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So You Want to Start a Travel Journal

So You Want to Start a Travel Journal

A travel journal is an incredibly easy way to combine travel planning and memories from your trip.

At first, I assumed they were just diaries on the road – and who needs a guide for that? We all know how to write down what we did today.

But a travel journal is so much more than a diary. It’s a scrapbook, an itinerary, a map book, and even a form of social media. The only limit is your imagination! (Wow, that was corny. But it’s true!)

If you’ve never heard of a travel journal before: don’t worry! I’ll tell you what one is and share some awesome travel journal ideas and inspiration. Soon you’ll be journaling without prompts and have an awesome (and cheap!) souvenir from your adventures.

travel journal ideas and prompts

Why Should You Keep a Travel Journal?

1. A travel journal is a flexible and personal way to store your travel memories.

You aren’t limited by internet connection or pre-made themes. It can be whatever you want it to be! Some people prefer to stick with the diary format, while others treat it more like a scrapbook.

You don’t even have to stick to the same style from day to day. Have no ideas for your travel journal one day? Write a diary entry. Feeling crazy creative – maybe even breaking out the glitter glue – another? Go for it!

There’s no wrong way to travel journal.

2. Travel journals are an awesome souvenir.

Baubles that sit on your mantle forever eventually become clutter. Postcards get misplaced or shoved into the depths of a drawer. But travel journals organize memories and souvenirs without taking up too much space.

They’re a unique view of your trip that no one else will ever have. You can put your travel journal in a bookshelf or keep it out as a coffee table book. It’ll be an awesome conversation starter at your next party and a cool keepsake for years to come.

For more unique travel souvenir ideas, discover 3 Souvenirs to Share with Travel Friends.

Whether or not you decide to share your journal, you can make sure that all of your important memories are together. It’s so much more fulfilling to flip through a travel journal than to scroll through a Facebook album. Besides, there are some parts of trips you don’t want to put on Facebook (we’ve all had weird nights in Barcelona bars. No? Just me?)

3. If you’re like me and you’re incredibly forgetful, travel journals are a one-stop shop for your fondest travel memories.

I often wish I’d started a travel journal early into my travels – I’m talking elementary school. We went on so many cool family vacations that I have zero memory of (thank you concussion).

It would be incredible to look back on those pre-Facebook trips and to know what I felt at the time. Was I happy to be on the beach in Mexico or was I missing my friends over the summer holidays?

I’ll never know.

But I will know all about that drunken night in Barcelona thanks to my trusty travel journal!

travel journal ideas and prompts

What Do You Need To Start a Travel Journal?

It’s pretty simple to keep a travel journal. You’re two main requirements are a good notebook and a trusty pen.

Tips for Travel Journal Notebooks

  1. You’re going to want a special book for your travel journal; not just an old notebook that you have lying around. Trust me: if you don’t care about the book, it’ll quickly get destroyed or left in a Scottish hostel.

  2. Keep it small so the book isn’t a burden. You won’t want to write in it if you resent it for taking up too much space.

  3. Try to find something with a hard back so you can write without a table. It also keeps it from getting as beaten up for those times when need to cram it in your luggage.

Honestly, I’m not a fan of moleskin travel journals. I know they’re really popular but I find them annoying to work on when I’m in transit – the typical time I work on my travel journal. I’m all for aesthetics, but function must come first!

  1. Get a book that lies flat easily so you’re not fighting the rounded pages when you’re trying to write.

  2. Pick one with a cover that makes you happy – like polka dots or maps. Find what you need to inspire you to fill your journal.

  3. It’s up to you whether you want your journal to be lined or un-lined – I tend to write diagonally down a page if I don’t have lines. If you want to sketch in your journal, lines may get in the way.

Check out my favourite notebooks for travel journalling in the section below.

 

Tips for Travel Journal Pens

I’m very picky with pens. It’s the worst when you’re trying to write and the ink bleeds all over the paper or turns half your hand blue.

  1. Pens that click to open can be safer for travel than those with caps, because they can’t fall open and colour the inside of your purse blue. It doesn’t seem like that much of an annoyance until everything else in your purse turns blue, too. I always stick with a clicking pen – even if they’re more annoying in the quiet carriage on the train.

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  2. Forgo pencil! Generally, I prefer pencil to write, but then you risk fading and smudging over time in your travel journal. For longevity, pen is the way to go.

  3. Try to pick a neutral color, like black or blue, for your main entries.

These are some of my favourite pens for travel journalling:

 

Tips for Getting Creative with Your Travel Journal

If you want to get more creative with your travel journal, here are a few other things to pick up:

  1. Glue or tape (I like washi tape for the fun colors) – these will allow you to attach photos and memorabilia.

  2. Coloured pens or pencils – you can use these to highlight special things, colour-code your journal, or to make any sketches pop!

  3. Scissors – you may need them to cut items to fit in your journal.

  4. Glitter – but use it with caution or everything you own will become a sparkly extravaganza (which is fine for dresses, but not great for yoga pants).

5. Stamp and stickers – we’re headed deep into scrapbooking territory here, but they’re a great way to add fun pops to your journal. I can’t draw so I love adding travel themed stickers throughout my journal – especially when I run out of tape. It takes me back to the fun of playing with stickers and stamps as a kid.

Here are some of my favourite tools to make my travel journal more creative:

 

travel journal ideas and prompts

When to Write in Your Travel Journal

It can be difficult to make time for writing when travelling. Some days may not feel eventful enough and others you may just not want to. It can be hard to find the motivation to write if you don’t have any ideas for your travel journal.

That’s why it’s important to schedule time to work on your journal. If you miss a day, it isn’t the end of the world, but it will make it harder to stick with the routine the next day.

Remember: this is your journal. Your entry could just be a doodle of the guy who unicycled past you at the park. It doesn’t have to be some epic travel adventure story.

If you’re travelling solo, meals are a great time to work on your travel journal. It’s a time that you’re pretty much guaranteed to have free every day, often with a hard surface to write on. Use the few minutes it takes to boil water for ramen or while waiting on food at a restaurant to jot down some things about your day.

If you’re one of those lucky people who don’t get motion sick, the road is a great place to get some work done. Being stuck on a bus, train, or plane for hours can get boring. If you know you have a travel day coming up, plan to spend some time on your journal. It’s a great way to kill time while also being productive.

travel journal ideas and prompts

How to Organize Your Travel Journal

There are millions of ways to organize your travel journal. Ultimately, it will depend on what you want to do with it.

Are you writing this for yourself or to share with others? Do you want it to be more a diary or a souvenir?

Your answer will change the way that you approach your travel journal.

Regardless, organization is important. Ten years from now when you want to find the memory of eating fresh figs in Italy, you may be faced with the daunting task of flipping through all of your travel journals.

Here are some ideas to avoid the peril of a disorganized travel journal. They may take a few extra minutes now, but you’ll be grateful for having done them later!

 

1. Start each entry with the date and your location

This sounds basic, but it can be a huge help later.

I did a three-week tour of Spain last year where we changed cities almost daily. I was so sure that I’d remember all of the cities we went to, but, by the end, they were getting mixed up in my head. Had we seen the flamenco dancers in San Sebastian or Toledo? Did I eat that amazing cone filled with salami in Barcelona or Madrid?

The simple act of scribbling this information at the top of your entry (or sketch, or page of tickets) can do wonders for you when you want to look up those memories later.

2. Number your pages

This small task can mean so much later on! When you first get your notebook, go through and number every page.

This is important for the next step.

It’s also an easy time-waster when you’re on a flight or train.

3. Make an index page

Who wants to save room for an index page? You do!

It’s so much easier to flip to one page in search of those figs than to go through a hundred pages. While you’re writing, be mindful to save a page or two either at the beginning or the end of your journal.

Once you’ve filled the journal, take a moment to complete the index. You can format this in many ways: by location, date, activities in each place, or by overall trip.

Since I remember things best once I think of the location, I organize my index by cities. Then go back and connect each section or chapter to the page number where you wrote about it.

Just like that, you can show your friends or kids or pets (no judgements) highlights from your trip in seconds!

travel journal ideas and prompts

Things to Include in a Travel Journal

It’s so hard to figure out what to include in your travel journal.

The beautiful pages on Pinterest can be daunting. They may be enough to put you off trying (they quickly killed my bullet journal ideas).

I’m here to tell you to keep going. Don’t let Pinterest get you down!

You can include whatever you want in your journal. If you’re still stuck on what to include, here are a few travel journal ideas to get you started!

They aren’t prompts, but they should get the juices flowing.

 

1. Planning

Planning is such a big part of our trips, though we often neglect to pay attention to it.

Jot down your plans for the trip while you are making them or before you go.

It’s interesting to compare what you expected versus what actually happened on your trip. Sometimes it can even be fodder for your next trip.

Maybe while researching your trip to Australia you found a cool site about Fiji. If you put it in your journal, you can have it stored away for later!

Not sure how to travel plan? Check out how I travel plan and get some tips!

 

2. Itinerary

An itinerary page can be useful as a summary of your journal. Much like an index, an itinerary page can guide you as to what happened on your trip.

I like checklists, so I often think of itineraries as a checklist for my trip.

It’s nice to put a big, green checkmark (I like green pens, sue me) next to a new city.

It also helps me keep track of my journey and to remember my transportation times (which is really helpful when you are planning laundry. I always ensure I have my plane shirt clean and dry before any flight).

Not sure what an itinerary looks like? Learn the format in my Zurich One Day Itinerary and my Toronto Winter Weekend Itinerary.

 

3. Weather

What’s the weather like as you write your entry?

I’m terrible about remembering weather.

If I had it my way, it would always be sunny. Because of this, I often forget that the weather isn’t always perfect while travelling.

In Lisbon, it rained so intensely that my hop-on-hop-off bus had tidal waves pouring down the stairs! That’s a detail I’ve definitely never forgotten, in part because I took the time to write it down—also because forced me to make it an early day and take a warm bubble bath so I could feel my toes again.

This can also just be a great way to get started in your journaling. Drawing a quick cloud or sun in the corner, or writing the temperature, can become part of your ritual that helps you get in the zone to finish your daily entry.

 

4. Location

Where are you while you’re writing? I’ve already told you to write down what city or country you’re in, but now I’m asking you to go further.

Are you on an eight-hour bus ride? Are you at a café eating the best churros of your life? Are you waiting in line at Starbucks?

Little details like these are great to look back on. They can also explain away terrible handwriting or chocolate stains on the pages (oops!).

 

5. Drawings

Not an artist? Who cares!

Try including some doodles or a traced map (no one needs to know you didn’t freehand it). Not only is it fun, it also adds a personal touch to your travel journal. Try drawing a favorite memory of the day (maybe stick figures climbing the Sydney bridge or that whole pizza you ate in five minutes flat?).

If you’re an artist, then go all out! One great idea for a travel journal is to turn it into a sketch book.

 

6. Stub Page

Even if you aren’t planning to make your journal a collage of tickets and brochures, it’s nice to have a single page devoted to these keepsakes.

Attach a pouch to your notebook or washi tape stubs onto the page for easy access. This way, they are filed away with the entirety of your trip, but can also be shared if you choose to.

(Bonus: if you travel for work it can help you find all the receipts for taxes later! It’s come in handy a few times for me.)

 

7. Daily Writing

Whether it’s five words or five hundred, writing down a few thoughts every day is super helpful to keep your momentum going.

You can label your drawings or add captions beneath photos if that’s all you want to do.

Having some writing in your travel journal allows you to add in extra details that souvenirs and pictures can never grasp.

What was that intoxicating smell in the Los Angeles food market? How did it feel to have fish nibble your fingers while snorkeling? What did you hear when you zip lined through the forest?

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it can always use a few more!

 

8. “Guest” Section

I always loved filling out guest books at inns and cottages. It’s even better in a travel journal!

Have friends that you meet in your travels (maybe the snorer in your hostel or the amazing tour guide in Paris) add to your journal. This can be a simple “have a good summer” in true high school yearbook form, or it can be something more substantial.

You can include this section in a few pages at the back of the book, or have it round out your daily entries.

I recommend asking your “guests” to include specific insights: what is their favorite place to visit in the world? if they could give anyone one piece of advice, what would it be? what made them go on this trip?

Maybe have an ongoing theme or question to collect from all your new friends.

Part of travel is seeing things from a new perspective, which is exactly what this allows you to do.

travel journal ideas and prompts

Best Notebooks for Travel Journals:

Sometimes the hardest part of starting to journal is finding the right notebook. So, how could this be a comprehensive guide without providing you with some suggestions?

Here are a few different styles of travel journals for every type of journaler.

1. Guided Travel Journal

Feeling wary about starting a travel journal? Get a guided travel journal with prompts, space for itineraries, blank space for writing or drawing, and a pocket for your collection of stubs. This is a great beginner guide that takes some of the pressure off you planning your organization inside your journal.

 

2. Inspirational Travel Journal

Similar to the guided travel journal, this journal type inspires your journaling experience. The pages contain quotes and images intended to inspire you.
Some feature tips or short prompts to help you fill the journal.

 

3. General Journal

This kind of travel journal allows for more variability. It has sections for addresses, itineraries and daily journal entries.
I prefer a general journal style for my travel journals. That’s mostly because I have gigantic fourth-grader handwriting, so I need the larger size. I love a lined book with some room for memorabilia or ticket stubs, especially if it has dedicated pockets!

 

4. Compact Journal

For a more traditional journal that won’t take up a ton of space, get a compact travel journal.
I’ve selected my favourite journals under 9 inches that can easily be shoved into a day pack, satchel, or suitcase. They’re hard covered so they can take a bit of a beating and still protect your memories.
Bonus: they’ve got lots of pages!
I hate a small notebook with like ten pieces of paper. These ones have tons to help you out.

 

5. Sketchbook Travel Journal

Don’t want to be weighed down by lines and prompts? If you’ve got enough ideas for your travel journal and want more freedom to draw, then this is the notebook for you.
I’m not an artist so I prefer lines, but the few un-lined notebooks I’ve had quickly inspired sketching. They really get your creative juices flowing as you have so much more blank space to work with.

travel journal ideas and prompts

Travel Journal Apps

Don’t want to have to carry a notebook on your travels? Here are some apps that you might like for journaling on the go.
These apps are great for giving ideas and prompts for your travel journal.
They do require an electronic device and sometimes internet for their social functions. But if you’ve got those luxuries, they’re a great space saving option for backpackers.

1. Day One App ($4.99)

This journaling app is for iOS devices. It allows you to write, add photos, tag locations and weather, etc. You can tag entries from a trip with the same name to bring up all of those entries later. It also lets you export your entries. You can even dictate journal entries! The app can remind you to submit an entry, which is great for keeping it in your mind while you’re on the go.

2. Tripcast (Free)

It is both an app (for iOS and Android) and a website, so everyone can access it. It is like a private Facebook. You select who can see your updates and they can respond to posts or photos. Tripcast tags locations and allows you to download a backup of your entries.

3. Bonjournal (Free)

Currently, Bonjournal is only available online or for iOS users, but they are creating an Android version. The app does work offline. You can share your travel journal on social media or export PDFs of your entries. Bonjournal shows your locations on maps, allows you to explore other people’s journals, and has a privacy lock for entries you want to keep for yourself.

 

Now you know absolutely everything you need to know to start your own travel journal. You’ve mastered the guide. You’ve got all the ideas and prompts you need. Now it’s time to go out and put it to use!
Remember the most important part is to have fun and be creative! It’s all about what you want.

Enjoy your adventures and don’t forget to write, write, write!



46 thoughts on “So You Want to Start a Travel Journal”

  • Wow – this is so well explained and such great details and tips too. I have never given it such a serious thought and agree with you on these being treasured as very cool souvenirs of a much loved holiday.

  • I loovvee travel journaling. it’s the only kind of journaling I like/I can do. I’ve been able to keep journals for many of my travels, but I unfortunately got behind on a few in Europe and missed finishing them. I also typically fill them out in transit like you, so I didn’t get to fill one out of my latest road trip (I drove a lot). These are all brilliant, though, and it gets me excited to return to journaling my travels!

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