Day 23 – Writing About a Place You’ve Never Visited


It’s not always possible for to get on a plane and fly to your ancestor’s village to collect the intimate details of your ancestor’s surroundings. It’s not always possible to travel the trail they took when they migrated west or stand on their land or sit in the pew of the church they were married in. Sometimes, we have to be content with finding what we can from our armchairs.

Here are a few ideas for travelling remotely when you can’t get on that plane.

Take a Virtual Tour

Google Maps is very much your friend when it comes to visiting distant countries.  Plot believable routes that your ancestor took, find out how long it took them to walk to school or work, and observe local monuments and landmarks. Don’t forget to take a tour down the smaller streets to see what your ancestor’s neighborhoods look liked. Not always we can find a homestead still standing, but sometimes we do get lucky.

Youtube is another great place to start. You’d be surprised how many videos you can find of people walking around local shrines, temples, or markets.There are plenty of travellers posting videos. Consider following travel bloggers and blogs of foreigners teaching English in other countries to discover intimate details of the places your ancestors lived.

Travel Companies often have a blog or videos, some bigger companies like the popular Rick Steves offers great documentaries and TV shows on travel destinations as well as apps that take you on tours through various areas.  Rick Steves very much focuses on the local culture and out of the way places.

Immerse Yourself from Home

If you can’t travel then immerse yourself from home. Read books set in the country of your ancestor both fiction and nonfiction. Listen to local music, read the local online newspapers both current and ones of your ancestor’s time. Watch TV shows from the country if you can. Check out the local language online or download an app.

While for many of us, travelling to our ancestral hometowns is hard, but there are plenty of options for discovering your ancestral hometowns from your armchair and laptop if you take the time to look.

We’ve said it before, and it bears repeating again, it’s the little details you offer your readers that really help the setting come to life. How do they get ready for school?  What sounds do they hear on the train? What do they see in the shop window? What do they hear when walking down the city street? It’s these little details that paint the scene for the reader and will make them trust your description of the town, farm, or city. When focusing in on your ancestral hometowns, think details.