Travel journaling is the ideal way to preserve your travel memories. Get tips and insights from Dr. Cate Brubaker, an author, entrepreneur, and part-time nomad.
Has this ever happened to you?
You set out on your trip abroad with a beautiful new travel journal tucked into your carry-on, along with your best intentions to document your adventure every step of the way.
At first, everything goes according to plan.
You happily write an entry on the plane. Once you arrive, you jot down your initial impressions, describe that funny language mix-up at the museum, and sketch a beautiful building while having coffee at a cute outdoor cafe.
One morning you forget to put your journal in your day bag. Then you’re go-go-go all day, and by the time you return to your Wanderful homestay that evening, you’re too exhausted to lift a pen.
Finally, you feel so behind on writing that you bury your journal at the bottom of your suitcase for the rest of your trip because looking at it makes you feel like a complete and utter travel journaling failure.
If this sounds at all familiar, don’t despair! I’m going to share how you can easily become a travel journaling success in three easy steps.
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Why bother travel journaling?
Because there are so many benefits! Writing (or drawing) helps you process your travels on a deeper level, drawing out emotions, perspectives, and impressions that may otherwise only remain at a vague level of awareness.
Documenting the details of your trip will keep them from fading from memory after you return home. And travel journals automatically turn into unique and personalized souvenirs that you’ll treasure for years to come.
The problem is that many travelers start out with the best journaling intentions, only to return home with an abandoned travel journal at the bottom of their bag. It happens to the best of us!
Even though I’ve been an avid journaler for most of my life, I’ve ended trips with the same number of blank pages as when I started. Why? Because I didn’t set myself up for travel journaling success before my trip.
Once I figured out my signature journaling style, found the travel journal that matched that style, and created a simple journaling plan, I began to effortlessly fill the pages of my travel journal. I now enjoy every step of the journaling process and love the final product I create!
My goal is to help you become the travel journaler you’ve always wanted to be. So let’s talk about how you can identify your signature journaling style, find the right journals to fit that style, and create a simple plan to keep you happily journaling throughout your trip. Your travel journal is going to become your favorite trip souvenir!
Step 1: Identify your signature journaling style
Have you ever thought about your journaling style?
I ask this because I have fallen victim to feeling like a journaling fraud because my journals don’t look like the beautiful specimens I see all over Pinterest and Instagram. You know, those gorgeous journals with expert level watercolor renderings, perfectly themed washi tape and stickers, and perfect handwriting using fancy pens.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m astounded by the creativity and artistry in those journals (and admittedly, I’m a little jealous!) And if this is your style or if seeing those types of travel journals inspires you, that’s awesome! Don’t change a thing.
But if journals like that make you feel like you shouldn’t even bother, please hear this: your travel journal is for you and you only. It does not need to be perfect, beautiful or cleverly written for it to be valuable. You don’t even have to write complete sentences!
Even though I’ve been happily journaling for decades, a few years ago I found myself thinking, I really should make more beautiful scrapbook journals, use watercolors more frequently, and write well-crafted stories in my very best fancy penmanship. I even went out and bought new journals and a bunch of supplies in order to experiment with journaling in a whole new way.
And then…I barely picked up my journal during my trip.
While I enjoy looking at beautiful art, scrapbook, and bullet journals online, and it’s fun to read the witty memoir-like journal entries other travelers share, I’ve realized it’s just not my style. And I’m ok with that.
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I like to write about whatever comes to mind when I open my journal. I also like to document all of the little details of travel, like the address of my Airbnb, grocery lists, travel-fueled business ideas, itineraries for future trips, the departure and arrival times of my next train or a brief review of a tea or beer or sweet treat I try.
Sometimes I like to add a little flair in the form of lettering or a taped-in ticket stub but mostly I jot down random thoughts throughout the day. I journal because it helps me relax and process my thoughts, experiences, and emotions while I travel.
My journals are a messy snapshot of what I was thinking and feeling at a specific moment and location. They’re not pretty or shareable but they work brilliantly for me. I treasure each and every one.
Your signature travel journaling style might be similar to mine or radically different. Identifying your journaling style is worth reflection because knowing your unique style will help ensure you enjoy both the process of journaling and the end product.
Here are five questions to ask yourself in order to identify your travel journaling style:
1. If you journal regularly at home, how would you describe your journaling style?
2. Which of the following journaling activities do you enjoy the most? The least?
- stream-of-consciousness writing
- jotting down random notes
- drawing / painting
- mind mapping
- bullet journaling
3. When and where do you enjoy journaling while traveling? Do you like to have your journal with you while you’re out and about during the day?
4. Does starting with a completely blank page make you feel giddy or anxious? Do you find journaling prompts helpful?
5. What kind of travel journal “product” do you want to have at the end of your trip?
Step 2: Find the journal that’s right for your style
Now that you know your journaling style, it’s time for the fun part: choosing your travel journal! Here are some ideas to help you sort through your many choices:
Midori Traveler’s Notebook
These journals are a great option if you value variety and options. You not only choose your ideal cover and size, you can choose what kind and how many inserts to include.
I like using this system when I want each insert to have a different journaling function, (e.g., one for my logistical travel notes, one for blog-related research, one for my reflective writing, etc) or if I want to devote on insert to each city or country I’m visiting.
I also like that I can slip one or two inserts into my day-bag without having to carry my entire journal around all day.
Spiral notebook purchased in-country
If you’re looking for a simple, low-cost option, a small spiral notebook is a great choice. Plus, it’s fun to use products from another country!
Travel journal with prompts
Ok, I’m a little biased when it comes to this journal because I created it but it’s one of my favorites and I’ve been using it for years.
The I’m Thinking…Travel! JOURNAL offers a nice balance between offering writing prompts for before, during, and after your trip, as well as blank pages. And it’s lightweight, so you can easily carry it around in your day bag.
Even though I’m not much of an artist, I sometimes like watercolor journals because the pages are so thick and they’re often landscape-oriented. These journals are a good choice if you prefer to draw, paint, or scrapbook over extensive writing.
If you don’t want to carry a journal and you like postcards (or if you accidentally left your journal at home), a postcard journal is a great option! Simply buy a postcard each day that represents something from your day.
Journal on the back of the postcard and then pop it into a ziplock bag. When you’re back home, punch a hole in the corner of each postcard and connect using a binder clip.
Be sure to number and date each postcard so it’s easy to put them in order after your trip!
Step 3: Create a simple plan for journaling success while on the road
You’ve identified your travel journaling style and found the perfect journal for your trip. What’s the final step in becoming the travel journaler you’ve always wanted to be? Set yourself up for success by creating a simple journaling plan ahead of your departure!
My journaling plan changes a bit from trip to trip. On some trips, I’m all about simple reflective writing in a beautiful bound journal with deliciously smooth pages.
When I travel with my husband, I tend to lean more towards documenting our experiences, meals, inside jokes, and travel routes using my I’m Thinking…Travel! JOURNAL so we can both enjoy flipping through it once we’re back home.
When my focus is on research for my food and travel website, I’m all about using a simple spiral notebook that I pick up when I first arrive at my destination. Before I head out on each trip I ask myself these questions:
- What purpose does journaling serve on this trip? Do I want to jot down notes about things I want to remember later? Use writing or drawing to process what I’m experiencing? Create something beautiful to share with friends and family later?
- What supplies do I need to bring with me?
- How much time do I need to devote to journaling in order to create the end product I want? Will my travel plans support that amount of time?
- How often do I want to journal? Once a day in order to recap what I did? Whenever I have a free moment in order to jot down a few spontaneous lines? Every couple of days when I can devote a couple of solid hours to writing, drawing or scrapbooking?
- Do I want to journal at the same time every day to create a habit? If so, when am I most likely to journal? First thing in the morning? When I stop for an afternoon coffee? In the evenings when I’m snuggled up in bed? If I keep things spontaneous, where can I find nooks and crannies in my day for journaling?
- Where do I want to journal? Am I inspired by beautiful scenery? Do I prefer bustling cafes or sitting at the quiet kitchen table in my Wanderful homestay? Is time spent in transit on planes, trains, and busses the optimal time for me to write?
Taking a few moments to think through these questions will make journaling a treasured part of your trip and something you look forward to, rather than a stressful afterthought!
Share Your Journal on Instagram
Let’s continue this journaling conversation on Instagram! Share your favorite journal (whether just the cover or the inside pages, your choice) and use #sheswanderful so we can find you.
Want to start journaling? Grab your own I’m Thinking…Travel! JOURNAL today!
About the author: Dr. Cate Brubaker, an author, entrepreneur, and part-time nomad. She has lived, worked, and traveled in 37 countries on four continents (so far). When not on the road, Cate enjoys baking delicious desserts and sharing travel tips on the InternationalDessertsBlog.com and learning to play electric guitar with her husband (she still hopes to start a cover band). Cate appreciates deep conversation, a good travel backpack, and never says no to gelato. You can find Cate at the InternationalDessertsBlog.com & SmallPlanetStudio.com