How to Start a Travel Journal and Other Tips on Embracing the Process


By Chelsea Stuart

Whether or not you’re a writer, it’s always nice to have the details of your trips written down for future reference. For some, journaling is something that comes naturally, while for others it can be an uphill battle. Try using some of these tips to learn how to successfully catalogue your travel without sacrificing the experience or being taken out of the moment. And if you’re still struggling or not convinced, read on for advice from a handful of the world’s best travel writers.

Pick Out a New Journal

Sometimes the best thing you can do to get yourself feeling inspired is pick out a brand new journal. Just like fresh notebooks at the start of each school year, a new journal holds the promise of what is to come. Enjoy your first few days with it before the novelty wears off and try to chronicle your time in a way that excites you and encourages you to keep it up. Whether you color coordinate, use sticky notes or highlight certain sections, finding your rhythm is key in maintaining the longevity of your journaling habits.

Start With a General Itinerary

Even if you think your travel plans are set in stone, chances are they’re not. At the start of your trip write down a general itinerary with the anticipated dates and places you’ll be going. Leave yourself some room in case your plans change and fill in the details as you go. At the end of your trip you can make a revised itinerary or organize the original one in a way that reflects what changed. Looking back on your initial plans and comparing them to your actual plans can be interesting.

Don’t Worry About Chronology

Please, please, please don’t get hung up on recounting your experiences chronologically. If you’ve missed a day and are going back to write about something, write what is on your mind first, even if that is the day at hand and not the one you missed. It’s totally ok if your journal isn’t an exact timeline. That in mind, if you’re really set on having everything in its exact place, leave yourself a couple of spare pages between entries so you can fill them in later when inspiration strikes.

Maximize On Idle Time

For many people, the hardest thing about travel journalingor any type of journalingis simply finding the time to do it. While the end of the day may seem like the go-to time to do it, many forget that exhaustion and an inviting bed or TV can put a damper on your motivation to write. Try quickly jotting down details throughout the day in order to get everything you can on the page. Short moments like when you’re waiting for a meal at a restaurant, on a bus or train trip, or laying out on the beach can be great times to put pen to paper. Taking the time to write during the day will also ensure that the moments you’re writing about are still fresh.

Don’t Forget about Doodles, Receipts, Postcards, etc.

A journal is nothing without little tokens of your travel. Aside from writing, don’t skimp on small items that can easily be taped into your journal. You can include business cards, maps, tickets, menus, etc. Rather than listing what you purchased at dinner that one night, just throw in an itemized receipt. Collecting small items like these also make it easier for you to advise others about restaurants you’d recommend and hostels you really liked, and they also provide you with an account of the places you’d eventually like to return to.

Try to Write Everyday

If journaling is a hard or tedious activity for you, taking time off can be a major momentum killer. Missing a day here and there is expected, but when you go more than a couple days in a row without anything, you risk your journal never seeing the light of day again. Try reminding yourself that journal entries don’t have to be a grand affair. You’re not writing a novel, and you’re writing it for yourself, so don’t let concerns about other people reading it intimidate you or interrupt your process. That means that you don’t have to write in complete sentences if you don’t want to. Sometimes bulleted lists and small bits of dialogue are all you need. As long as you write frequently—regardless of length—journaling will become more a part of your routine and less a chore.

Don’t Rule Out Blogging,Vlogging or Other Forms Of Social Media

Traditional journaling just isn’t for everyone. If you’re having a truly horrible time trying to get yourself to write in a journal, maybe an online version would suit you better. Some people prefer to type out their entries and share them on a blog or even put up short videos. Both traditional journaling and multimedia logs have their pros and cons. If you don’t have wifi or service while on vacation, then this may be hard, but if you’re able to do it and would prefer it that way, then go for it! One major pro for online journaling is that you can share it with friends and family.

Tips From Authors

“Write a lot. But do it on your schedule. This might be every day. It might not be. The point is not to follow other people’s rules but to make your own. Then follow them.” —Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

“Every journey has two parallel experiences — the external, in which we observe the world around us, and the internal, in which we visit new places within ourselves. When we weave these two journeys together through our writing, we end up with vivid accounts of our trips — keepsakes that help us remember our travels for years to come. A travel journal is the ultimate souvenir.” —Dave Fox, author of Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad

Make sure you capture the sounds, the smell, the feel of a place. That will be much more interesting than any museum you may visit.” —Paul Theroux, author of The Last Train to Zona Verde

“I think of my journal as a travel companion. Not a whiny or strict companion demanding my constant attention, but an affable, playful, ever-available friend that doesn’t mind spending a lot of time locked in my hotel room. Then, as I go about my day, taking in sights and having adventures, I keep it in the back of my mind, thinking to myself, ‘I can’t wait to tell my journal this story.’”—Lavinia Spalding, author of Writing Away: A Creative Guide to Awakening the Journal-Writing Traveler

About the Writer

chelsea.stuartChelsea Stuart is currently finishing up her degree in Writing, Literature & Publishing at Emerson College in Boston. After living on a ship for four months and visiting 15 countries with the study abroad program Semester at Sea, she’s presently dealing with some intense wanderlust. Aside from travel, she enjoys reading, writing, photography, thrifting, and drinking an absurd amount of coffee. She hopes to one day (soon) pursue a career in publishing and try her luck in The City that Never Sleeps.


Feature photo via Shutterstock

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