Keeping a travel journal on the road can be a pain in the ass. Skip a few days and you’ll wind up pages and pages behind, furiously trying to catch up and remember what the hell you did three mornings ago.
But creating a log of your trip is a priceless gift to someone important – your future self. Recording the highlights of a journey forces you to identify them, and to reflect upon your trip as it is happening. When you are old and forgetful, you’re not going to remember all the poignant details of your trip – the little girl who smiled at you from the school bus window, the impossibly fresh taste of a tuna pulled right from the sea, the color of the moonlight on the glacial lake.
But keeping a trip log doesn’t have to be a drag. Use these tips to create a better travel journal – your future self will thank you.
Prepare Your Journal
Choose a journal with a design you love, and make sure it will be easy to use. Some prefer small, compact notebooks such as Moleskin, while others want a larger spiral journal that will lay flat for writing. Consider the weight and the number of pages. Depending on how much you write, you may want to create one journal for each trip, or combine two trips into one.
Prep your journal. The inside cover and front pages of your journal are great spots for pertinent information (which you should also email to yourself). You can write it down or type it up, print it out in a small text size and glue it in:
- Basic words in foreign language: hello, thank you, please, etc.
- Snail mail addresses for post cards
- Embassy phone #s and addresses
- Emergency #s for your banks/credit cards, insurance company, tour company and airline
- Easy exchange rate conversions for basic amounts -$1, $10, $20
- Your luggage lock combo#
- Your phone # and email address, in case you lose your journal
Next, glue in a small map of your destination (or draw it if you’re an artist). This will give you an overall idea of your itinerary. Draw in your route before you leave, or as you go along.
You can also add a small blank calendar to fill in as you travel. You can write in the cities/places you visit, where you slept or the name of your hotel. This will also help you keep track of the day during your trip.
The back of your journal is a great place to draft lists that you can fill in as your journey unfolds, including:
- Six senses of your destination: sounds of Morocco, tastes of Peru, sights of Costa Rica, smells of Hawaii, feelings of South Africa
- Wildlife encountered on your trip
- New foods and drinks that you tried
- Books to read and movies to watch (suggested by locals and fellow travelers) – or if it’s a long trip, a list of books that you read
- Packing tips to help you next time: list of things that you packed but didn’t need, that you needed but didn’t pack, and that you were so glad that you brought.
Be sure to test out your travel pen on the pages before you go, to make sure the ink that you’ve chosen doesn’t smear or bleed through heavily onto the back of the page.
On a tour? Before you leave, print out your trip itinerary in the smallest font size that you can still read. Cut each day apart into a separate strip of paper, and carry them in your journal pocket. Glue each daily itinerary onto the correct page. Now you have the official record of the trip alongside your personal musings.
Now you’re ready to travel!
If your trip begins with a flight, you have plenty of time to kill – and the perfect opportunity to start your journal off right. Take advantage of your time in the airport and on the plane to jot down your current state of mind. What are you most excited about? Are you also scared, or apprehensive? Write it down.
Trips are usually full of waiting periods in airports, in bus stations, on trains, waiting for your friends to wake up, and waiting for your roommate to go to sleep. If you’re traveling alone, journaling during meals or drink breaks at sidewalk cafes can make you feel more comfortable. Use your travel downtime to jot down a few notes.
Whatever you do, don’t think that you need to write down every banal experience in sequential fashion: First we left the train station, and then we got in a taxi, and then we drove through the city and then we got to the hotel. Your journal will be a boring story of irrelevant events.
Instead, keep it short, succinct and interesting. You don’t even have to write whole sentences if you don’t want to! This journal is not for your 5th grade grammar teacher – it’s for you. Use bullets, lists or whatever else that makes it easy and fun to write and read: Train station packed with school group in yellow uniforms. Taxi driver “Sal” says to try the ice cream parlor at the beach. Hotel room is a total dump with sheets for curtains.
Save detailed information (like your hotel name) for your calendar or list section.
At the top of each page or set of pages, you might want to write down where you are writing about, the date or your current mood.
You can also use your journal for more artistic, stream-of-consciousness-type writings and reflections on the trip. Let it flow. Write poems, create sketches, doodle or draw maps. Don’t let the lines on the pages hold you back! If you tend to sketch and draw more than write, opt for a journal with unlined pages.
Keep small, flat mementos in the back pocket of your journal. If it doesn’t have one, you may want to tuck in an envelope or even glue it to the inside back cover before you leave. You can also pack a small glue stick and paste your mementos to the pages as you go. Journals are great for keeping ticket stubs, entry stickers, business cards, funny receipts, postage stamps, dried leaves and petals – anything that is flat.
Your trip is reaching its end, and the pages of your journal are packed full of your personal experiences and feelings. You may want to read it on the plane on the way home, or you may want to put it away for several months before you relive the journey.
Once you get home and unpack, you might also come across various mementos that you don’t know what to do with. Glue them onto the blank pages of your journal! Create a lasting memento that you will cherish forever and read when you are old.
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” ~ Oscar Wilde