How To Keep a Travel Journal

Keep A Cool Travel Journal
The World

Do you keep a travel journal? For those that already do then I’m preaching to the choir here but maybe I can offer some new ideas. And for those who don’t…I mean, you really should. Because you think you’ll remember that hilarious interaction with a local character or those amazing, off-the-beaten path dining spots…but maybe you won’t. Here’s one such funny instance that I didn’t want to forget , so I scribbled it in my journal (this is the cleaned-up, reads-in-sentences version):

Istanbul, 2004 – I really liked the little café buffets of Istanbul, with their huge trays of creative meat, veggie and carb dishes displayed in the broad front windows. So, I stroll into a place like this one day about 3 p.m. to have a late lunch. I was the only customer there so the server decides to have a chat. He asks (in struggling English, sigh…is it always so obvious?) where I’m from and when I reply America his eyes get big and he says, “Oh, Miami?” He had been there and liked it. I answer, “No, I’m from Atlanta, Georgia”. Well, you can’t believe what he does next – he puts 3 fingers up to his O-shaped mouth and begins to make American Indian sounds. I was confused for a moment and then started to chuckle and think to myself ‘I can’t believe I’m going to do this but…’ So, I nodded and began slicing my arm up and down like the so-called Atlanta Braves Tomahawk Chop, plus making the war chant that goes with it. Well, the guy went into hysterics, laughing uncontrollably, and then began doing it himself. So I said ” baseball” and he replies “YES, baseball”. Oh geez, there are even Braves fans in Turkey. Whoda guessed it. That little interaction made my day…and his too, it appeared.

I was on a 3 month trip and I, so easily, could have forgotten that particular anecdote. Plus, it used to drive me nuts when a friend was taking a trip to a place I had been, a destination that had a really special B & B, retro shop or funky restaurant and I so badly wanted to turn them on to it…but I had kept no information. Not helpful at all, so now I keep a book of notes.

Initially, my problem was that I thought it had to read in some sort of intelligent, chronological fashion, like a book. Hello! What was I thinking? Nobody can write a journal like that and still sink their teeth into the traveling. The point of the journal is just to get the info down. You don’t want it to absorb lots of time…you’ll miss too much.

Listed below are some techniques I’ve employed to make the writing process easy, interesting, visually appealing and more fun.

  • You simply must buy a journal that will lie flat when opened. Seems obvious but, plenty of them won’t. And if you have to fight with the dang thing, it will win. And there goes your valiant attempt. Buy spiral bound or Smythe-sewn.
  • Some people find it very useful to create a section at the top of some of the pages with fill-in prompts like these: Destination, Date, Accomodation, Restaurants, Sites Visited, etc. Whatever is important to you. This makes it much simpler to reference later on and lends a bit of organization. There are also journals on the market that are already designed this way.
  • Take a highlighter pen with you, or a red pen, in addition to your usual writing instrument (mechanical pencils work well). Incorporating more than one color on the page makes the text infinitely more interesting to the eye. And brings focus to important elements.
  • If you’re traveling with someone or met a memorable character along the way, ask them to write a short story or impression in your journal. A few of those sprinkled around will add some dimension to the writing that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Sure, go ahead guys, ask that saucy waitress for her autograph…and maybe a lip print next to it!
  • Use the best adjectives you can think of. Don’t hold back. That annoying guy at the train station wasn’t just a bastard – he was a smelly bastard. What did he smell like…skunky cologne, rotten tomatoes, Camel exotic blend mandarin mint cigarettes? Trust me, you will begin to laugh then and forever on when you makes notes like that.
  • If you like unlined journals you can easily turn it into a visual work of art by adhering nifty items inside. Like a small picture from a brochure, an extra stamp, a business card, that leftover 10,000 Vietnamese dong bill, a museum ticket. Take along an acid-free glue stick and keep it with your writing tools in a ziplock bag, along with the collected mementos and this endeavor will be super easy and produce amazing results.
  • If your trip is to just one area, paste a small map inside the front or back cover of your journal. It provides geographic perspective and you can install dots to the places you’ve visited. Map freaks like myself love this sort of thing.
  • Guide books often provide some great context for describing something. Here’s an example from my own journal: “I just couldn’t quite figure how to define the level of smog in Cairo and then I remembered how the Rough Guide said it, it was perfect…’that inhaling the air of Cairo is like the equivalent of smoking 30 cigarettes a day’. Nuff said.”

The whole idea is not to take the writing of a journal too seriously. Partly because it may result in you never keeping one and also because they can otherwise be eye-glazingly, head-bobbingly boring, even to you. So have at it, friends. Make it uniquely yours and enjoy the journey.


Debbie Busch a.k.a. Goddess of the Open Road, likes to travel so much that she quit her job a couple of years ago and took a trip around-the-world. Upon return she just had to weasel her way into the travel spectrum somehow or she knew she would cry. Debbie carved her niche by creating internet retailer www.hellotraveler.com. The online store offers awesome journals, photo albums, scrapbooks and picture display items specially selected for travel nuts. That’s you.