Capturing Moments of Awe through Travel Poetry

Capturing Moments of Awe through Travel Poetry

Author on beach in Dominican Republic

Posted June 9, 2024

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In 2016, I took my first-ever flight and my first trip away from mainland North America. My excitement bubbled over. I had never before been in a place so different from my home—a different language, accommodations with no air conditioning, mosquito netting, and a difference in time zone that caused me to awaken well before sunrise.

Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I walked through the pre-dawn resort to the beach. With the ocean sprawled before me as far as the eye could see, it was the most magnificent sunrise I’d ever seen.

The next day, I hoped to do the same thing. But the path to the beach was now blocked by a latched gate—a gate that had been open the morning before. On it was a sign that read in Spanish “Beach access 7 am to 7 pm.” The gate was closed from dusk till after dawn for the remainder of my trip.

I was disappointed but thrilled every time I thought back to that first sunrise. It seemed like even more of a special gift, knowing that restricted early morning access to the beach was the norm. After a few days, the memory coalesced into a poem in my mind.

Travel Poetry

Caribbean Sunrise

Sunrise

We weren’t supposed to be there
We didn’t know it though

As we crept from the rented bungalow
Past the hidden la playa sign

That bespoke our trespass
Beneath the dark fronds of early

Morning palms. Strange birds
Called through the gloom

Eerie, creeping pre-dawn in land
Not my own, which I’d hardly

Dare attempt back home
Sandy toes met crashing waves

As brilliant rays finally burned
Through the lingering stormy clouds of night

It only rained in the darkness
But when the friendly star burst

Forth, it was as if thirteen billion years
Had culminated in this moment

One sunrise was the purpose
Of all the universe

Poetry and Travel Experiences Have a History

I, of course, was not the first to immortalize travel experiences in poetic form. According to The Cambridge History of Travel Writing, poetry is “inseparable from the experience and discursive fabric of travel.” Some of our most ancient texts, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s Odyssey are, in effect, “travel poems”—though they may be of imagined journeys and quests.  The legacy continued, and by the 1700s, poems by such well-known writers as Walter Scott and Lord Byron were based in far-off locations.

So, I found myself only the newest addition to a long line of travel-writing poets. But this wasn’t my first travel poem. The first came after a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum when I was 14 years old. My poem mingled scenes from The Diary of Anne Frank and Facing the Lion with what I had seen at the museum. I believe that poetry was a way of processing those difficult and tragic emotions, just as it was for the positive emotions of awe and wonderment.

What If I’m Not a Poet?

If you don’t fancy yourself a poet, you can still channel your travel vibes into memorable accounts of your travels. My husband would assure you that he is not a poet. Yet, in 2018, our flight across the Pacific chased the sunset, causing it to linger like a rainbow on the horizon for nearly an hour. He grabbed my travel journal from my hand and seized a page to jot down twenty-three lines that he entitled “The Most Beautiful Sunset of Our Lives.” After we landed in Papua New Guinea, he WhatsApped the poem to family back home, sharing the experience. 

Travel Poetry Inspiration in the Caribbean Islands

You don’t have to “know poetry” to write about your travels. Your travel poems don’t have to take a traditional form with elaborate rhyme schemes or rhythm patterns. Consider an example.

I visited several Caribbean islands in 2023. In Grand Cayman, my travel group took a boat tour to see stingrays and starfish in the wild. In Jamaica, we were escorted by a tour guide named Tavi who facilitated a swim with a playful 53-year-old dolphin (I had no idea they lived that long!) and a hike up a waterfall, helped us navigate the local souvenir market, made sure I got the “local price” for my beef patty and served us Jamaican rum.

That evening while enjoying a drink, I grabbed a cocktail napkin to jot down this simple poem. When I realized no pencil was in sight, I pulled out Keep Notes on my phone instead. Each pair of words captures an image from the day and when I read it, its tempo reminds me of the rhythmic pounding of the steel drum band.

Travel Poetry

Inspired While Enjoying Caribbean Drinks

One Word

Sting
Ray
Doll
Fin
Beach
Sand
Girl
Friend
Fruity
Drink
Cutie
Pink
Sun
Set
Ocean
Waves
One
Love
Happy
Days

The Muse Is a Traveler

Poets often speak of ‘the muse striking.’ This concept of artistic inspiration originated in ancient Greek mythology, but it well describes the feeling one gets when, in a state of heightened creativity, ideas, imagery, and words flow freely.

Travel can serve as a catalyst to get those creative juices flowing. New experiences challenge our established perceptions and force us to see the world in new ways. Feelings of awe boost our moods and, according to research, alter our perception of time through “perceptual vastness.” Novel experiences can even foment the formation of new neural pathways, effectively changing the structure of our very brains.

Travel evokes a range of emotions. Poetry is known for its ability to stir emotions, but it can also serve as a receptacle for them. When you look back on your travel poems, you will likely be transported back to the place you wrote about and the emotions you felt there.

Travel Poetry

Rainbowlike Sunset Chases Plane Across the Pacific

The Future of Travel Poetry

Try as I might, I couldn’t find any contemporary literary journals focused on travel writing (though there are several books on the market). What does this mean for the future of travel poetry?

It certainly does not mean travel poetry is a thing of the past. Some poets have found an online audience, for example, by pairing short poems with related photos on Instagram.

There is even a grant that allows poets to live abroad for a year—the Amy Lowell Scholarship for American Poets Traveling Abroad. Applicants must be willing to remain outside of North America for one year and submit a few poems to the scholarship committee. One or two recipients are selected each year. For the 2025-2026 award period, recipients will be awarded $74,000 to cover travel and living expenses. 

With only 250 to 450 applicants per year in recent years, the odds of being selected are surprisingly good. So let the muse travel with you and try your hand at travel poetry—you will up your travel journaling game and maybe even fund a year of exciting adventures.

 

Click Here for Discounted Accommodations in Jamaica

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  • Cara Siera is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer from Tennessee, USA with a background in psychology and sociology. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction's online journal Brevity, the Red Mud Review, Fearsome Critters: A Millennial Arts Journal, and countless websites. Cara also curates the work-from-anywhere lifestyle and travel blog Anatomy of Adventure. She is a foodie with a passion for international travel, recipe creation, understanding other cultures, and the great outdoors. Learn more about her work here.