turn on GPS tracking, I’d know exactly where I was. 🙂

  7. Terry, what a fantastic trip! Croatia is absolutely dripping with history. I have a degree in history and a long-time interest in the later Roman Empire, and also find the Balkans fascinating. I would be walking around staring at awe at every building and land mark.

    Your list of characters is terrific, and taking a tour through the lens (no pun intended) of a photography tour would be a great way to hone your observational skills and of course give you so many details to write about, aside from getting to be a photographer like the hero in your next novel.

    Thanks for sharing–it was a very fun read!

    • Glad you enjoyed it, and I (almost) wish I’d paid more attention/enjoyed history classes more. It would be fascinating to compare what we’re taught here in the states with the history presented by our tour guides. For me, when they talk about the Ottoman Empire, I see footstools. 😉

  8. Love this, Terry. I always admire people who love to travel . . . which I don’t, really. I dare say it’s an epic author failure, but there it is.

    I did take a trip to Vietnam in 2007, though. It was with a medical mission group. Cue the scene of the small-town PNW girl gazing wide-eyed at green-clad soldiers with automatic weapons stationed everywhere at the Hanoi airport; and at jungles for the first time. Lots to get used to.

    Like never standing for very long under trees. You never know what’s up there. Like, riding in the bus to our mountain village location for the day, passing tiny huts with no doors, looking in and seeing a massive big-screen TV reigning in the one room. Like, lifting the garbage can lid to throw a lunch sack away and finding a spider bigger than my husband’s hand, waiting. Like, sitting down to dinner in a large cafeteria with my mission mates and having to shoo cockroaches off the table.

    And my fave: going into the bathroom of our government housing building (there were about 100 of us) for the first time and turning the water on at the sink. No big deal, right? Except that I didn’t notice there was no pipe under the free-standing sink. The water went down the drain and poured over my shoes.

    After 2 1/2 weeks of that, I couldn’t wait to get back home. But, walking back into my house that first time, and for days afterward, the first place my gaze went was up at the ceiling . . . to make sure there was nothing hanging up there.

    I still find myself doing that. 🙂

    I did come back with a heart full of gratitude for my birth and life in America, though. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

    • Things were built to last then! Diocletian renounced the throne and retired in 305. The palace he had built as his retirement home was constructed (a lot of slave labor) between 295 and 305. Diocletian died in 316, so he didn’t live there long. It’s more of a ‘city’ now than what you’d expect after seeing the castles in Britain.

  9. Sounds like a fun vacation, Terry. It also sounds like you need a vacation from your vacation. Busy, busy, busy. 🙂 Happy writing the new WIP!

  10. Wow! I wish I could’ve stowed away in your luggage. It looks like my tuxedo cat did. 🙂 Great character trait list and I can’t wait to read the book this trip will focus on.

    • Thanks, Patricia
      Cats were everywhere. I’m adding “photography stuff” to the current WIP, and once this one’s finished, I’ll start working on the travel-based story. Should keep me out of trouble for a while.

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