On a trip abroad you will quickly have so many incredible experiences that they will blur together. These can be big things, but also little details of day-to-day life on the trail that will easily be forgotten. By keeping a journal, it will be much easier to recall all those unique individual memories later.
The problem is that you will probably be having so much fun during your trip that keeping a journal will be the last of your concerns. Your mind will be so in the present that writing down what you did even a day or two ago will seem completely unimportant. Why update a journal when you could be exploring or sightseeing, having drinks with your travel companions, or reading up on your next destination?
Even when I intend to keep a journal, I’ve often found myself lagging behind by many days and even weeks as it always feels like something you have to make time for. Eventually though, I got into a journaling style that really worked for me, and now I have a complete journal for the nearly 2 years that I’ve travelled.
Here are some tips for maintaining a travel journal.
My journaling technique in Mexico still needed some work
Don’t try to write a novel
When you put too much pressure on yourself it becomes easy to procrastinate. I fell into this trap early on, when I tried to vividly describe every detail of my trip. I soon abandoned that approach, and now I don’t try to always produce something profound or amazingly well-written. There is no need, as I am really the only person who has to read it.
When I’m updating my journal, I’m not exactly trying to be Jules Verne. My writing is actually really bad (but that’s okay). Here is a real example from when I was in Laos:
“Visit to waterfall… Beautiful azure colour. Jumping off the top into basin, felt fish nibbling at my feet. Laura too scared to jump off, Foo was not getting into the water until we forced him in. Went back to Luang Prabang and went to night market… had a plate of delicious Laap.”
I know this won’t win any awards. I am barely painting a picture of what this day was like. But to me, these quick notes are the perfect triggers for remembering all sorts of details from that day.
I remember standing on the edge of the waterfall trying to convince Laura to jump. I remember standing on the edge for so long that I, too, got some vertigo… which made finally jumping down into the refreshingly cold water all the more rewarding. I also remember the delicious Laap (a Laotian dish) I had at the night market later that day. All of these details spring to life just from reading a few badly written sentences.
Here is another example, this time from when I was in Myanmar:
“Got a cab in Yangon to the mothreland inn, which was abuzz with activity. It was a hotel but felt like a hostel, with loads of people checking in and out, people sitting at the computers and having breakfast… every table had little bread toaster. Staff supr friendly. After Malaysia, I am in a good mood again.”
I’m not expressing my deepest feelings here, but just that last sentence lets me remember how happy I was to be in Myanmar after I had a pretty bad time the week before.
Sometimes I write multiple paragraphs for a single day, sometimes just 2 or 3 lines. Sometimes I summarize an entire week in non-chronological order. I don’t fix typos or spelling mistakes, as this just takes up valuable time. All I need are some details for my brain to hook into when reading it back later.
Of course, it’s possible to maintain a beautifully written diary, and perhaps you have the will and dedication to do so. But if you find yourself too busy living your journey, I recommend using the staccato method.
Enhance your journaling experience
It also helps to make the actual act of writing your journal more fun by getting yourself the right tools.
It can be great writing a journal on paper as this doesn’t rely on keeping any kind of device charged up. It’s also easier to add little drawings or quick notes in the margins. If you are journaling the old school way, you might want to buy a nice high-quality notebook to write in.
I find Moleskine notebooks to be delightful: the leather cover and high-quality cream-coloured paper make them a joy to write in. They are a bit pricey, but if you look around you can probably find other notebooks of similar quality.
Instead of writing with a BIC pen, get a decent rollerball pen. When I write with them I feel like I am Marco Polo himself, even when I am just jotting down my silly daily notes. The pen just glides over the paper, whereas with a regular pen it just feels like I’m writing a grocery list.
If you are keeping a digital journal, look into software such as Evernote, which allows you to add handwritten notes, drawings and other clippings.
Make use of your downtime
Finally, another key point to how to consistently keep a travel journal is to simply take advantage of those quiet moments during your trip. When you are in transit be sure to update your journal before you grab your book, your travel guide, or your music player; make sure it becomes a habit.
It can sometimes be difficult to create those moments if you are travelling together, in which case you just have to pardon your travel buddy for a moment while you take a bit of time out to write. When travelling alone, I find that journaling can actually be a great way to process the day when you don’t have someone else to talk to at the moment.
While logging your trip can be a bit annoying sometimes, it will reward you later you have a full journal to read back on that rainy Sunday afternoon back home.