We live in an age of social media where much of our travels are documented and shared via photographs through platforms such as Instagram and Facebook’s. While the ability to put cool filters, use hash tags and get instant validation with likes and shares is pretty cool, nothing beats the old-school way of documenting your trip – putting ink to paper. Science has shown that writing things down greatly enhances your recollection of them long afterwards!
If you want to be able to relive your best moments of adventure and experience the thrills of discovering new places, starting a travel journal is one of the best ways to do that.
Since my first trip to Southeast Asia in 2013, I begun to document my travels the old school way (along with taking photos and videos) by writing down my observations, thoughts and experiences along the way. In hindsight, it was one of the most rewarding things I did and was glad I took the time out of each day to do so.
In this article, I will share with you some of my best tips on how to create your best travel journal that will put a smile on your face long after the trip is over 😃
Know Your Audience
First, decide who will read your journal. Is it strictly for yourself to reminisce over or to be shared far and wide with the world? Knowing this beforehand will impact what you choose to put into it.
If it’s for your eyes only, then you can record without filter your innermost thoughts, closest observations and secret experiences without restraint; like that time you drank a little too much alcohol from a bucket during a Full Moon Party in Thailand, had a passionate fling in a whirlwind travel romance during a trip through Europe, or took some questionable substances in Colombia and partied like a Rockstar (Hey, it’s OK, I don’t judge. It’s your trip!).
If it’s going to be shared with family and friends, you may have to be more guarded and selective in the content of what you choose to put in. In those instances, it’s best to keep things PG13. If it’s not something you want granny or your great grand-kids to read about someday, perhaps it’s best to save those in your memory bank only! You can also consider starting a blog which will allow the world to read it in real time, whereas a physical travel journal can be only read after the trip is over.
Consistency is Key
One of the hardest things I found in keeping a travel journal is to write in it every single day. After a long day of sightseeing, exploring and partying, you’re pretty beat and ready to pass out on the bed. The last thing you may want to do is to sit down, put pen to paper or fire up your laptop to pound off a few thoughts about the day.
Trust me, the effort is worth the reward. You’ll want to write things down as soon as possible while the memories, feelings, sights and sounds are still fresh in your mind. If you try to backtrack a week or even a month afterwards, you may not recapture exactly how you felt at the time and some of the spontaneity may be lost.
One thing that has worked well for me is to get up a little bit earlier, before you head out the door for the day’s adventures to write about what happened the previous day. This is easier than late-night journaling and your mind will likely be fresher.
You don’t have to write a mini-novel each time either. Some days, if there’s not much time or simply not much significant has happened, just scribbled down a few things in note form or write out a few short sentences. Something is better than nothing.
If you end up missing a few days or a week’s worth of entries, don’t fret! We’re all human and it’s ok to get off the routine because you’re just too busy. Don’t beat yourself up. Do your best to remember what you saw, did and felt during the missed period and re-record things as best you can. You can write an entry to cover an entire missed city or period instead of one per day. As the old adage goes: better late than never.
Use The 5 W’s
My first ever travel journal - just words
Now that you’re completely sold on the idea of keeping a travel journal, what should you put into it? Well, the short answer is, everything! It’s your journal and you can put whatever the hell you damn well please. There are no hard and fast rules to journaling. That said, here are the guidelines of what I like to use to keep things in an organized format:
When – I begin each entry by putting the current star date to my Captain’s Log at the top.
Where – This is followed by the city and country the entry was made. If you are reading this in the year 2167, you may have to put in the planet as well.
Who – Who did I meet or spend time with today? What colorful, interesting or even shady characters did I encounter and what made them memorable? What are they like as people?
What – What happened today? What were the highlights? What were the lowlights? What did you learn? What music or books were you using to get into the mood of the place? What was so special about this place explored or person encountered? What makes me want to visit again or never come back? Was this a “bucket list” experience?
Why – Why was this experience or place significant? Why is this place the way it is and the people the way they are?Why would I want to come back again or not? Why are other travellers coming here?
How – How is this place physically and culturally different from home? How did this experience make me feel? Was it completely over-the-top and something-I’ve-always-wanted to do awesome – like swimming with turtles in the Galapagos, or actually-kind-of-sad and depressing but equally important – like visiting the Holocaust Museum in Berlin? How was the journey to get here?
Use The 5 Senses
Although a picture is worth a thousand words, there are some things that photographs cannot capture. Specifically, try to move beyond physical descriptions (your IG photos can do that) and into other senses like smells, taste and touch. Whether it’s the smell of burning incense in a Thai Buddhist temple, the taste of a delicious seafood taco with lime and tabasco sauce in Mexcio, or the sweaty physicality of salsa dancing in Colombia, try to record those in detail.
Document Thoughts and Feelings
Another thing that journals excel at is capturing your thoughts and feelings at the time, which are transient and ever-changing. Perhaps while you’re smiling outwardly in that group photograph in the sun, when you’re actually sweating your face off and secretly can’t wait to get back to your air-conditioned hotel room! That’s totally cool and is the essence of what journaling is all about – getting inside your head and putting those thoughts at the time down on paper.
On that note, you can record moments of sheer delight (Happiness can be found in a large bowl of açai in Brazil) to absolutely crappy ordeals like having all of your luggage stolen (Yes, this has happened to me, thank goodness for travel insurance).
From the monotony of sitting in airports to the grind of 12-hour bus rides, nothing is off limits. In fact, the lows are just as important as the highs and in hindsight you will be glad to have documented those experiences as they were all a part of your journey.
The exception is unless there is something you really want to forget, in which case don’t write it down and let the passage of time wipe it out from your memory bank.
Pause and Reflect
Reflecting on your journey and trying to find lessons along the way will also be tremendously rewarding. From spontaneous epiphanies to deep insights, they can be anything from travel hacks to perspectives about your own life at home.
Some of my greatest realizations have come about during long plane rides and bus trips (I guess my high school teachers were wrong, staring out windows does pay off).
An example of this was when I was riding a cramped chicken bus through the mountains of Guatemala to get between cities. I looked out the winding roads and saw some piles of garbage on fire. Amongst the heaps of trash, I saw school aged children shod in old, dirty clothing climbing the man-made hill, scavenging for anything useful to take home.
Right then, it hit me - that the country I lived in was full of privilege, opportunity and first-world amenities which many of us take for granted. As cliché as that sounds, witnessing something first hand was a powerful experience. This made me much more grateful and appreciate the freedoms in education, work and travel that we have in first world countries.
The lesson: It doesn’t matter if we’re backpacking on a budget and staying in hostel dorms or jet-setting in business class and staying in 5-star hotels. If we have the health and resources to travel abroad, compared to 90% of the world, we’re rich.
Mementos to Add to Your Travel Journal
Although words are great, you can turn your travel journal into a multimedia craft project by incorporating physical objects and photographs to help liven things up and enhance the memories. The list of things to add is only limited by your creativity.
Although I’m not the craftiest person out there and don’t save as much of these as I should, here are some other recommended items to add to your journal to really bring it to life:
- Plane, train and bus tickets
- Event entry tickets
- Museum entry tickets
- Train and bus tickets
- Polaroid type photographs
- Business cards of interesting people
- Business cards of great restaurants and bars
- Postage stamps from different places
- Visa documents and stamps
- Loose change and local currency
- Anything that can be physically cut, pasted and glued!
The Recommended Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Travel Journal
To get started, you will need to first select a physical travel journal or notebook. It has to lightweight, compact and easy to carry around. After all, you don’t want to end up lugging an encyclopedia-sized book taking precious storage space around with you all trip! You’ll also want it to be durable, as it may get squished in your backpack or suitcase. Third, it should ideally be on high-quality paper and be refillable. This prevents any bleed-through from ink pens and will give you the option to replenish the books as your journeys continue to add up.
If you are ready to start journaling on your next trip, I highly recommend our own brand of Genuine Leather Travel Journal. It is a high-quality, hand-crafted notebook that has been tested by hundreds of travellers with rave reviews. From student travellers embarking on a gap year, to relaxing family vacations in Mexico to pilots who fly the world over for work, they have all found it to greatly enhance their experiences and saved priceless memories for a lifetime.
Starting a travel journal was one of the most rewarding habits I’ve cultivated (aside from planning, booking and experiencing the trip of course). Reading back on it from time-to-time never ceases to put a smile on my face. Aside from owning a time-machine (please email me if you have one), it’s one of the best ways to time-travel back to another place to experience something new all over again.
The happiness that I’ve gained from reviewing these entries has repaid for the time spent writing and investment of buying the physical journal long after its purchase. It is something that I recommend everyone try at least once for themselves. Who knows, maybe one day you may even use all of its valuable content as fodder to write your own travel memoir. But the most important thing to keep in mind while journaling is the same as travelling – enjoy yourself and have fun!
Click Here to Get Your Travel Journal Today
Until next time,