Why Keep a Travel Journal
A travel journal is a flexible and personal way to store your travel memories.
You don’t need to be burned by internet connectivity or premade themes; it can be whatever you want! Some people prefer to keep theirs in a diary format, while others treat it more as a scrapbook. The style can change from day to day.
There’s really no wrong way to travel journal.
Travel journals are a great souvenir.
Baubles that sit on your mantle forever eventually just become clutter. Postcards get misplaced or shoved into the depths of a drawer. Travel journals can organize memories and souvenirs without taking up too much space. They are a unique view of your trip that no one else will ever have. You can put the journal in a bookshelf or keep it out as a coffee table book.
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.
If you’re like me and you’re incredibly forgetful, travel journals are a one-stop shop for your fondest travel memories.
What You Need
It’s pretty simple to keep a travel journal. You’re two main requirements are a good notebook and a trusty pen.
You’re going to want a special book for your travel journal; not just an old notebook that you have lying around. 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. 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. Try to find a book that lies flat easily so you’re not fighting the rounded pages when you’re trying to write.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. Try to pick a neutral color, like black or blue, for your main entries.
If you want to get more creative, here are a few other things to pick up:
- Glue or tape (I like washi tape for the fun colors!) – these will allow you to attach photos and memorabilia.
- Coloured pens or pencils – you can use these to highlight special things, colour-code your journal, or to make any sketches pop!
- Scissors – you may need them to cut items to fit in your journal.
When to Write
It can be difficult to make time for writing when travelling. Some days you may just not want to write. That’s why, when writing a travel journal, it’s important to schedule time to work on it. 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.
If you’re travelling solo, meals can be 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.
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 some time while also being productive.
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 ways to avoid the peril of disorganized travel journals. They may take a few extra minutes now, but you’ll be grateful for having done them later!
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.
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.
Make an index page
I know this sounds tedious. 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) your trip in seconds rather than hours.
Things to Include
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. 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 ideas to get you started.
Include your 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.
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 (this is really helpful when you are planning laundry. I always ensure I have my plane shirt clean and dry before any flight).
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.
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.
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?).
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 them 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.
Whether it’s five words or five hundred, writing down a few thoughts every day is important. You can simply 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 to make it complete.
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 them 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?
Part of travel is seeing things from a new perspective, which is exactly what this allows you to do.
Notebooks for Travel Journaling:
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?
Below are a few different styles of travel journals that might appeal to you:
Feeling wary about starting a travel journal? I Was Here is a guided journal that provides 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.
Similar to I Was Here, this journal guides your journaling experience. The pages contain quotes and images intended to inspire you. Additionally, it features tips and prompts to help you fill the journal. It is a lined paperback, allowing for more room for writing without weighing too much.
This travel journal allows for more variability. It has sections for addressed, itineraries and daily journal entries. It even includes dot-grid pages for sketching or extra writing space. The last pages can be turned into a pouch for your memorabilia. The book is only 5×7 inches and weighs under 200g, so it won’t be a burden to carry.
Do you want a more traditional notebook? This compact journal features 144 pages of lined paper with a hardcover and a magnetic flap that securely closes your journal. No more crimped pages for you! It’s only 7 inches, but weighs a touch more due to its hardcover. The beautiful collage on the cover is enough to make up for it though.
Don’t want to be weighed down by lines and prompts? This is definitely the notebook for you. This is a classic black moleskin notebook with a hardcover that is small enough to fit in your bag. The elastic enclosure means that you won’t have to suffer through crumpled pages if you cram it your bag. This way your drawing, stubs and writing can be safe from harm! The book has 100 pages, is under 350 grams, and is 5×8 ¼ inches. With its rounded edges, this notebook is easy to fit in a backpack or suitcase.
Apps for Travel Journaling
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:
Day One ($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.
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.
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.
That’s it! You’ve made it to the end of this travel journaling guide. You are ready to start your own. Remember to have fun, and be creative (or not, it’s up to you).
Enjoy your adventures, and don’t forget to write!