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Dusting Off Your Travel Journal

As more and more people become vaccinated against COVID-19 and related restrictions are lifted, more people are thinking about traveling again. For people with travel journals, or those who want to start them, that means an opportunity to into a hobby unlike any other type of journaling.

A travel journal is a unique space to collect your thoughts, impressions, and experiences of the places you visit. It can be a great reference for you as a writer. You may look back on it for a future memoir project or article. You may use it to remember where you’ve been a decide whether you want to go back, or simply to reminisce about the good times you had in a particular place.

For many people, travel journals have been shelved since March 2020, when most people started to stay put due to the pandemic. Though some travel journal enthusiasts used that time to turn inward and write about their own hometowns and surroundings with the eye of a travel journalist, for many people, the world opening up and travel becoming more common again means the return of a cherished hobby: traveling to new places and recording the experiences captured there.

Like a hobby, travel journaling is something that comes easier when you do it often, keeping your travel journal muscles strong and at the ready. If you’ve taken some time off from travel journaling and are looking to get back into it, or if you’re going to start a travel journal for the first time, here are some tips for how to make the most of travel journaling.

Keep a log throughout the day

For regular, day-to-day journaling, a lot of people journal at night and recap the day that’s just unfolded. With travel journaling, you really want to keep track of every detail of your journey: what you saw, when you saw it, what your impressions of a place or experience were. For that reason you may want to keep track of your thoughts throughout the day so that you don’t risk missing anything.

Remember to address all of the senses

Traveling isn’t just about doing — it’s about seeing, smelling, hearing. Traveling journaling gives you a great opportunity to capture the sights, sounds, smells, and other sensory experiences of each place you visit. Those are the kinds of details that will bring you back to that spot in the future, and the kinds of details that will be especially great if you’re using your journal as a reference for a future piece of writing that will be read by others. They’re the kind of intricacies that really capture the feeling of a place.

Capture the flavor of the people you meet

When you travel, you’re bound to run into new people, often people who are local to the town or region you’re visiting. Keep in mind that these people are just as much a part of the experience of your trip as the places, restaurants, and other experiences you indulge in while traveling. One of the best ways to capture the memory of people is by remembering how they talk. To that end, you might want to jot down some of the dialogues you’ve had with people.

Incorporate photos

Particularly if you’re keeping a digital journal, you can insert photos right into your journal entries, which will really help you bring yourself back to a place after the fact. For a travel journal it’s even a good idea to take pictures of things you might not usually, such as menus at restaurants you dine at, tickets for attractions you’re visiting, and the tiny details of your hotel room.

Hot air balloons

Don’t get wrapped up in perfection

A lot of travel journalists use their travel writing as a reference for future writings, like memoirs, travel books, or travel articles. That’s all fine and well, but you don’t have to treat your actual journal as if it’s going to be read directly by an audience. You can (and arguably, should!) let your journal be a place where you explore thoughts, jot down half-baked ideas, and collect initial impressions without judgement. You never know what kind of writing you may be doing in the future that your journal could be a good reference for. It may well be really helpful that you have your initial, unfiltered thoughts at the ready.

Explore joy!

Traveling, especially for a travel enthusiastic like the keeper of a travel journal, is a fun endeavor. Let your joy spill through onto the journal page! Focus on the things you’re really grateful you got to see, how they made you feel, and what parts of the day you found to be the most fun. Record anything that was particularly special — a surprise you experienced, a good laugh you had, something that really moved you.

Good luck! It’s an exciting time, especially for those of us who have a fervor for travel, to be thinking ahead about the experiences we want to have, whether it means revisiting places we’ve loved but have been out of reach as of late, or seeing new places altogether. Wherever you go and whatever you do, I hope it’s fun and that you have a great time recording it in your travel journal.

Aerial photo of beach

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Lauren Harkawik
Author

Lauren Harkawik

Lauren Harkawik is a journalist, essayist, and fiction writer based in Vermont. You can read her writing on her website.

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