Tips for Terrific Travel Journals

A travel journal is one of the best ways to re-live a wonderful trip. People who don’t consider themselves writers often find them intimidating or worry keeping a journal becomes a chore during the course of a trip; however, applying a few easy techniques will help make it a fun and fascinating process and something to re-read for years to come.

It takes only a smidgen of commitment, but you (and your descendents) can reap the rewards through generations.

Book Size. The journal should be a size to easily fit into a purse, backpack or even a coat pocket, yet large enough to write in comfortably. It doesn’t have to be a fancy, leather bound volume with soft, seductive paper (although it can be, if this is what makes your writing feel good).

If you’re on an outdoor adventure, sometimes a simple spiral bound notebook is the best choice. A book too large will be difficult to carry around. You’ll leave it in the hotel and forget to get around to writing in it regularly. A book too small is uncomfortable to write in, and you’ll put off keeping up with entries.

Try a simple 6 x 9 blank book that opens easily and lies flat when writing. Or you can carry a smaller book in your purse or pocket to jot quick notes and then expand on them within your journal later in the day. Use a book that works for you, something comfortable and will make you look forward to writing in it every day.

Date Every Entry. The only hard-and-fast rule of diary-keeping is to date the entry. You think you’ll remember the when’s and where’s of an event, but our lives have accelerated. In two or three years, details will get fuzzy — which is one of the reasons you keep the journal in the first place! First, put down the day of the week, the month and date (the year is on the front page of the journal, along with the name of the trip).

In addition, you can make a note of the weather. Since the weather affects moods and has an impact on the events of the day, it is interesting to include this information.

Use Sensory Details. When it comes to travel journals, don’t be afraid of adjectives and adverbs. You’re writing for yourself and your family here, not for publication. If you decide to pull material from the journal to use for publication, then you can polish it. But in the moment, use as many sensory details as possible. Describe the sights, the smells, the sounds, the textures, the tastes. Write about the atmosphere of place. Each destination has its own emotional landscape, as well as geographical landscape. Investigate and experience it. Write about your response to it.

This journal is a safe space in which you can overwrite, over-describe, and over-indulge. A passage about feeling cobblestones under your feet on Candlemaker Row or the scent of beer, whiskey, and salted snacks as you set foot in Bannerman’s will take you back into the sights and sounds of Edinburgh as quickly as a time machine. A windy, rainy day on top of Tintagel in Cornwall or sitting by the large stone fireplace at Jamaica Inn drinking brandy feels quite different than the same experience on a sunny, cloudless day. The quality of light changes in St. Ives from moment to moment — you want to remember whether you were there right after breakfast or on your way to tea.

A Journal Isn’t Only Words. Don’t be shy about adding a quick sketch in the journal, even if you don’t consider yourself an artist. Add in ticket stubs, programs, a bit of ribbon with special meaning, anything able to bring back a precious moment from the journey. You can write lists, paste in menus, tuck in the coaster from a favorite pub. Some of these items might migrate from the journal to a scrapbook or photo album later on; some will stay within these pages. Tangible objects help capture otherwise intangible memories.

Write Every Day. Because the book is easily tucked into a purse or pocket and you can carry it with you, it is easy to jot things down while riding a bus or waiting for a train or sitting on the ferry. You can write sitting in a pub or relaxing on a park bench. Or, you can save your impressions and write them out before you go to bed at night.

Even if it’s a list of places visited and things done during the day, put something down in the book every day. The longer the time between experience and pen-to-paper, the more the memory will fade. And you want to capture the immediacy of the experience so you can relieve it whenever you choose.

Be Honest About Feelings. There are frustrations and bad days in most trips. Not everything is an idyllically happy excursion. It’s okay to vent in your journal. It’s yours. And the negative experiences shape the entire trip as much as the positive ones.

Also, by writing them out, it helps you work through them, see another side, and perhaps gain additional perspective. Your feelings in the moment matter, even though they are likely to change over time, and even via the process of writing about them. You’ll feel better for pouring your feelings onto the page, and you can meet the next day with renewed energy and optimism.

The Travel Journal can be a trusted companion on the adventure, and a tool for remembrance after. It takes little effort in the moment, and rewards the writer for years.


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