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We travel to live, to grow, to learn, and sometimes we travel to forget. Travel can have many beneficial impacts on our lives, including the negative experiences. But to make the most of it, keeping a journal is essential.
There are many reasons to keeping a travel journal from writing articles, to observing personal growth, to having a creative outlet, or collecting memories. A travel journal can help you accomplish many things. And in the future you could use it to make money, change careers, observe how much you’ve grown, plan future trips, advise friends and family, or remember the fun times.
But how do you keep a travel journal? Well there are many ways. In this article I share with you a few different methods of keeping a travel journal. But before we begin, you have to answer the most important question:
What is the end goal of your journal?
The way you keep a travel journal is influenced by what you plan to do with it. Are you looking to publish articles about your trip at some point in the future? If you are, you should write down everything in as much detail as possible. You will likely have to journal every day, sometimes multiple times in a day.
Are you hoping to write personal essays about your trip? Then you would write what stands out to you; perhaps interactions with the locals. You may or may not need to journal every day.
Are you looking for personal growth? If yes, you could write about your thoughts and feelings, what upsets you, what makes you happy. Again, you may not have to journal daily.
Are you looking to collect memories? Pictures, train tickets, small brochures, can make a wonderful scrapbook-like journal. In this case you may not even have to journal during your trip at all.
The end goal for your travel journal will dictate when, where, and how often you’ll have to use it during the trip. And that is important to know for the following point:
Decide on the journal format
Are you comfortable using a digital journal or would you prefer a physical one? Do you have room in your luggage for a physical journal? How much do you expect to write? When deciding on the journal format also consider when you expect to write. Will you write on the bus? Perhaps your phone might be a good option. But in the event your phone runs out of battery, a small physical journal could be a backup.
Personally, I like to have a very small paper journal that I can scribble on during the day. After the trip, I begin to write more detailed articles and essays in Google Docs. I like to spend as much of the trip travelling and I “worry” about documenting it afterwards.
If you’d like to record your trip digitally, there are many options from the notes app on your phone, to the GoogleDocs app. Likewise you can also run a journal-style blog and share your stories with the world. There are free options out there such as Tumblr or a free WordPress.com website, and they can be accessed from smartphones, tablets, or laptops.
Now that you have clarified the most important aspects of travel journalling, here are some types of travel journals you could keep. These are just some general categories, and you can always take elements of one category and mix them with elements of another.
This is a great strategy for those who are completely new to travel journalling and don’t know what to write. Jot down some prompts in advance to answer while you’re at the destination, or soon after returning. Here are some examples:
- What are you most excited about seeing?
- What was your first though walking out of the airport?
- What was your impression of the city on your way to your accommodation?
- What surprising things did you discover accidentally?
- How did the locals seem? Happy? Sad? Stressed? Cautious?
- After the trip, what do you wish you did and what do you wish you didn’t do?
- If you took this trip again, could you do anything to improve your experience?
Write your itinerary
Writing your itinerary is important if you wish to remember logistical details of your trip. This may be very useful in the future if you plan to write articles and make some money, or travel back to the same destination.
To make the most of your days, you can quickly jot down information in point form. Then at the end of the day/ trip you can translate that information into sentences and paragraphs. Some things to keep track of include:
- When did you visit the destination?
- Was it busy?
- What was the weather like?
- What attractions did you visit?
- How much did it cost? How did you buy the tickets?
- What activities did you participate in?
- How did you get around?
Typically, an itinerary is recorded in chronological order. For example: On day 1 at 9 am I visited museum A for 4 hours, then had lunch at 2 pm. At 3 pm I went to museum B until 7 pm. I walked around a bit and saw statue C, then had dinner at 9 pm at the restaurant by the water. End of day 1. You can also include details such as prices, waiting times, opening hours, and anything else you deem important.
Journal all essentials
If you wish to write articles about your trip, documenting essential information along with your itinerary will be very useful. However, even if you plan on keeping the journal to yourself, essential information can help you remember the trip and maybe even plan another trip there. Such information includes:
- Address of your accommodation and brief directions on how to get there
- Packing list
- Essential phrases in the local language
- Where you are travelling from and how long it should take to get to the destination
- Method of travel and price of the ticket(s)
- How long it actually took to get to your destination
- What you wish you had packed
- What was the weather during the season you visited
- Did you have to buy any necessities once you arrived?
- Did you need a power adapter?
- What was your accommodation like? How much did you pay? What did it look like? What facilities and amenities did it have? Would you stay there again?
- How you got around, how long it took, and how much you paid
- How did you purchase tickets to attractions? Are entries time specific? Are bags/ camera allowed in? Is photography/ filming allowed? Were the waiting lines? How busy was it inside?
- What was the primary language spoken there?
- Did you walk a lot? Was is challenging? Is there a lot of cobblestone? What types of shoes are most appropriate?
Journal fun facts
Every place has something interesting or quirky. Regardless of the end-goal of your journal, fun facts are always a good addition. Some things you could write in your journal include:
- The predominant industry of that region
- What types of clothes did people wear? Colourful or neutral?
- Where the building materials for an important building came from
- Record random experiences and interactions with the locals
- Short history lessons you heard at the museum(s)
- The most popular snacks with the locals
- Interesting attractions you stumbled upon randomly
- What the cars look like
- The most commonly seen car brand
- Whether the streets are paved or covered with cobblestone
- Interesting items you saw at the grocery store that you cannot find at home
- What is the tallest building there and how old is it?
- What was the predominant colour of the buildings?
- What the park(s) look like
- What types of shows there are on TV
Write your thoughts and feelings
Travel can serve as the greatest teacher, but that’s only if you reflect on it. When you get back from a trip, it’s hard to know right away how it will shape you. But years later you may look back and realize how much you’ve grown as a result of one trip/ experience.
After living in Denmark for one year, I came back feeling a bit more mature and responsible. But a few years later, I now look back and realize I have also become quite entrepreneurial and more responsible as a result of that experience. My priorities in life have changed too. Had I not lived there, I don’t think I would have ever started my own online shops. And I don’t think I would have prioritized financial independence the way I do now. I was a shopping addict before moving to Denmark and now I haven’t set foot in a mall in over 1 year!
If you wish to see how your travel experiences shape you as a person, here are some things to journal about:
Before a big trip
- What is your main priority in your life at the moment?
- What does your life look like at the moment?
- What goals and dreams do you have for the future?
- How do you feel about the trip?
- Do you expect this trip will change you? If yes, in what ways? If no, why not?
Weeks, months, years after the big trip
- Did you encounter anything surprising on the trip?
- Was there anything positive/ negative that had a long-lasting impact on you?
- What is your main priority in your life now compared to before the trip?
- What does your life look like now?
- How have your goals and dreams changed since the trip?
- Did the trip change you in any ways? If yes, how so? If no, why do you think it didn’t?
General, for any trip
- How did you feel each day of the trip?
- What did you think of the destination?
- What surprised you in a positive way and what surprised you in a negative way?
- Did you have to ask strangers for help? How did it go?
- Did you learn anything about yourself? Did you discover any likes/ dislikes you didn’t know you had?
- How did you feel leaving the destination? Would you go back?
What can you learn from your trip? Could you adapt any habits you observed to your life back home? Journal important lessons that might help you/ others in the future. Some things to write about might include:
- What does the locals’ living conditions look like compared to the ones you have at home?
- How did the locals seem? Happy? Stressed? In a hurry? Occupied?
- Main methods of transportation used by the locals
- Locals’ habits/ activities you found interesting or weird
- Do the locals have a better life quality than you do at home?
- Can you implement anything you learnt on the trip to improve your day-to-day life?
- Write conversations you had with locals
- What seem to be the locals’ main priorities in life
- If others travelled with you, ask them what they learnt from the trip
- Reflect on what necessities you need that locals go without and vice versa
Collect small, flat things you can look at in the future and remember your trip. These things may include:
- Plane tickets
- Train tickets
- Museum tickets
- Food wrappers
- Newspaper clippings
- Dried leaves and flowers
- Small, flat items you may find on the ground (i.e. a lost earring)
- Small brochures
A word of advice, make sure you are familiar with customs where you are travelling. In some countries it is illegal to bring in seeds, flowers, insects, or fresh foods.
If you like to draw, sketch or paint more than you like to write, this may be a great way for you to journal your experiences. Here are some things you could include in your journal:
- Maps of continents, countries, cities, or neighbourhoods
- Important buildings
- Restaurant/ café interiors
- Foods you eat
- Cityscapes/ landscapes
- Street signs/ names
- Local currency
- Local animals, birds, or insects
- Locals’ fashion styles
- Swatch the predominant colours you see
In addition, you could also create:
- Pre-trip mind maps of the attractions you’d like to see and directions on how to get there
- A pre-trip bucket list of foods/ restaurants you wish to try
- Post-trip itinerary maps of all the places you visited
If you are not good at drawing, painting, or sketching, you could collect pictures and make a scrapbook-like journal.
Document the food
Some people travel specifically for the food. Are you one of them? For a food-oriented travel journal, you may document some (or all) of the following:
- Where did you dine?
- At what time of the day/ evening/ night did you dine?
- What did you order?
- How much did you pay?
- Did you get charged for water?
- What was the atmosphere there?
- What type of music were they playing? And how did it make you feel?
- Were there mainly locals or tourists dining there?
- What did the food taste like and what was the predominant texture?
- What ingredients could you taste in the food and what was the predominant flavour?
- What types of foods/ snacks did you buy from grocery/ convenience stores?
Begin by deciding on the journal end goal and format. Once you’ve done that, these are the categories you could journal about:
- Pre-trip prompts
- Your itinerary
- Essential information
- Fun facts
- Your thoughts and feelings
- Collect memories
- Collect art
- Document the food
Of course you do not have to stick to one format only. Your journal can be a mix of different categories and types of media. Have fun and make it unique, but most of all don’t beat yourself up if the journal is less than perfect!