Sunday, 20 September 2009

How to Keep a Travel Journal?

Whether you are a travel writer, or just a traveller who likes to record memories in a way more in-depth than photographs, travel journals are invaluable.

"But I don't keep journals" you complain. Not to worry, anyone can keep a journal. A travel journal is for you. It's not supposed to be a piece of great art or a published book. It's personal, and so what you put in it and what it looks like, is also about what you like.

Selecting a Journal
While you can select any journal you like, durable and able to lie flat are the two key requirements.

You'll be using it in your travels, which means you might end up writing at the airport, in the train, in a cafe, outside on a bench - just about anywhere, so you need a journal that will handle the travelling well. A delicate little thing will fall apart in two days. For the same reasons, you need a journal that lie flat, so you can use it anywhere, even on your lap.

Try to choose one with acid-free pages, as they last longer. Also, if you are anything like me - a stationary freak - then you might have favourite pens you like to use. In my case, it's my fountain pens, which don't work well on really smooth pages, so I have to take that into consideration as well.

But really, it's no big deal. You can buy a simple notebook, or you can buy an expensive leather journal. It's up to you, and your budget. I have used a variety of things, but my current favourite is moleskine.

Preparating before your trip
Decide what you want to put in the journal, and make sure to pack supplies accordingly. If you just like orderly, uniform journal then all you may need is a black pen. But you might enjoy writing in coloured pens, or drawing things. Take some time to think about what you'll need. You don't need to take tons of supplies, but a little preparation will not leave you frustrated when you are inspired on your trip.

Finally...what to put in the journal?
Remember the five senses.
Most of the time, our main focus goes on the visual sense. We write what we see. But you don't just see things. You feel the searing heat on your skin. You smell the stench of sewers or aroma of spices. You taste things. You hear things. If you use all your senses when you write in your journal, those recorded memories will be all the more richer.

Make the best use of your time, but don't let the journal take over your trip. I've often been on trips where there is a lot to see, a lot to learn, and therefore a lot to write. But if I were to start writing then and there, I would most likely miss exciting parts of the trip. So I generally carry a post-it pad with me, and make notes along the way. Just few phrases, facts and lists. They are usually enough to jog my memory when I want to elaborate on them later on.

Collect mementos along the way: ticket stubs, napkin from a restaurant you love or hate, hotel cards. Pasting those things in your journal, alongside the written text, would add another layer.

If you enjoy drawings - and you don't have to be an expert - then try to make your sketches or even doodles. Otherwise, try writing your text in different layouts. Sometimes horizontal, sometimes in a circle. All this may sound rather silly, but your aim is to make your travel journal interesting enough that you would want to read it in the future.

In conclusion
If you are travel writer, a journal is a must. It is a place to collect your impressions and notes, as well as material you gather along the way, so that you can expand them into articles. If you are travelling just for pleasure, then it's up to you to decide it's importance, but in my experience, travel journals make most precious souveniers than anything you can buy.


  1. Your travel journal sounds amazing! They make me think of those historian/archeologist journals in the movies. Like them, I think your journals would really stand the test of time.

  2. Hi C R,
    I keep working on my journaling skills. They are not yet as good as I would like them to be, but I keep working at it.

  3. I wish I'd read something like this before my trip to Paris (is it 10 years ago already?). I took a small journal along with me to record things, but I wish I'd written down more detailed information. I did bring back lots of things and created a scrapbook for it - a "proper" travel journal would have been a great addition to the scrapbook.

    Thanks for all the info - I'll remember this next time I'm traveling. I don't do it often, but I'd like to have a record when I do.

  4. Jamie, you can use the same things for your every-day journal too.

  5. I stumbled onto this blog and Im finding it quite insightful.
    I've got into travel blogging recently and I was wondering if anyone uses a voice recorder for this purpose. Im bad at writing stuff down in the classroom and especially when using my other senses to experience new places.

  6. mj,

    Glad to see you here, and thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes, it is quite usual for writers to record their thoughts. It is simply a question of what medium works best for you. I would feel quite conscious of speaking in a recorder in public, so it wouldn't do for me. Also because I love writing in journals. But if you find you record things best by speaking, then you should try it and see how that feels.