I am thankful for travel in so many ways. It does more for my spirit than any other activity I partake in. In fact, I consider travel the jumper cables in my life. It is there to jump start my attitude and rejuvenate my weary self after the day in and day out of a full time job. I think of the adventures, the learning, the insight that I get from travel and it gets me motivated for the next trip I have planned. But, out of all the amazing things that travel gifts me, it is storytelling that brings me the most joy.
Storytelling opens up a wealth of possibilities when I travel. It puts things into context and creates connections through experience after experience. No matter what corner of the world I find myself in, I always, always have the ability to find the storytelling and enjoy the moment that much more. Here are eight ways for you to add storytelling to your next travels (and maybe a story to go along with it…).
Find destinations that are rich with storytelling.
I once went on an amazing cruise from Istanbul to Athens. I didn’t realize when I booked how many biblical stories I would encounter at port after port. It was spine tingling to walk where Paul had spoke in Ephesus and to dip my feet in the same waters where he baptized Lydia. At other ports, I walked the labyrinth at Knosses where Icarus and Daedelus soared and sunk on the pages of Greek Mythology. Having an amazing context like the Bible and Mythology bring a destination to life.
Some destinations take the literal to a whole new level! The International Storytelling festival in Edinburgh, Scotland takes place every October and includes 10 days of music, stories and more. Click here for more information.
Using storytelling to gain context in your destination.
There is no greater way to understand a destination better than finding a connection to it. And, the only way to make those connections is to learn about where you plan to travel. There is a fragile balance between traveling by the seat of your pants and educating yourself. I find that having some sort of understanding, whether, historical, familial, linguistic, or culturally, makes travel so much more engaging. So, read, research, explore, become globally literate. Then, you have some frame of reference to use as you read plaques in museums, research which piazza has the best pizza, and explore hidden chapels and nooks in churches and castles.
Pass storytelling traditions on to younger generations.
While storytelling is an oral tradition, using great literature to pass along these amazing stories to a younger generation is a great way to create a deeper connection to any destination is always, always a great idea. I once was at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. I was waiting with my mother at the bottom of the road for the rest of our party to join us. The teacher in me remembered the great story of Fin McCoul. Have you heard it? Check out the storyteller below if you haven’t! I was relating this great story to my mom in the very spot where the story happens. When I finished, the people around us all applauded! It’s so much fun to share!
Engage guides as great storytellers.
June 6, 1944. The waves are choppy, the air is tense. The Nazis know something is going to happen but they are not sure when. Northern France, is bound in Nazi occupation and prays daily that their beloved Normandy will find it’s hero. Then, all hell breaks loose. Landing boat after landing boat need to get to shore on the main beach while the Army Rangers have about 30 minutes before they will no longer have any shoreline to climb the cliffs and overtake Pointe Du’ Hoc. The battle is only beginning and will last for two months as the Allied forces slowly push back the Nazis retreat through the rubble.
Imagine standing on that hallowed sand hearing this story and the many many more that good guides can provide. Contracting a good guide is not only a great investment to learn more about your destination but can also create a much more memorable experience if your time is short. Consider taking a food tour wile on a layover or a ghost tour to round out your 48 hours in a city center. The possibilities are endless!
I once found myself in the great Wieliczka Salt Mine just outside Krakow, Poland on a Sunday morning. Our guide, Agnetha, was brilliant. She gave us an incredible tour as she maneuvered our four person group through the different spaces deftly avoiding large groups and making our experience a magical one. Her stories about all of the famous carvings and events that occurred in this medieval masterpiece (and UNESCO World Heritage Site). Tour guides are that good.
Even in today’s COVID travel world, there are great opportunities. Check out these Virtual Storytelling Experiences with Spanish tour guide, Drica. She is making the most of this time with some wonderful storytelling including a virtual feast through El Prado.
Find storytellers that teach.
There are moments in travel when you give pause to the momentous twists and turns in history. Battlefields, prisons, and cemeteries all come to mind. But, perhaps the most overwhelming of them all is Auschwitz. The Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp is an experience like no other. All at once, you are fearful, saddened, angered, maybe even embarrassed that humanity had even made it to this point. It’s so many emotions at once that it can be difficult to take in the full scope of what you are seeing. This is all so very important to feel all the feelings. The unbelievable guides that walk visitors through this time in history are to be valued. They help negotiate the facts and emotions so that you can reflect on how important your time visiting really was. The tour guide makes the difference.
Experience ghost tours and other walking tours.
The great city centers of the world have heard you travelers! Cities have developed incredibly creative ways to engage visitors. They take great tales from history and wrap them into fun walking tours that let you hear this great storytelling while seeing a slice of the city. Look for great tours about literature in Dublin or spooky closes in Edinburgh. You can even check out the Nightwatchman’s Tour in Rothenburg.
Become your own storyteller.
Sometimes there are moments when guides and literature are not available. There’s no harm in having a little fun and becoming a storyteller yourself! When you find yourself in a castle make up a silly story with all your vacation buzz phrases (you know you have them!) Take time to record (on video) your thoughts about where you are and how you feel about it. Reflect on your trip by adding stories to your photo albums. I’m partial to Shutterfly but there are tons of choices these days.
The ultimate way to earn your Phd. in storytelling skills is by getting out to western Ireland and kissing the Blarney Stone. Here’s what you need to do. One. Arrive at Blarney Castle and climb to the very top. Two. Review the legend of how the Queen got fed up with the Lord Blarney creating the gift of the gab. Three. Meet your stone attendants (who are most likely named Paddy and Mike). Four. Lay down on your back and let Paddy and Mike SWING YOU DOWN INTO THE WALL GAP TO KISS THE STONE! FIVE!!!! NOTICE THAT THE ONLY THING BETWEEN YOU AND THE GROUND IS TEN STORIES OF AIR AND TWO PIECES OF REBAR!!!! ACK!!! If the string of curse words that comes out of you doesn’t jump start your storytelling mojo, recounting the experience to everyone who will listen will!
Enjoy music as storytelling.
Irish music and American folk music are a cornerstone in the storytelling arena. The Irish storytelling tradition is definitely a huge part of the culture as the suppression that was experienced did not allow for anything to be recorded. The goal was to eradicate these stories and traditions. But the Irish persevered and came out with an amazing poetic sense of telling those stories. Don’t believe me listen to this famous goodbye by the incomparable Makem and Clancy. So many cultures across the world have amazing music that tells of history and traditions for so many.
Books that inspire storytelling…
More on Storytelling…
Samantha Brown’s Places to Love
Virtual sources and podcasts that inspire the storyteller in us all…
- The Radio Vagabond Podcast ~ Travel guru Palle Bo immerses you in his adventures to relate to you the amazing potential any trip can foster.
- True Crime Obsessed Podcast ~ While not travel, these two are the best recappers in the business and can help you hone your storytelling skills with a bit of a laugh at the same time.
- National Geographic Article on Storytelling delves into the history of how storytelling became such an amazing platform for communication and connection.