How To Keep a Travel Journal

Girl with notes

Journals have become as much a part of our lives as they were for our counterparts in the 19th century and before. We have facebooks and websites and diet records and even the diary has snuck back into use, electronic or otherwise. But, hold on. What about travel and vacations? We just take for granted that the camera will be our memory for the most interesting experiences. But our pictures show only what we saw, not how we felt or the context. They record for only one of the five senses, and they leave out so much. When we see the pictures, they often seem empty and we wonder, "Why on earth did I take that picture?" A well done travel journal can take the image and add the sounds and smells and textures, and then, your feelings and more. It turns a snapshot into a kaleidoscope of remembered smiles. So try the following:

  1. Get a plastic envelope. This will hold everything together. When it rains, you will be happy you did this. Make sure the case is soft and light and see-through. It should slide into the outside zip-pocket of your carry-on so it's easy to get at all the time, or evil Dr. Procrastinatus will surely seize your soul. If you are a walker, it must shift easily to your purse or backpack so it is always handy. Every time you sit down for a rest, out it comes. The camera clicks and you do the script of the picture.
  2. Get a notebook that will fit in this envelope. Choose something light and spiral bound, with enough pages to cover your trip and to hold your doodles. Forget about those notebooks with specific titles. Some think these are great guides. From experience, they just interfere with what to write as you focus on what is being asked there and not on what you experienced during the day. It is better to have as large pages as you can fit into your purse or backpack so you can see the lines when the light isn't perfect.
  3. Get pens, paper, tape or glue. Carry some colored ones just in case you get inspired to do some sketches. You never know there may be a latent talent just snoozing in you! You can use the paper for getting comments from people you meet on the way, or leaving messages at the hotel desk for friends or just scribble things that you want to remember before you write those in your journal. You can then tape these in.
  4. Get brochures and other information materials. Tape these in the appropriate pages where you need to include pictures, tickets, used cell cards newspaper headlines ("Tourist Arrested for Doodling") so you don't lose them.
  5. Bring a nudge/prompt pouch. Ladies, this can be fancy cloth pouches in very light fabric, probably, in your favorite color so you'll like opening it, when you can't kick start your mind. Guys, hide it inside a paper bag. Inside this pouch, stack some cut-out inspirational phrases, quotes, sentences, poetry from old magazines. Read the travel brochures or travel blogs and sites BEFORE you leave home and write some questions about places that will blast your mental tubes free.
  6. Make time to write. It does not have to be the same time every day but, for some, that is the habit that works. Know yourself. Write when you are waiting for your food or your transport or your ticket. Write on a park bench when your feet have collapsed so you look thoughtful rather than dead. Write when you've just taken a picture and capture the mood around you. Often, we say, "Oh we raced around every day and I was too pooped to scribble." But when we think of all the times we wait for the others to board the bus or the car or time in line at museums or hiding from the guide behind a pillar or for the food in a restaurant...ah, excuse me....there IS time.
  7. Use your journal as you see fit. It is yours. You are not impressing anyone. Put your own thoughts and feelings. Expand on how you experienced the place and the people. Put in your own insights and observations. Describe your own experience of the events. There are no rules as to how it should look. Make it your own book reflecting your own personality.
  8. Become a keen observer. Use your senses. Have a feel of the atmosphere. Taste and smell it. Have an eye for some interesting people and objects. Talk to some of them. Many have very interesting unique stories that will stay with you for some time.
  9. Remember details. Put the date and the place of your entry. Write the details such as the name of the restaurant, street number or name, names of people you met, names of sites you visited, transportation you used and the schedule, and the duration of the trip. Add some of your observations on what would have made the trip better. Describe how the place smelled or tasted or felt or anything to build up the picture or story. If you are in a really neat place, buying unique bits and pieces, take pictures of the store folks (after asking them) and make that part of the bits-and-pieces display that you will inevitably construct when you get home. Build a story. Everyone has been to the Eiffel Tower so your picture will be a snoozer even to you. With a story and people and all the details, it can be fantastic!
  10. Add entries from other people. These may include comments from your fellow travelers or locals you met on your travels, whom you can ask to write words in their own language in your journal, or from your guides who often have interesting stories to tell of the places you visit.
  11. Get a simple camera that works. The ego boosters guarantee that by the time you take the picture, it becomes a "well just before this, an elephant in a skirt walked by but...." Make sure it's waterproof and fits in your pocket.
  12. Use the Internet if this suits you. There are so many internet sites or blogs you can use to track your travels and write your journals in. The advantage is that it is up there in the web so you can always retrieve it. However, there are places where internet connection may not be as good as you would expect or, in some cases, not available. Unless, you have a very light computer, carrying one may not be very practical. If you are using your computer, make sure you back up your files by attaching these to e-mails to yourself or carry your USB device or data storage. With weight restrictions now in many airlines, this is not very practical.

Each one of us has a way of organizing our own experience so learn what works best for you. Quickly now....what do you remember of the fantastic vacation you took 3 years ago? Sweet diddly, right? So make a journal this time. Tie it into your pictures and relive a fabulous experience again and again with all your senses. Oh, tell your friends about your journal BEFORE you leave so you'll be too embarrassed NOT to stick to it.

Recommended Resource: Medical Travel 


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great article! Writing things down really helps a LOT.

By James Goetz

This is great! And you do speak from experience, with all the travelling you do. Everything you wrote is down to a T! I'm just glad that I did all of the above when I do travel. Esp names and places. They're in my photo albums too, incl. cut-outs from brochures or programs I've been to. I like the link to the leather journals. I can add more if you want to. We just got hundreds of them recently.

By Enid Sevilla

Hey, Mary, fantastic info! Really liked the analogy of a photo becoming a "kaleidoscope of remembered smiles". Heard there was a great web site for tracking your travels so friends & family could see it.... anyone know what it is?

By Riley Klein