My travel journal is one of my most precious possessions. I say journal, but actually there are many of them, documenting the details of previous trips. I started travel journaling almost by accident, so I could share a trip with my mum. But the idea grew to encompass many journals. On days when I feel very suburban, I can escape through those pages.
Travel journals don’t have to be about the big adventures. Some of them may cover exotic trips, but others could be closer to home. One of my favourite journals documents overnight trips here in the UK, showing that adventure might be just a toothbrush away.
What You Need to create A travel Journal
In practice, all you need is a notebook and a pen.
You can then add to that. My favourite travel journals are Moleskines. The soft cover versions can accommodate all kinds of extras stuck into the pages. The back pocket is great for stashing emphemera: tickets, menus, the beautiful wrapping from a pharmacy in Cagliari. The paper allows your words to flow with speed and ease.
“It’s not the destination, it’s the glory of the ride” Purple Ronnie’s Zen Dog journal and travel wallet with my philosophy of travel writ clear and proud.
Then there are the journals dedicated to specific trips. A blue spiral bound book documents our tour of the Baltics. We have a small Paperchase notebook is known as the Little Book of Ghent. Because we go there often, its pages record the changes in the city, such as the building of the Stadhuis.
You should also remember scissors (small ones if flying) to clip ephemera to fit the journal. A sticky stick of some description to add said ephemera to the journal. You might want coloured pens for emphasis, maybe a sketch pencil if you have arty skills. Stickers are great for highlighting sections, or for passing comment on the day’s events.
Where to Begin
I love to start with the planning. It’s good to look back after the event and remember how you designed the trip. The budget is good, so you can see in the future what different options cost and use that to inform your next plans. Our “Diet Coke index” of relative cost in different countries appears on pages throughout our travels.
Sometimes I’ll be saving up for a specific trip. In that case, the travel journal records how I saved or earned the money. In one case, I worked out the travel miles, divided it by the cost, and was able to list how many miles I’d funded at any one point. That’s really motivating.
Progress on earning money for a Mediterranean cruise, shown rather exuberantly in my Travel Journal
Each travel journal also contains packing lists. I’ll remember to check the weather the week before we travel. That’s saved us on many occasions. Windchill of minus 40 in Chicago, and unseasonable 30 degree heat in October in Tennessee were better faced with suitable packing.
Packing list for a trip to Ghent in a Moleskine journal. Slightly amused to spot a reference to packing light at the end of that long list!
I also like lists of the things we plan to do. Not because we’re going to stick to it slavishly, but because it reminds us what’s possible. Don’t forget to note any limitations, like the days on which particular attractions are closed, or the time of something you might want to catch. The Peabody Ducks, for example, walk the Peabody Hotel in Memphis at 5pm daily. I say walk, but it’s more of a webbed sprint, and over in five minutes.
Packing Your Travel Journal For Travel
I use an A4 zipped and waterproof pouch. Although a few stains add character, trying to dry out a full journal is no fun. The pouch has room for:
- the journal itself
- sticky stick
- teeny scissors
- washi tape
And when you are on the road, there’s plenty of room too for the gathering of papers to add to your journal. If you are going to use maps and literature, don’t forget to shed and recycle the bits you won’t use so you lighten your load.
Journaling as you go
I like to journal to punctuate my day. Whether it’s in that zoned out hour before dinner, or sitting in the sun early before your partner is awake, those are the great times to write and reflect.
What are your immediate impressions? As I read October’s journal from Tennessee, I can feel again the deep sadness of the Civil Rights Museum. There’s an inscribed brick in the pavement – No Justice No Peace – which has stuck with me. And what made you laugh? The same trip for me had the Peabody Ducks, one of whom was surely RADA material. And the host for our trip on the Island Queen, who had some tongue-in-cheek comments about Arkansas just over the water.
Things to Remember
What do you want to remember? For me, it’s sitting in the grass at Dockery Farm, home of the blues, and talking to an agriculturalist about the differences between farming here and there. We were watching his cat rolling in the gravel, and listening to the faint sounds of music in the deep afternoon heat. The journal brings that right back. And then there’s the funnier in retrospect stuff, like trying to find allergen-friendly food on Beale Street, and ending up with a salad of tomato, onion, cucumber and lettuce for dinner.
Tickets, Receipts and Pictures create Memories
I try to remember to harvest things for the journal every day: Badges from the Rock and Soul Museum, tickets for the Island Queen on the Mississippi, a poster for the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The receipt from the whole foods store that reminded me of my Tennessee friend’s saying: “Whole Foods? Whole Paycheck.” The sign above Loretta Lynn’s diner saying “Howdy y’all” reminds me that it served the kind of food we used to make for soft diets in hospital. Overlooked, as duly noted in the journal , by a whole wall of weaponry for sale.
A collection of materials for my travel journal, trip to Tennessee and Mississippi, October 2016
It doesn’t all need to be dealt with while you’re there. In fact, if like me you can’t sleep on long flights, it’s a great way to pass the time at 30,000 feet. But don’t forget to write down those little anecodotes you’ll want to remember in the months and years to come. And the things that gave you a real sense of place and time.
And if you can, have someone else write in your journal too. Mine contain little interjections from my husband, usually about what he has eaten. But if you can persuade someone you meet to add some comments, you’ll treasure them.
After you’ve completed your travel journal
Don’t let it sit on the shelf, neglected. Take it out on a rainy day, or when the working grind gets you down. Remember the heat baking down on you in Cagliari, and the icy juice and salty crisps in the cafe at the top of the hill. Remember the night you saw dolphins at dinner. Remember the lady who sat next to you at the cafe in Gibraltar and gave you a more vivid history of the Rock than any guide could manage. Those are the treasures for your bad days, and your inspiration for good days to come.