A travel journal is more than something to take Instagram pictures of next to your plane ticket. It is a chance to both create and curate the memories you keep. You can go the traditional diary route, but you don’t have to. Why follow the rules?
1. Get Artsy
“But I’m not artsy!” you may cry. You might be thinking of all those lovely Instagram pics of travel journal pages, covered with beautiful pen-and-ink sketches of cafés, temples, and doorways. These are really lovely to look at, and a great way of recording interesting sights on your trip. If, however, you are like most of the world’s population and lack either the skill or the willingness to take an hour out of every single traveling day to paint watercolor vistas, you may need to go in another direction.
If you are able to take a little time, sketches can be great – and they don’t have to be perfect. Or even good! The beauty of drawing something instead of taking a photo is twofold. Firstly, you are forced to spend time on the activity, even if it’s only ten minutes. Unlike taking a photo, you are required to really pay attention to everything you are looking at. Secondly, you have to choose exactly what you want to record. This choice helps you represent yourself along with the memories.
“This is all still sounding way too difficult,” you may insist, waving around your most recent attempt at a sketch, which looks like it could either be a coffee pot, a dog, or blueprints for an upcoming heist. Well, why not try stick figures? …That’s not a condescending suggestion. You would be amazed at how expressive you can make stick figures and doodles. The only important thing is to make sure that you are expressing yourself, and not trying to attain something that you saw someone else doing.
2. Limit Yourself
When using a journal as, well, a journal, you can record your days diary-style. This is a great way to recap each day and make sure you don’t forget any little details or experiences, giving yourself something to look back on later. However, this can be really time-consuming, and the excitement with which you begin your entries at the start of your trip may have washed out by the end of it. Three pages a day could turn into a few lines a week.
A great way around this problem is to set yourself a certain amount to write each day – and make it short. You could even use one of those one-sentence-a-day notebooks. This means that you will never not have anything to write, even if it is a piece of a conversation you had that day. This could turn into an interesting challenge to see if you can get everything in on the most eventful days. It can be fascinating to look back and see which events you chose to record, and see what memories they spark.
If you go with the one-sentence-a-day, some examples might include:
“After the power cut out at the bar, the band dragged the drum kit outside and we danced on the sidewalk.”
“Met a teacher from Dublin (Moire, 24, likes her pupils better when she’s not teaching them) at the top of the mountain and we talked all the way back down.”
“Note to self: the things that look like capers are in fact very very hot chilies also please ask someone next time aaaaaaaaaaaaaah –”
3. Lists and Tracking
This is a sub-option of the idea above. You might want to remember your trip without writing out your thoughts prose-style. You can do this by making lists or keeping track of certain things from day to day. Again, the great part of this is that you choose what you want to keep track of.
If you are traveling to a country with a new language, you can make a list of words and phrases, then tick each one off when you manage to use it. You could include who you spoke to, when and where. If you are a foodie, you could keep a list of the meals you have. Try making notes on whether they were good/bad/weird. You could even track the bus rides you take or the number of times you get lost. Whatever the list or record, it should have personal meaning to you, and help you to remember your experiences.
4. Other People
This might be my favorite idea – and it’s not even my idea. I have met a couple of people who have done this. Everyone they meet and speak to on their travels is asked to write a few lines or draw a little doodle in a notebook, including their name and where they are from. You end up with a record of other people’s lives, their thoughts and journeys, and dreams. A perfect metaphor for traveling if I ever heard one.
Having a journal like this can be an amazing ice-breaker if you struggle to start conversations. You have a reason to go and talk to people, and something to ground your interaction with them. Perhaps you could have a theme, like asking each person to write down the most important or weirdest thing that has ever happened to them, or what they plan to do within the next hour. Maybe they could write down their favorite quote. There are great opportunities if you are staying in a place with a lot of other travelers. You could end up with a round-the-world representation of contributors.
5. Don’t Use A Journal
Wooo! Down with the system! Break all the rules! … Ahem. Seriously though, you do not have to actually use a notebook at all. The only real function of a travel journal is to keep a record and to spark memories later. If you can think of a creative way to do this, you can curate your experience to suit yourself. This can make the experience that much more significant.
You could write a daily thought down on something like a napkin, or your hand, and just take a photo of it. Perhaps you might collect found objects (please wash them) or food and drink labels (also wash these) and take them home to scrapbook or pin to a display board. Maybe keep all the tickets and receipts from your trip and make a note of what you were doing at each moment on the back. Try getting a map of the region you’ll be staying in, and making notes on it at each place you visit, or along routes you take. Perhaps you could buy a cheesy tourist t-shirt or ball cap and write on it with a permanent marker.
If you end up using any, or all of the ideas here, remember: the memories you choose and the way you choose to record them will be unique, because there is only one of you. This is true whether you do something completely crazy, or simply make notes on a piece of lined paper. A million people could take the exact same journey and stay in the same places. But the sights, sounds, and conversations you remember? That’s all you.