Travel as a Story: Protagonist

Part I: Setting
Part II: Theme

In literature, the protagonist is the main character of the story.  I guess you could also say it’s the Hero of the story.  Or maybe this: the protagonist carries the idea or message (i.e. Theme) we discussed in the previous post.

So, for our Travel as a Story series, let’s look at the protagonist of our trips.

machu picchu pictures images

Random guy

Traveling Alone

It’d logically follow that if you’re traveling alone, you’re the protagonist of the trip, correct?  Well, not so fast.  In order to properly determine the protagonist of the trip, it’s important to try and determine the theme of the trip first.  Why?  Let’s take a look at one of the themes from the last post.

Realizing the imagined

Ok, so I think this one is pretty easy.  If you’re the one realizing the imagined, then you’re the protagonist.  However, if you’re on, say, a work trip and are in charge of a big sale to a prospect, would you be the protagonist or would they?  If realizing the imagined is your theme, and they’re the ones who need to realize it, might they be the protagonist?  I honestly don’t know, just asking the question.

Let’s look at another one

Good vs. Evil

Let’s say you’re doing some voluntourism where you’re assisting in foreign aid efforts after a natural disaster.  Are you the protagonist of the story?  I’d submit not.  Rather, I’d propose that the protagonists of the story are the people in need of aid.  Understanding this helps us place ourselves properly in the story.  If it’s not about us, our desires and motivations will be properly set during the trip and things like delays and missed baggage won’t matter as much.

Ok one more.

Coming of age

If you’re backpacking through Europe during a gap year or after graduation, then yes, you’re the protagonist in this case.  You will have victories and defeats, as do all protagonists.  The focus for you then is the theme.  You are the protagonist and you need to come of age.  You need to place yourself in vulnerable situations, get out of your comfort zone, and embrace the victories and pick yourself back up after the defeats during your story.

Traveling with friends/family

In my opinion, properly setting the protagonist is way more important when traveling with a group of people than it is when you’re alone.  Getting your perspective right before the trip ever happens can make a wonderful difference and, although it may not lead to a stress-free trip, it will ensure that the trip stays “on theme”.

Let’s say you’re taking your kids to Disney World.  Amidst all the parades and autographs and general melee are your kids, who will be blown away at the sensory stimulus orchestrated before them.  They’re quite literally realizing the imagined.

In this case, your kids are the protagonist(s) of the story in this case.  You and your spouse are not.  Do you see what I’m getting at?  If the story you’re writing is of your kids seeing in person what they’d only previously dreamed of, you play a part but you’re not the central focus, they are.  Of course, if they’re the protagonists they’ll then by rule have victories and defeats during the story, because that’s how stories work.  The victories are what they’ll cherish forever and recovering from the defeats is how they’ll grow.  Your part of the trip is to help them accomplish everything they can.

The really crazy part

As I’ve been thinking of and writing out these posts, two things have really jumped out at me:

  1. Will anyone even get this or have I gone completely nuts?  and
  2. I am ASTONISHED by how rarely I am the protagonist on my trips!

As far as the second point goes, many people will mistakingly try to become the protagonist throughout the trip and make things about them, which is understandable (it’s human nature).  By understanding this concept and using it as you plan your trip, your perspective will be in the right place from the beginning, helping your story and making your trip more meaningful.

As far as my first point, what do you think, have I completely lost it?

2 Comments

  1. Very interesting post! In addition to backpacking with friends I’ve also taught in China both with a friend and alone… I could argue I’m my own antagonist??
    Beautiful blog and photos, enjoyed reading your posts.
    Jen

    Reply
    • Thanks Jen! Stay tuned for the antagonist post coming soon!

      Reply

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