The benefit of travel is not simply the experience you have whilst doing it; the benefit is also the memories you take home from it. While most people simply carry along a camera for the purposes of capturing those memories, still others keep a travel journal of some sort. A picture may well be worth a thousand words, but a written work carries more weight that is personal. A photograph shows only details of what you saw, but a journal details what you thought, felt, remembered, about that image; it allows you to remember more details that might otherwise fade as time passes. To provide a more full record of your travels, a combination of both these things would be optimal.
There are many benefits to keeping a travel journal, particularly a written one. It is cheaper than buying film that you later have to pay to develop. The tools of keeping a written journal are more portable and less prone to costly damage. It can be a more clear and detailed way to share your experiences with others. It gives you a place to doodle when you’re stuck for something to do whilst stranded in the passenger lounge at Gatwick. My suggestion would be to get stranded in the passenger lounge at Frankfurt instead; the lounge seats are far more comfy.
The tools of the trade, so to speak, are few and relatively inexpensive: a notebook, a pen or pencil, postcards, bits and pieces, and something to carry them in.
The first rule of writing a travel journal is the same first rule for any journal; there are no rules. You write whatever you wish to write; however you wish to write it. You can write prose or poetry, compose a jingle, or even draw stick-person approximations of the people you meet on your journey. I do recommend, however, that whatever you write, you write it in a form and fashion that you can understand later. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can’t read my own handwriting.
Write Here, Write Now
The second rule of writing a travel journal is to write while you’re there, if you can. This ensures that your impressions, feelings, opinions, and the details you most wish to remember are fresh in your mind. This is why I mentioned postcards in the list of suggested tools; because postcards are small, cheap, easy to store, and you buy them while you’re on the spot of the site you want that visual memory of. In addition, because they do have a visual, they provide an excellent accompaniment to the written part of your memories. I kept my entire travel journal of my trip to England on the backs of postcards.
It’s All In The Details
The details you most wish to note are entirely up to you, but let me suggest a few things that might help to make your journal more informative, and more memory triggering (both for you, and others).
Think of your journal as a sort of time capsule, for that is precisely what it is. Think about what you want to store for later, and, more objectively, what might be important to store for later.
When you describe something, be detailed. What I mean by detail is not just an itemized list of something. Lists are wonderful things, but they carry no flavour. The detail and flavour are in what you say about the things on the list. When you write that you’ve done, seen, or eaten, a thing, also write about what you think and feel about it; write of how it does or doesn’t reflect and represent the culture; and include surrounding details (physical and non).
Hand in hand with being detailed, is being observant. The big things, the landmarks and tourist traps, are all very important, but it is not just those things that make up a culture. The small everyday things are just as integral, and are often more interesting.
Compare and contrast. While trying to avoid a better or worse tone, try to describe how the place you are visiting is similar to, or different from, the place you live. Even if the details of similarities and differences are small, or seemingly insignificant, they can still carry a lot of weight. There is nothing like a lengthy trip abroad to educate you about your own culture, as well.
In the list of tools I mentioned bits and pieces. The bits and pieces I’m going to describe to you may relate more to a journal that is of a scrapbook nature, than one that is purely written; but, they’re just as easily stored in a shoebox along with your postcards and written journal. These things are the memorabilia of your journey, the keepsakes, and can serve as wonderful physical props when you’re telling the story of your travels. They can include restaurant menus, bus and train ticket stubs, maps, labels and packaging from products you purchased, placemats and beer mats, info booklets from visited spots, pressed flowers, shells, stones, local magazines and newspapers (even if they’re not in your native tongue), tourist guides, flyers, posters, local currency and stamps, and any other of a million little things you can find just about anywhere you go.
As with any piece of personal writing, there really are no limits to what you can do with your journal. Whatever you think to do, do it. Don’t let presuppositions about the nature of journals stop you from including any thing or any memory.
The biggest pitfalls to keeping a journal of any sort is this imagined rule of it needing to be formal, written in every day, or even containing correct spelling and grammar. Ignore those presuppositions. The only time they are at all important is when you’re doing writing for a purpose other than that which is for personal satisfaction alone. The record of your journey is first, foremost, and what is most important, a record of your journey. It should reflect you, and be for you.
Lonita has been an AU student since early 2002, and is studying toward a Bachelor of General Studies in Arts & Science. She enjoys writing, creating websites, drinks far too much tea, and lives in hope of one day owning a plaid Cthulhu doll. The most exciting thing she’s done so far in her lifetime is drive an F2000 racecar, and she’s still trying to figure out how to top that experience. Her personal website can be found at http://www.lonita.net and what you can’t find out about her through that, you can ask her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org