for the (artful) traveler


As I work on my visual memoir, I’m thinking a lot about travel as a creative practice and creative practice as a way of journeying with more ease and joy…and presence.

These are some images from my current sketchbook.

I get into image making to help me write. Help me think.

When I’m deep in writing, I read a lot of poetry, and a lot of other people’s memoirs.

These bits of John O’Donohue’s poem, For the Traveler, are weaving their way into my pages…


Here’s the whole poem (try to image in it recited in Irish brogue)

Every time you leave home,

Another road takes you

Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.

New places that have never seen you

Will startle a little at your entry.

Old places that know you well

Will pretend nothing

Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself

Alone in a different way,

More attentive now

To the self you bring along,

Your more subtle eye watching

You abroad; and how what meets you

Touches that part of the heart

That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune

To the timbre in some voice,

Opening in conversation

You want to take in

To where your longing

Has pressed hard enough

Inward, on some unsaid dark,

To create a crystal of insight

You could not have known

You needed

To illuminate

Your way.

When you travel,

A new silence

Goes with you,

And if you listen,

You will hear

What your heart would

Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:

Make sure, before you go,

To take the time

To bless your going forth,

To free your heart of ballast

So that the compass of your soul

Might direct you toward

The territories of spirit

Where you will discover

More of your hidden life,

And the urgencies

That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,

Gathered wisely into your inner ground;

That you may not waste the invitations

Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,

And live your time away to its fullest;

Return home more enriched, and free

To balance the gift of days which call you.

~ John O’Donohue


Tell me something wonderFULL…

Imagine you could learn something useful for documenting your own journey…

What would that be?

The theme is: pilgrimage…travel notebooks…visual journals…travel photography…writing and documenting your journey… creative adventures… what do you want guidance or inspiration on most? 

Got any favorite traveler poems and quotes? 

Ask me in the comments. I’d really appreciate your input. Thanks!

20 Responses to for the (artful) traveler

  1. suzana April 21, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this poem, Lisa! I’m working on a creative expression of it for my sketchbook and reflecting on it in terms of our Grand Adventure, which I’ve shared about in other post comments.

    Creative challenge: I’m learning/ practicing more ‘travel journal’ sketchbooking and trying not to be intimidated by some of the amazing ones I’ve seen or by the ‘pressure’ to create quickly/ in public on site… I’m practicing both sketching on site and working from photos later to build my skills before we go. Any other tips/ suggestions are most welcome!!!

    PS. It was encouraging to read your response about always being interested in others’ stories. I too wonder ‘why would anyone else care’ to read/ see my travel experiences?

  2. Judy Hudgins April 16, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    One of the first poems I can remember memorizing as a child, still hits home for me, Robert Frost’s “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening”. At the time I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the poem. I also love books which I call ‘Year in the Life of’ books. Part travelogue, part journal, they almost always hit some note with me.

  3. Danielle V April 15, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

    Old places that know you well/Will pretend nothing/Changed since your last visit.

    These lines really resonated with me. After living abroad for 2+ years and then coming back home to a place that didn’t seem to change much when I had changed a lot was really difficult. It was challenging to figure out how to interact with people who assumed I was the same person as when I left the States which caused some hurt feelings on both sides.

    As for my creative challenges, I have seen some amazing illustrators whose travel sketchbooks are simply phenomenal both in terms of composition and the actual drawing. I keep comparing my own travel sketchbooks (that were only started less than a year ago) and the works of people who have been doing this for years and years. Intellectually I know the two can’t (and shouldn’t be compared), but emotionally it is a different story. Just something I need to keep working on.

  4. Linda Flanagan March 27, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    Having just finished a month long journey into Sur Baja with my husband, I’m so grateful for the exquisite John O’Donohue poem on travel. Thanks Lisa for the beautific reminder of his gracious viewpoint. How timely to scribble it down in my travel journal.

    We have always loved the Lonely Planet guidebooks when traveling in Mexico and Central America. The Lonely Planet online thorn tree is a current and very helpful addition to updates to their travel books (however, we didn’t use it this winter in Baja). During our travels my husband read a variety of travel stories to inspire him. Last night he found a new travel book about how travel has impacted one’s internal life (sorry, I’ll post the title later) with writers like Natalie Goldberg and Barbara Kingsolver.

    I just finished the most recent book by Lynn Darling that is a memoir of her several years in Vermont after a life in NYC which talks a lot about getting lost and finding one’s path in life when things change dramatically.

    Thanks for the questions to ponder upon. I’m so grateful for the quotes of the 30 day journaling while traveling this winter. Inspiring, invigorating and delightful.

    Stay colorful and amazing you deep artistic explorers out there!

    • Lisa Sonora Beam March 28, 2014 at 11:43 am #

      @Linda – thanks so much for sharing – yes do share the title of that “internal travel” anthology. Natalie Goldberg’s memoir, Long Quiet Highway is one that I read every year or two, always on my summer reading list.
      Huge fan of Barbara Kingsolver’s work, too.

  5. Paula March 20, 2014 at 1:53 am #

    On traveling: I want to explore ways of telling others that it’s time for me to hit the road, ways of assuring them that it’s not forever, it’s not about them, it’s not about saying goodbye, but instead, “until we see each other again”. I want to think about why I hesitate to share my travel experiences or why the world needs another road reminiscence because I’d like to make a living sharing my experiences of the world with others (as long as I’m going to go out looking at the world anyway…). I want to think about why travel seems a bit selfish and, as you say, “extravagant” to me. Are these just notions that keep me from taking risks that will bring me joy?

    • Lisa Sonora Beam March 21, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

      @Paula – such potent wonderings…

      Maybe “the world” doesn’t “need” another road reminiscence… or another memoir … or another whatever we think has already been done.

      When I look at what is on offer in mainstream US theatres and bookstores, it seems like all “the world” wants is another best-seller.

      Personally, I crave more stories (including travel and from the road) because the journey we are all on, each of us, is so endlessly interesting to me.

      In terms of notions that keep us from taking risks that will bring us joy…I think we only find out by going, and keeping going…

      In my experience, waiting for approval or permission or even someone to say – awesome, GO! – would mean I’d still be waiting… and that goes for travel as well as for every creative venture.

      Oh – such a rich topic!

      another question: what travel or road stories have you read that have been significant to you? If you were to share a bibliography of such stories / or websites / what would they be?

      Everyone is welcome to share on this…thanks!

      • Paula March 24, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

        On travel literature:
        I used to read the Let’s Go travel guides just for fun, dreaming about an extended trip through the Americas with my ex. Found out he bought a great tent and backpack for his girlfriend. Tore the Let’s Go South America guide into many pieces and chucked that dream.
        I did use the Let’s Go Europe guide with abandon in the late 1980s, mostly in Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. I had to leave it with the border guards on my way into East Berlin, who found it subversive, and maybe interesting. Hope somebody found a good hotel with it after the wall fell.
        Have lots of Lonely Planet/Marco Polo guides for northern destinations like the Baltic States and Finland and Mediterranean islands like Sardinia and Corsica. I stack these next to old copies of Nordis (German magazine on Scandinavia) and culinary magazines featuring Mediterranean cuisine. The theme of this shelf is “someday”. I am planning a visit to “someday” soon.
        John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley, is probably the most classic travel literature I have ever read. It’s just good Steinbeck.
        I consider any novel or memoir that takes me to a place I’ve never been to be travel literature: anything by John Haines about Alaska, Laura Ingalls Wilder about the upper Midwest and the plains, and despite it’s brutality, Papillon by Henri Charrière still makes me want to visit the Caribbean.
        I’m also a free brochure and map freak. Literature in the hotel lobby or, better yet, a local travel office – I’ll take one of each, please!
        It strikes me that all of these pages are parts of a larger description of the dream to keep moving on, to board another train, wait for another bus, fill up the tank, roll down the windows and hang my head out the window, panting into the wind! I’m also thinking, that the making of a grand scrapbook is long overdue.
        Thanks for getting me/us started with this topic. Can’t wait to see how it develops.

  6. Emma Yisraela Tzviah March 17, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    Been noodling on how to word this. Knowing I have a big distance travel by road coming up, & wanting to be more journey than destination oriented, w/a reading + workshop + visiting friends & writers along the way. I notice when I push a journal to be ~about something~, I sort of resent it & feel closed up. The last travel journal I did ended up being very full before I even left, a metaphorical suitcase of ideas & images I’d prepared to bring w/me. …When I look back at journal pages I’ve made while traveling, I’m usually most held by the ones that are more about mind & feel state than recording “what I did” … the photo I took of the fire hoop dancer on the CE retreat, IE, is by my desk now… near my hoop, & I captured it as part of that journal-making pay attention process. Your postcards to self in an envelop technique comes to mind, too.

    So have been thinking about instead of focusing on where I’ll be going, more on the road the road the road… going, hmmm put images of roads & gas stations & stuff like that into the journal for this trip, road signs, maybe even my car.. I don’t drive much here in Tucson, & last time I was at a gas station, all these images/memories/feels about the travel came up. I was surprised, & yet startled into wanting to really go more into that for this travel. Even now thinking on this prompt you’ve put up, I’ve been like “Hmmm, what additional visits can I make along the way, how can I try at pulling off the highway a bit, how can I ‘slow this down’ etc. ~Be on the road~.”

    This is some how a question. (;

    Re: quotes & stuff, what I’ve done too is sort of paste images of where I’m going into a journal & sort of let myself be pulled toward that. I have a John Muir (whatever problematic John Muir) quote from several years ago that has moved from journal to journal: “…going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity” & sort of using that as a guiding light that some how brought me to the feet of the big Tucson-area mountain. Or, that the destination or the road or the travel may be ‘home’ in its own way.

  7. Laura Bucci March 16, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

    I am preparing for a journey now–a road trip with my partner and dog to Baja in April/May. Driving down from Vancouver. I’ve bought a sketchbook just for this trip and I am wondering mostly how I will write about and document this journey. I plan to pre-paint some pages and write prompts, quotes, the poem you have here, etc. and see how I respond from there. I also plan to do a lot of drawing of things I see, and to buy local newspapers and magazines to use for collage. Maybe I need travel/journey focused prompts that help me notice the new environment or attune to the new experience.

  8. Michelle Casserley March 16, 2014 at 7:31 am #

    Thank you Lisa for your feedback and thoughts and I will take my questions to the page, thank you <3

  9. Marialena March 16, 2014 at 7:20 am #

    Ah Lisa, thanks for shaing this poem. I loved these lines particularly:

    Make sure, before you go,
    To take the time
    To bless your going forth,
    To free your heart of ballast
    So that the compass of your soul
    Might direct you toward
    The territories of spirit
    Where you will discover
    More of your hidden life,
    And the urgencies
    That deserve to claim you.

    How does one release the ballast of one’s heart? Journaling perhaps and listening closely. Trusting that it will fall away once I allow it to. The ballast of the heart seems so real and yet so intangible.

  10. Michelle Casserley March 15, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    Hi Lisa,
    Thanks for the thought provoking writing, as always!

    I love travelling and am starting to do more now which is wonderful, I am still to venture overseas from my Australian homeland but am saving 🙂

    Iknow that when I travel it is with an open and curious mind and I feel that sometimes I would benefit more if I travel alone, I am curious about the safety aspect, I know you have travelled extensively over the years solo, has this ever been a issue or concern for you? xx

    • Lisa Sonora Beam March 15, 2014 at 10:57 pm #

      @Michelle – about safety and solo female travel: great topic. I’ve reflected on this quite a bit. There are very few places in the world where I have felt in danger. One of those places is my home town of Chicago. 🙂

      So when people ask if it is dangerous to travel alone in the world, I automatically think of the things I’ve experienced in Chicago. And take my comparison from there.

      Most places I feel a greater sense of safety and community.

      Anything can happen anywhere. Especially if we dare venture out of the house.

      Of course there is a lot we can do to travel mindfully – and smartly. Most of the suggestions for how women can stay safe traveling alone I learned by growing up in a place like Chicago.

      I always love to take the inquiry a bit below the surface, too.

      For example, asking myself: What am I really afraid of?

      What’s the worse thing that could happen?

      Are these really my fears, or are they ideas I’ve absorbed from elsewhere?

      What’s the best thing that could happen?

      If safety (or whatever the concern is) were no issue, then what would I do?

      These all make great writing prompts, by the way. Journal about it. See what your inner guidance comes up with.

      This is kind of a funny example, but I had wanted to move to San Francisco for a long time before I left Chicago. I was afraid of earthquakes in a kind of amplified way. Once I decided I was ok with whatever happened earthquake-wise, something set me free, and the way forward (or westward, as it were) opened up.

      Now I still live in an earthquake zone here in Mexico…

      There are also ways of traveling with others, and taking time to be alone on a trip. Or traveling alone, but finding ways to share experiences with others. Beyond tours. One way I mitigate total isolation (like being in hotels all alone) is to rent rooms on airbnb – and that way I can meet a local, and often they introduce me to other locals, etc.

      Big subject! Will be writing a lot more about all of this as I get more questions and feedback from all of you. Thank you.

  11. Bobbi Rubinstein March 15, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    Thanks for introducing me to John O’Donohue. I’m going to copy that poem and look for his work. I like documenting my travels with writing, photography, gluing stuff in a journal. I like learning more about myself and thinking about how a place affects me, no matter how close or far away it is. I like really getting into a place, reading about it, reading novels, etc. I would love to go on a pilgrimage. Writing prompts about place, home, travel, pilgrimage. I want to be able to internalize my trips. Hope this answers your question.

    • Lisa Sonora Beam March 15, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

      @Bobbi – yes – your sharing is so helpful and just what I’m looking for. Thank you.

  12. Suzi Banks Baum March 15, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Dearest Lisa, I love getting to look in your journals. I too love John O’Donohue’s books. Just last week I traveled and his phrase “A journey can become a sacred thing” kept me company in my journal and heart..It would be fun for us to create pages using his quotes. I read Rumi daily, currently reading Margaret J Wheatley’s book, Perseverance and also Mirabai Starr’s book about St. Teresa de Avila. These provide me with writing prompts, carve in to me with new truths.
    So good to read you today. xo S

    • Lisa Sonora Beam March 15, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

      @Suzi – glad to hear. And thank you for sharing with us more wonderful books. Do you primarily write in your journal, or are you doing visual work, too? Do you keep travel journals? Even of the interior voyage sort?

  13. vicki rae helstrom July 10, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    lisa i am trying to sign up for the july 14th class my friend kristin suratt is going but i dont know if there is space please reply asap i am in love with your spirit!!! and….. you are a father john odonohue fan111 I FOUND MYSELF WITH THE ANAM HARA sp? tapes several yrs ago turned everyone i knew on to his beauty and even met a friend priest of his the renegade priest up here in medocino ca. where i live anyway i really really want to come to san anselmo this weekend cant seem to find out by way of website if i can attend or not that poemwas awesome i am going to croatia in sept please get back to me vikcki rae


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