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Travel Journal Tips

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My first travel journal was a standard black-marbled Mead Composition notebook.  I remember it vividly and keep a rough photocopy of every page in my desk drawer. It was a group effort in fact; entitled “Fear and Loathing” in a blatant nod to the Good Doctor. In classic college road trip style, two roommates and I drove from northern Indiana to Las Vegas and back in less than a week. During those 4,000 miles, we filled that Mead notebook with almost every detail of the trip imaginable: a funny remark someone had; campfire musings; notable attractions we passed; the names of towns where we filled our gas tank and the strange cashiers we encountered; crude hand drawn sketches of the endless open highway in front of us. We even noted the time and place when a certain CD was inserted into the dashboard.

I skim that journal now and it reads like some chaotic adventure memoir that paints as just as good a picture of the three individuals behind it as it does the actual trip itself. Tellingly, I go back to that journal a lot, but I almost never look at photos from the trip. After that, I was hooked. I rarely embark on a journey, whether for business or pleasure, without a journal. Like many people I know, travel continues to inspire great introspection and creative writing. Why is that exactly?

Why Travel Breeds Creativity

Alain de Botton sums it up nicely in The Art of Travel: “Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places.” Experiencing new places, food, people, languages, customs, art — all that goes into the romantic notion of “travel” — takes us out of our comfort zone. It breaks up the routine of our daily lives and forces us to behave differently, think differently, view our surroundings differently. That creates an environment ripe for creativity.

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In the same way that your daily life can become routine over time, so can your journaling. Jetting off to another country or embarking on a road trip or even taking a short day hike can all help, however briefly, get you out of a writing rut. Adventure just has a tendency to elicit emotions that are not easily produced in your day-to-day life: wonder, exhaustion, inspiration, impatience, curiosity, embarrassment, etc. And in my experience, these emotions can be incredible catalysts for self-evaluation, new ideas, and great journaling.

Of course, once your trip begins writing is often harder than we expected for a number of reasons. So here are some quick tips to get the most out your next adventure.

Some Practical Travel Journal Tips

There’s no one size fits all here. If you’re of the digital persuasion, your biggest issues will obviously be battery and connectivity limitations. Be sure to carry your charger/outlet adapter (if needed) and know where to find reliable wifi. If you rely heavily on photos to record your travel, digital is probably the way to go. For the analog inclined, you’ll want something durable yet lightweight. Your journal should go everywhere you go as a rule of thumb. So it will need to withstand some wear and tear, and space is always at a premium when traveling. If you like to collect ticket stubs, receipts and maps, I’d recommend a midori-style travel notebook that includes slim pockets and folders to keep everything together throughout your trip.HAVE_JOURNALWILL_TRAVEL_medium

 

Pick the Right Gear: There’s no one size fits all here. If you’re of the digital persuasion, your biggest issues will obviously be battery and connectivity limitations. Be sure to carry your charger/outlet adapter (if needed) and know where to find reliable wifi. If you rely heavily on photos to record your travel, digital is probably the way to go. For the analog inclined, you’ll want something durable yet lightweight. Your journal should go everywhere you go as a rule of thumb. So it will need to withstand some wear and tear, and space is always at a premium when traveling. If you like to collect ticket stubs, receipts and maps, I’d recommend a midori-style travel notebook that includes slim pockets and folders to keep everything together throughout your trip.

Make Time:
Downtime during travel can really be feast or famine. It seems that you are either looking to kill time in an airport or you can’t catch your breath between activities. If you already have a good journal routine, try as much as possible to stick to it regardless of your location. Try to build in at least 20 minutes of writing time into your daily itinerary. Putting it off until tomorrow or when you get back home will often overwhelm you and the quality and level of detail in your travel journal will suffer. You can find some great tips on finding time to journal here.


Forget the Rules:

This is about breaking out of your routine, remember!? Travel is exhilarating and often a bit chaotic. I think your writing should reflect that. By all means, record itineraries, but this is a great chance to experiment. I like to throw random phrases of the host language into my writing when traveling internationally. Many sentences in my journals from Japan end with yo (“you know”) or ne (“right?”). I’m not an artist by any means, but I try to put a few sketches into my journals of cool buildings or street signs or poorly-scaled neighborhood maps.

Get your Companions Involved:

If you’re like me, you rarely travel solo (for better or worse). It can be fun to capture someone else’s perspective and can often become a source of new prompts or questions for yourself. You don’t need to create a fully collaborative journal like my road trip example above, but you can ask your travel companions about their impressions or thoughts on your activities: what was most memorable and why?
For example, after every vacation my wife and I sit down and create a “Cast of Characters” from throughout the trip. We end up with random, often vivid and usually hilarious descriptions like: “Woman who accused us of stealing the Cabana that she supposedly reserved with ‘2 towels and a bottle of water’ at the resort“; or “chatty mother of a possum fur trader in Glenorchy”. The result is a very unique perspective on your experience and a record of the trip that is virtually impossible to capture any other way.
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