Four Things All Great Travel Journals Contain

February 17, 2018

When I was a kid, my mom would take notes on our vacations in these little white note pads. She recorded where we stayed and how much our hotels cost, and not much else. Your travel journal can be as simple as that, or it can be a long, winding narration of every activity, thought, and feeling that occurred on your trip. Or anywhere in between, which is how I would categorize the level of detail in my travel journals.

There is no right or wrong way to capture your memories from a trip. But I recommend you do document your journey. This post will provide your with recommendations on how to best do that, based on my experience.

Above you’ll see a picture of the journal I’ve used for all of our domestic (USA) adventures since 2003. It still has plenty of pages left for more adventures. For my international trips I have always bought a separate journal just for that trip. That’s the system I started years ago, and it still works for me.

Of course, I’m sure many people these days use their devices to record their travel adventures, whether it be in a blog or on social media, but I still kick it old school with a paper journal. I don’t need to worry about having a power supply or internet access when I want to write something down. It stays in my purse or backpack, and it’s ready wherever I am. And when I am ready to type up a blog post, everything I need is there. I recommend keeping the weight of the journal in mind.

Why journal your travel adventures?

There are a few reasons to keep a travel journal. Here are some reasons I like to have one:

To Recall Details from a Prior Trip

I can’t tell you how many times I have looked back in one of my journals to find the name of a trail in a picture or the details of a vacation rental at which we stayed. Sometimes it’s for my own reference, but more often it’s to share with someone I know who is heading to that destination. Just today, while researching hikes for our upcoming vacation in Moab, Utah (a destination we’ve visited several times) my husband asked if we’d seen a certain arch on past hikes in Arches National Park. I was able to scan back and find out. (The answer was yes, we probably did see it.)

To Capture Key Memories

Especially if you are traveling with your kids, it’s great to remember little vignettes that you might forget otherwise. Vacation details like that can be a blur if you don’t write them down.

 

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What to capture in a travel journal?

I choose to keep my journal content pretty simple. If I thought I needed to turn out a memoir I would immediately get overwhelmed and not even start. Here are four pieces of information that you should have in your journal.

1. A table of contents

I put mine right inside the front cover. In it, I list:

  • each trip that is included in the journal (even if it’s the only trip in that journal)
  • the dates we were on the trip
  • the page numbers in the journal where the trip can be found. If there’s only one trip in the journal, you can indicate page numbers the different days or locations of the trip.

2. Page numbers on every page

Seriously, don’t skip this step! It will make future navigation in your journal so much easier. Especially if, like me, you use your journal for more than one trip.

3. Daily journal entries:

Some days I don’t get to the journal entry, but when I go back to enter what we did, I always separate it by day. The key details I make sure to capture are:

  • Where we were
  • Key activities we did
  • Where we ate (if it was memorable, either good or bad)
  • Where we stayed
  • Any funny stories or facts

You can definitely choose to capture more than this, but this is the minimum amount of information I choose to capture.

Also, for what it’s worth, all of my travel journals’ content is very G-rated. Even before I had kids, I decided that, if one of my kids were to someday read my journals, I would prefer they don’t need therapy afterward. That’s been my choice, but feel free to choose otherwise.

4. The exchange rate (on international trips)

Corny as this may sound, several times I’ve looked back at this information. I just write it in the margin somewhere. From this information I could verify, for example, that the exchange rates on my trip to Europe in 1997 were worse than those in 2000. It didn’t just feel a little less expensive the second time around, it actually was less expensive.

 

The key thing is to capture something. Don’t over-think it, and at least capture the highlights. To give a rather extreme example of over-thinking a travel journal, I gave my husband a travel journal as a gift very early in our relationship (over 15 years ago). He still has it, and he has every intention of someday using it. But he hasn’t quite decided exactly what information he wants to record in it. He wants his journal strategy perfect before he starts. And so it sits empty waiting for the perfect plan, while I look details from past trips in my journals to find information for him, because at lease I wrote something.

One last tip: Use a good pen. I’m picky about my pens, so I always make sure it’s a pen that writes well and is archival quality, so it will not fade over time.

Happy travels, and happy journaling!

 

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