If you’ve never kept a travel journal, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. All those travel memories, kept safe within its pages, can be revisited time and time again. They’re almost as good as being there, and you can get to experience them over and over again. A travel diary can take many different forms, and the good news is that there is no right or wrong way to capture your memories. But it can be a challenge to look at a blank page. So here are my thoughts on 13 inspirational additions for your travel journal.
Why would you want to keep a travel journal?
A group of us sitting chatting over a coffee – and all of us journal keeping fans – came up with the following reasons:
- acting as a memory bank
- bringing back happy times and revisiting them
- remembering what you loved if you visit a place again
- being aware what not to do again
- passing on recommendations to others
I asked how people keep their journals, and it seems we all have different approaches. Some of us are evening recorders, jotting down what has happened during the day. Others like to plan out their day upfront, then come back and record what they did. I like to start my day by revisiting what happened the day before, when I’m fueled by sleep and caffeine, and have reflected on what I’ve done.
Some of us make beautiful pages at the outset. Others employ a more pragmatic approach, and simply scribble away. There are no guidelines, and this is entirely dependent on what makes you happy.
13 Inspirational Additions to your travel journal: Ephemera from the road
Here are some of the additions that we’ve stored and included in our travel journals. These don’t have to have meaning to anyone other than you; it’s your journal.
Photos are great, but postcards can give you a unique perspective on how a destination sees itself. And there are some memories here you might otherwise lose. Our apartment in Memphis had a postcard on the fridge setting out Elvis’s recipe for a fried peanut butter sandwich. That’s the kind of recipe you don’t normally see. And it will always bring back memories of the apartment for me: its floor level cooler, mid century furniture, one of those massive stacked washers and squirrels happily playing in the yard. All from the postcard.
Business Cards from restaurants or services
It’s great to be able to remember just where you ate that was so wonderful (and, indeed, if it’s the same owners when you return). And if you found a great guide or trip, then you can pass on the details to others.
Whether for flights, trains, trams or shows, there’s a lot to be said for hanging onto your tickets. They can bring back so many memories, like the flight from Adelaide to Singapore where I got a row to myself, and an incredible view of the Big Red Centre.
Then there are trams: the Kustram that took us all the way along the forty miles of Belgian coast from Knokke to De Panne for just 6 Euros. The tram card for Ghent, reminding me that we were there for long enough to be using tram services like a local, even knowing a whole variety of tram routes to our favourite destinations.
Then there are shows: musicals in London, gigs we traveled to see. All part of the tapestry of travel, and great to keep for the memories they bring back.
Travel Journal: Less Obvious Momentoes
Receipts are seldom glamorous, but they’re great at documenting both the essentials of life in a particular place, and the relative priorities at a destination. We have a somewhat jokey Diet Coke index that we refer to as an indication of whether we found a place expensive. Equally, you find details of purchases that only happen in specific destinations: Belgian beers, Halloween decorations in the USA and pasta with garlic in Italy.
Ribbon and Wrapping
It was 40 degrees Celsius in the shade and Cagliari was languid. We’d walked up hills from the port, and I was full of headache. The little corner pharmacy offered up painkillers. Around them came a tissue wrap, white, with elegant blue scrolling and script. A transaction that cost pennies came with a wrapping of such elegance and style we could only be in Italy. That made my travel journal.
Think of purchases in France, sealed with ribbon and a sticker bearing the name of the shop. A decorative paper bag from a museum. Postcards from Brussels sealed in a bag by a sticker of Brussels Sprouts: a reminder that the Belgians have a great sense of humour. Grab them all for your memories.
Thoughts from the Road: From Others
What your travel companions think
They may not keep a travel diary of their own, but your travel companions could have snippets to add to your journal. I love looking through mine to spot the changes in handwriting where my husband has chipped in his views. This is often an account of how much fish he’s managed to eat that day, or a new gastronomic treat. These interjections in my journal make me smile.
Comments from people you meet along the way
If you’ve been chatting to someone for a while, they might be happy to write something in your journal. I know I’ve been happy to do this for people who have asked. You might get random thoughts on your destination, good wishes for your trip, or even a quote.
Speaking of which, why not add quotes from novels set in your location. Or from travel writers? Or poetry? Sometimes someone else has said exactly what chimes with your experiences and feelings. Jot it down.
Capturing your own thoughts
Your own writings
This is whatever you want it to be. Bullet points, lists, poetry, narrative about what you’ve done and seen: they’re all valid. If you’re stuck for things to write, try focusing on what you’ve experienced through all your senses that day.
What did you see, and were there particular colours or patterns you will always associate with that destination? How does the place smell? Lemons, lavender and olives are Provence to me. Eucalyptus is Australia. What did you taste? Salt of the sea. Salty feta over salad at lunch. What did you feel? Dusty rocks under your trainers. The rough bark of the trees. Grit on your tongue from a windstorm.
Don’t be bashful: draw
I have the reputation of being a really bad artist, so bad that it was suggested I give it up at school. But sometimes I draw in my journals because it’s a way of capturing something I might otherwise forget. A shape that’s characteristic of a location. A tea glass. Adobe buildings.
Things you collected Purposefully
I love a map in my journal. It sets a context for where I’ve been. Sometimes it can also be motivational beforehand; I once funded a trip through selling my unwanted stuff, and each month saw me advance more of the miles the trip would take me. Sometimes it can make me laugh too, like the map of Brussels that reminds me of the night I got so lost it took me over an hour and a half to achieve what is basically a five minute journey. And I still have no idea how I managed that.
Brochures from the tourist board
The tourist information centre is always a rich resource for pictures, leaflets and information you might want to keep. Stick it in, or add to to a folder. If possible recycle anything you don’t need before you leave, rather than hauling it home with you – that paper is heavy!
We’ve all got into the habit of keeping our picture on our phones or computer drives. When we were chatting about journaling the other night, we all commented on how much more we enjoyed those photos that we’d had printed or made prints of ourselves. They were looked at more frequently, and seemed to bring back more memories. So even if you have an Insta trail of your trip, consider having something that’s physically there as a reminder.
13 Inspirational Additions to your travel journal: the last one
Whatever makes you happy. Some people love watercolour, whether as backgrounds or to paint scenes. Others are fans of lettering, and can add some spectacular calligraphy. Many people like washi tape; that masking tape comes in all sorts of patterns and colours, and even in miniature scenes from specific countries such as Russia, Italy or France. None of this is necessary of course. But if it makes your heart glad, do it.
I like to look at inspiration from people who keep a journal. Not even necessarily travel-focused, but a journal whose creativity can fire mine. I enjoy Catharine Mi-Sook, whose stylish and aspirational Insta feed is unmistakably individual and Cara Vincens for her exuberant and practical approach to being creative.
For more about setting up a travel journal, check out our guide here, which will take you through the process of creating your first journal. Pinterest is also a great source of inspiration, as you can look at other journals to see what chimes with you.
If this inspired you to keep a travel journal, why not pin it for later!