10 Tips for Travel Journaling

Unlike Doug Funnie, who journaled the events of his everyday life, I am an emotional journaler. As a kid, I had a stack of diaries that were gifted to me on numerous occasions. Mum encouraged me to write in them. She said that I'd one day cherish the memories. But you know, I just couldn't get myself to commit to a routine of jotting down the mundanities of my youth. "Dear Diary, Today, I went to school and learned about compound words." Yeah, not that exciting.

But, whenever I was really excited or terribly upset, I'd grab a journal and start furiously writing. I never addressed my entries. I figured that writing in the diary itself was a direct enough statement that didn't need clarification with an introductory "Dear Diary." I'd vent about how unfair my parents were being for not letting me go to some gathering of friends that had been in the works for weeks. I'd babble on about how excited I was about going to the mall to buy new earrings with my saved Christmas money. I would joyfully scribble an anecdote about how my crush sat next to me at the school assembly. By the way, just a side note: as a kid, I thought it was "cresh" (instead of crush) and it was used multiple times in my third grade journal before I learned the correct terminology.

Anyway, I haven't kept a diary since sometime during junior high or high school. I'm not exactly sure when it petered out. I think that at some point, I was writing enough in my school notebooks that I wasn't too keen on keeping an additional one, even if it was for leisure.

However, once I started traveling on my own (i.e. I started booking my own flights), I started keeping a travel journal. The first big trip I ever booked on my own was in college for our senior year spring break. Two friends and I booked a trip to London, which was a dream destination of mine since the fifth grade. At that time, the journal was born out of necessity. I was pretty broke (in relative terms) so I used the journal to write down everything I was spending for this trip. At the same time, I used my little notebook to jot down all of the sites we visited and the emotions I was experiencing because, hey, this was a dream come true.
Since then, I've journaled every trip I've taken. I've gone through several journals - I dedicated an entire Moleskine sketchbook to my month long Euro trip that I took after graduation - and I plan on keeping this up forever.

I thought I would share some of the ways I use my travel journal now. It's not only for emotional ranting; it's also functional.

The journaling tips I'm sharing today I've developed whilst developing my current travel journal. I actually started this one back in 2010 when I was taking a trip to Europe with a former beau. I'd bought this journal on sale a few months earlier (because when Moleskines go on sale, you stock up) and I hadn't given it a purpose yet. Well, once the trip was booked, I had a purpose.

The following tips aren't in any particular order...

TIP 1: make a title page
I left the first page of my notebook free to work as a title page and a table of contents. I'm a fan of really generic looking journals - hence this plain black number - because it's a little more fun and mystical when you open it up to discover lots of color and personality.

Nonetheless, a title page is still important. My 23-year-old self decided to use some letter stickers to spell out "bon voyage." To be honest, it seems a little cheesy to me now but I actually really love it because it's a tie to my youth and former self (who obviously liked the idea).

If you're a heavy writer and you end up devoting an entire journal to one destination, this may not be necessary for you. But if you're a normal to light writer, then you'll probably devote one notebook to several trips and it's nice to have a little list up front with all the destinations that your journal has explored.

TIP 2: add in a calendar, basic itinerary, and travel info
With any trip I plan I like to draw in a little calendar and write in where I'll be during which days. Not only is it v. practical to know where you're headed but it's also really nice for when you're reminiscing. This is especially useful with multi-city trips, but even with single-city trips, I use the calendar to schedule excursions and major events.

Along with the calendar, I write down the flight info (airport, airline, flight number, flight confirmation, departure and arrival time, terminals, and customer service contact), hotel info (address, confirmation, check in and check out times, and phone number), and whatever other information accompanies the bookings I have made. If I can't use my phone, I feel secure knowing I have all of this information written down.

TIP 3: add maps of lodging (and other important spots)
I have never had a data plan when I've traveled abroad. I have also never traveled internationally and had a paper map beforehand (because I always just assume that the airport will have free ones). As a precautionary measure, I always print out a little map of my hotel location. It's zoomed in enough to expose all of the tiny streets but zoomed out enough that I can ask locals for help and they can recognize major roads.

It's also helpful to print out routes from the arrival place (airport, train station, bus stop) to the hotel and vice versa.

TIP 4: write down everything (that you feel like writing about) and write every day
For several of my destinations, I have pages upon pages of writing. Mostly, it happens in places I've never been that fascinate me. For example, every time I go to Paris, I have tons to say. I also think that it's worthwhile to do a little sketching. Photos are fun, but there's something to be said for messy pen drawings. It adds character and pizzazz and it makes looking at the journal a lot more fun when your friends and family decide they want to take a peek.

I also make it a point to write in my journal once a day. I'll usually do it right before bed. I write down everything we saw and did that day while it's fresh in my mind. It's lovely to have photos but I like having my own descriptions to accompany the memories as well.

Oh, and I always write down everything I've spent. Even though I'm no longer a broke college student, I'm still v. strict about my own finances and I like to stick to my travel budget. Plus, if I'm using a credit card, it's also a nice form of backup if I misplace a receipt. That way, I still have a way of checking my statements at the end of the trip.
TIP 5: write down your packing list
I always jot down what I need in my journal. This serves three purposes: 1) I always have my running list of necessities in one spot and I can keep adding to it. 2) I can refer back to old lists for similar trips to see if I've left anything out of my current list (e.g. I'll look at a past beach trip and remember to pack my underwater camera). And 3) I can make sure I'm re-packing all of my belongings when I'm heading back home. My record of leaving things behind in hotels is spotless - knock on wood - because I was so traumatized when this happened to me in grammar school (when I left a teddy bear behind in Boston).

I also like to write down things I need to buy or do prior to the trip. For example, I always give myself a schedule of withdrawing money from the ATM (because I like to divvy up the withdrawals so it doesn't feel as burdensome to take out a large chunk of money) and I'll check them off as they occur. And sometimes I'll need random things - like a new backpack or travel sized toothpaste - and the journal serves as an awesome reminder of these to-do-list items.

TIP 6: plan out your outfits, down to the underwear
This may make me sound like the biggest loser in the world, but I always plan out what I'm going to wear each day of my trip, along with accessories, hairstyles, and undergarments. And, because this journal comes with me on holiday, I just flip it open in the morning to find out exactly what I have planned.

At a glance, this makes me seem high maintenance but in reality, it's pure practicality. Planning outfits, to me, prevents overpacking; I know exactly what I plan on wearing and I bring just what's on my list. Knowing what I'm wearing for the day - and having no alternatives because I haven't overpacked - means that I spend two minutes getting dressed in the morning which gives me lots of time to explore whatever city I'm in. Coordinating underwear means I won't have any fashion faux-pas because I'll know ahead of time that I need a certain type of undergarment for a certain outfit. Even having a hairstyle in mind saves time.

TIP 7: write down useful phrases and local customs
 My language options are pretty limited. I've got English down (I think), I've got a little Korean under my belt (thanks Mom & Dad), I know enough French to get by (I wish I'd studied it harder in school), and I can greet someone in Spanish and Italian. This basically means that if I go to any country where English is not the main spoken language, then I'm doomed.

I like to jot down useful phrases including greetings as well as things I can shout in an emergency, like, "Help!" or "Doctor!" or "Police!" because you never know. These are the ones I'll practice over and over and over because heaven forbid that an emergency even occur, but if it did, I want to be prepared.

It's also prudent to jot down any local customs that you may need to get by. Waving hello is perfectly acceptable here in the States but in a foreign country, it could be an insult. I like to watch out for that kind of stuff.

TIP 8: write down important telephone numbers
In the back of my journal, I keep a list of the emergency numbers of my credit cards and debit cards - including the international collect numbers - in case my cards get stolen or there's some sort of money-related snafu. I am pretty diligent about calling my card companies ahead of time when I'm traveling so that they don't think my card is stolen and put a hold on it. But if I were to ever forget, I have these numbers written down so I can call (whilst abroad) and get things sorted.

TIP 9: write down what you want to see ahead of time
I like to write down little facts about the city (or cities) that I'm visiting along with the major sites and not-so-major sites. I think it's nice to have a game plan of sorts and it's also respectful to have some knowledge of your destination before you arrive.
TIP 10: dream and brainstorm

The world is humongous and I've traveled so little of it. My list of dream destinations keeps growing and I can't seem to keep up with it and it all seems almost hopelessly impossible. That being said, I think that it's important to keep dreaming. In the past 7 years, I've managed to travel to 9 new countries (which includes 15 new cities and several repeats) and I've been seeing more of America as well. I'm really enjoying the pace at which I'm exploring; it's manageable but still progressive.

I like writing all of these dream destinations down because - for me - seeing something written down makes it a little more concrete. It's still an idea, but it was an idea worth writing down. Plus, I flip through my journal so much, it's a great reminder.

So, those are my travel journaling tips. Are these even tips? Or are they just a list of ten things I include in my own travel journal? Whatever! Hopefully, it's been helpful to someone out there. I mean, there's no right or wrong way, but if you do it "right" you'll end up with a journal that almost reads like a guidebook of what to pack, where to stay, what to see, and how much it costs to do all of that.



  1. i love love love this!!! how can i write and draw like you?? :)

    1. Thanks for the compliment and thanks for reading! I actually plan on sharing a blog post about sketching travel outfits soon so maybe that will help!


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