Why You Need To Start A Travel Journal (Once Flights Are Open Again)

A physical travel memento

Journalling regularly can help with mental health, and some studies show that pen-and-paper writing can also help with better memory and longer recall. Now, put that in the context of remembering your favourite trips. It’s why some people like to keep a travel journal. Long after they’ve left a place, a travel journal brings them back to the time they wandered through its streets and immersed themselves in its culture. If you’re curious to know more about this practice, here's why you should start a travel journal — once flights are open again, of course.

Meet the journalers

"I keep a travel journal because it is a way for me to remember the many wonderful memories I have made during the trip," shared Ria De Lara, who shares her travel journal spreads on @imfeelingcraftytoday on Instagram. Ria also considers travel journalling as an "outlet for creativity" where she can use "different styles and techniques like illustration, lettering, scrapbooking and more".

For Marissa of @choosingbliss, a travel journal serves multiple purposes for her travels. "First, a travel journal helps me prepare for an upcoming trip. It keeps me organised. Before the trip, I make a checklist of things to bring, research about the place, flight details, itineraries, where to go, things to do, etc.," she shared.

Marissa also uses her travel journal to fill in the time while waiting for her flight, using it as "a pastime while waiting at the airport, during stopovers, on flights and during downtimes".

How they started journalling

"I started journalling about my travels in 2015, the same year when I got interested in creative journalling and memory keeping. I brought a journal with me on a beach trip to jot down details of my days; the little things that will help me remember aspects of the trip that photos alone can’t capture. Then, when I returned home, I printed some photos and created a scrapbook type of travel journal," Marissa recalled.

Ria also began her travel journal around the same time. "I started in 2015 when I was planning a family trip to Taiwan. As I was researching the touristy things to do, I suddenly got this idea of presenting our itinerary as a sketch. I drew the places I included in our itinerary, along with the food I want my family to try. The doodles were very simple but I also added some lettering to make them more appealing. It was so fun to do and it got me even more excited about going on the trip," Ria shared.

She also explained that that particular sketch was published in local Philippine airline Cebu Pacific's in-flight magazine Smile, saying that she loved that their simple travel itinerary was "shareable and could inspire others to travel or to document a trip". 

"When we got back from Taiwan, I drew and wrote about our trip and that was my very first travel journal. There are many creative people who have been sharing their travel journals on social media and they have inspired me to start one," Ria added.

Should you journal with pen and paper or digital devices?

Both Ria and Marissa share their travel journal on their social media accounts, which are followed by thousands of craft and journalling enthusiasts. Despite their social following, both ladies prefer to stick to pen and paper for their travel journals.

"A travel journal can document other things we just can’t capture with a camera. In writing, we can record all the senses and details of our trips, like what we see, hear, taste, smell and feel at a particular moment," Marissa explained. "We can record stories of interesting people we’ve met. In writing, we can capture our thoughts, emotions, reactions and what we’ve learned while exploring unfamiliar places. Our travel journals will help us remember all these moments like no photo ever could."

Meanwhile, Ria shared: "I share my travel journals on social media because I feel that it can inspire others to keep travelling and exploring new places."I want to show people that they can document their trip beyond the usual photo album. Nowadays, no one even prints their photos anymore. The most people do is post snippets of their travel photos on social media. This actually makes me feel a bit sad because albums or travel journals can give a person a tangible keepsake of memories."

However, there are also some benefits to keeping a digital travel journal. First is it instantly back-ups your pages so you won't have to worry about losing them. It's also super convenient because you always have your phone in your pocket anyways. You also don't have to worry about physical clutter in your bag. But still, it’s a matter of preference.

Tips to take note of before travel journalling

Before you think that you need to exert some artistic skills to journal, let us put that worry to rest. "I believe that starting a travel journal doesn’t need artistic skills," Marissa evaluated. "In fact, I’ve found that the best approach is to just begin with something and learn as you go. To begin, it helps to ask yourself, 'What is the purpose of my travel journal?'"

"For example, I’ve thought of it as a place to plan and organise my trips, and a keepsake to preserve my travel memories, adventures, stories, discoveries, and learnings," she explained.

"Then, I thought about my preferred style of journalling and my skills. I don’t draw, but I express my thoughts and feelings through writing, photography, collages and collecting paper mementoes as souvenirs, so I figured out that a combination of these styles would suit me well."

As for when you should fill in the pages of your travel journal, it's up to you. Marissa likes to journal on-the-go, writing whenever she has the time to sit down and rest. On the other hand, Ria prefers to wait until she gets back to the hotel to start writing about the day's highlights.

"I actually don’t journal while travelling because I would rather savour the whole experience.  After all, I may never experience visiting these places again, she shared. "While travelling, I make sure to take a lot of photos and collect travel ephemera. Some places like Taiwan and Japan have stamping stations where you can freely use their travel stamps to decorate your journal."

"Then, when I get back to the hotel, I write a short anecdote about what transpired during the day so that I can write more about it when I work on my journal back in the Philippines. All my journals have been completed after each trip," she continued.

Reminiscing with the help of travel journals during the pandemic

When flights were cancelled and borders were closed last year, everyone's travel plans were put on hold. All we had left were throwback photos of past trips to tide us over. Meanwhile, Ria and Marissa had their travel journals to physically flip through and reminisce.

"I was sad about not being able to travel because of the pandemic so I did read some of my travel journals.  It's during times when I feel ‘grounded’ that I appreciate the value of my journals. I felt really happy looking back at those wonderful memories of exploring places and being with my family. I felt really inspired and I’m looking forward to the time when we can all be free to travel again," Ria shared.

"It was a perfect time for me to continue working on my pending scrapbook style travel journal projects. Some of those trips happened four years ago, but I didn’t have a hard time recalling the details of my travels.  The pocket travel journals I used for note-taking during those trips, the photos I took, and the paper mementoes I’ve gathered became helpful reminders," Marissa said.

She added: "As I flip through my old travel journals and work on pending projects, I felt joyful seeing and remembering those beautiful places I’ve been, the travel adventures and interesting stories, the happy moments and treasured memories that will last a lifetime."

What you'll need for a travel journal

If you're hoping to start travel journalling in the next few months or sometime next year, you need things that are compact and travel-friendly so you won't feel burdened by your stuff. Here's a quick checklist for a physical travel journal.

#1. A small notebook.

"I usually devote a single journal for each trip because it would get super thick and it’s nice to keep everything related in just one place," Ria shared. "Any notebook or pen would actually do.  Your notebooks don’t need to be expensive or fancy. But I believe the important thing is that the paper used should be acid-free so that you know they will last for years."

You can choose the size of your notebook and the thickness, depending on how long your trip will be. "For long trips, I use one notebook for each trip, which is usually a Traveler’s Notebook insert or a refill. I prefer bringing a passport, pocket or an A6 size notebook because it’s light and handy. Then I use a bigger size journal, like a Traveler’s Notebook standard size insert for post-trip journalling and memory keeping with photos and mementos."

#2. The colouring and decor materials.

While you can stick to a single pen, you can also add colours through coloured pencils and decor. "The very basic thing I use is just a pen and a blank journal. Coloured pencils, markers, brush pens and watercolour are great for doing lettering and illustration. Glue and washi tape are great adhesives. Stickers, patterned papers and scrapbook cards are fun things to decorate with," Ria enumerated.

#3. Your travel keepsakes.

One of the most important parts of keeping a travel journal is the little knick-knacks you come across on your trips. From postage stamps to little cards, these can all find a place within the pages of your book.

"When travelling, I make it a point to take lots of photos and gather paper mementoes, such as brochures, receipts, tickets, maps, business cards, postcards, restaurants, food labels and even candy wrappers which I can add to my travel journals," Marissa shared, saying these "add more character" to the pages.

As for Ria: " I make it a point to collect travel ephemera in the form of tickets, stubs, tags, menus, brochures, calling cards, maps, postcards, etc. These things will make the journal really beautiful and authentic."

#4. Some photos.

If you have an instant film camera or pocket printer, you can use these to immediately insert photos into the pages of your journal. Don't worry if you don't have one though, you can always wait to get home to print these out. "I don’t own a pocket printer that I can bring with me when travelling, so I print my photos at home using a regular inkjet printer or I have them printed at a photo printing shop," Marissa explained.

At the end of the day, there are no rules when it comes to keeping a travel journal. It's a deeply personal task and it should reflect your personal experience and preferences. That's what makes it such a worthwhile experience.

Will you be trying your hand at making a travel journal on your next trip?

(Cover photo from: @choosingbliss)

Get to know what it’s like to slow travel during a pandemic.

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