A travel journal helps you slow down and makes your travels more meaningful. Here are 21 powerful tips to get writing on your next trip.
Travel expands your world and leaves you inspired.
It gives you invaluable perspective on yourself.
But these days, with the hurried pace of modern life, travel is often a whirlwhind. Complex cultures are boiled down to tourist attractions and there are “must-sees” to share on Instagram.
And when you return home, you’ve got hundreds of photos that are soon forgotten as you plan your next adventure.
How can you slow down and make travel more meaningful? How can you capture your experiences in a more personal way?
Travel journaling records your experiences and impressions on the road. But it also increases your self-awareness, heightens your understanding and makes travel more rewarding.
Here are 21 tips to start a travel journal on your next trip:
1. Write to prolong your pre-trip excitement
Journal before you leave home to get excited about your trip and prolong that sweet anticipation.
What are you most looking forward to on this trip? Do you have any expectations?
2. Use it for your pre-trip research
Use your travel journal for research before the trip – whether that’s googling, finding maps and itineraries or jotting down foods to try.
Read books set in your destination and write down your favorite quotes to break the ice if you’re new to travel journaling.
3. Write to increase your self-awareness
When you travel, you’re thrown outside your daily routine. Self-awareness becomes easier because you don’t have your everyday surroundings to send you into auto-pilot.
You’re thrown into new situations and meeting new people. Your senses are heightened.
When you journal about your experiences, you get to know yourself. And that leads to more self-awareness and wisdom.
You also see yourself at your worst. No trip is perfect and travel tests your patience and leaves you vulnerable. When you learn what triggers your moods, you learn how to navigate your emotions.
Honesty is key. If you don’t write truthfully – and if you sugar-coat everything for some imagined reader – then self-awareness becomes difficult.
4. Use your travel journal as a pastime
When you’re waiting at the airport or sipping tea on the night train, pick up your travel journal and let your thoughts flow. Write to pass the time you’d otherwise spend aimlessly scrolling your phone.
5. Write to remember particular places
Grab a seat when you can – whether that’s a park bench, a cafe or your hotel bar after a day of sightseeing.
Sketch your surroundings and vividly describe the scene in front of you. Take in all the details, sights and sounds of the moment you’re in – and capture that in your journal with descriptive language or a quick sketch.
This increases your mindfulness and helps you remember the moment like no photo ever could.
6. Use it to collect items and mementos
Glue and tape in small items into your travel journal.
Collect ticket stubs, bits of leaflets and flyers, or anything you pick up that can be included.
These small everyday items are a powerful way to keep your memories vivid and give you a sense of place.
Carry a glue stick in your bag and keep an eye on anything that comes your way that can be included.
Here are some items to put into your travel journal:
- plane, metro, train and bus tickets
- luggage tags
- wine and beer labels, napkins
- receipts, business cards
- food labels, coasters, tea bag wrappers
- cutouts from local newspapers
- candy wrappers, sauce packets
- sand and earth rubbings
- foreign currency and coins
- perfume samples
- tags from clothes and souvenirs
- paper bags and wrappers, menus
- dried flowers and leaves
- tickets for museums, galleries, theatres and attractions
- tourist maps
7. Write to stay organized
Whether it’s the name of that cafe in Florence or the dates of a Brooklyn art exhibit, use your travel journal to jot down details when you’re planning your trip. Use your journal to keep track of things you want to remember.
A travel journal can be an invaluable workbook that helps you arrange your itinerary, keep track of your budget or reshuffle your plans.
8. Write to remember the details
Use your travel journal to record the stimuli that makes your trip memorable – whether that’s the sound of a big city at rush hour or the smell of cotton candy on the beach.
It’s these rich sensory experiences that photos can’t capture.
9. Write about your accomplishments
Hurdles that seem impossible are often overcome during travel.
Overwhelming situations later turn into learning experiences. When you record your experiences in your travel journal, it reassures you that – in travel, as in life – everything works out eventually.
10. Use your travel journal to motivate yourself
When you return from California and want to get back into yoga, or come home from Taiwan and want to bring more green tea into your life. Use your travel journal to motivate yourself and change your habits.
11. Use it to slow down and reflect
When you leave your daily routine behind, it can be difficult to switch to vacation mode.
A travel journal forces you to slow down and make the most of your holiday.
12. Write to boost your mindfulness
Write in your travel journal to put yourself in the moment. Don’t think about the past or plan for the future. Instead, focus on the present and the feelings and experiences you’re going through.
13. Write to boost your creativity
Include sketches, collages or descriptive writing in your journal to get your creativity flowing.
14. Keep a travel journal as a souvenir
Re-read your travel journal to experience your trip all over again.
Your travel journal also makes a great guide if you visit the same destination again, or when friends ask you for recommendations.
15. Use it to become a better writer
Writing, like any other skill, gets easier with practice.
Use your travel journal to hone your storytelling skills and practice your powers of description.
16. Write to share your experiences
Your travel journal makes a great chronicle to share with friends or pass down to your children.
17. Use it for stress relief
Science shows that pouring your stress out onto a page helps you process feelings and let go.
18. Use it to store important info
Use your travel journal to hold your itinerary, hotel info, flight info, departure/arrival times, tour company contact information, and more. This info proves invaluable when your phone runs out of battery or there’s no Wi-Fi.
Use your travel journal to keep visa requirements, basic language phrases, numbers and currency exchange rates in one convenient place.
19. Use it to keep your kids entertained
A travel journal keeps your children occupied during long trips. It also helps them reflect on their experiences and creates a souvenir they’ll treasure when they’re older.
20. Use it to network
Use your travel journal as a conversation starter with people you meet on the road. It’s also a great place to jot down their Instagram handles or email.
21. Use it to reflect
When you return from your trip, use your travel journal to keep expanding your knowledge of the destination you’ve visited. Reflect back on your trip: what did you learn, what went better than expected and what didn’t.
A travel journal makes your trip more meaningful and lets you experience slow travel even during a short getaway.
Travel journal for beginners
When you’re starting out, keep things simple.
If you scroll Pinterest and see picture-perfect journals packed with beautiful sketches, you’ll be too intimidated to start.
Buy a simple journal that you won’t mind “spoiling” with awkward doodles or sloppy handwriting.
Remember that it’s better to have an imperfect journal that’s yours than none at all.
And if your writing feels awkward, remember that it’s still yours. You’ll find it invaluable to reread your journal years from now – and you won’t mind that it’s not perfect.
Travel journal ideas
If you don’t know where to start, search for some travel quotes and jot them down in your journal.
Or use your journal for basic research about your destination.
A journal is your record of experiences – it’s not a perfect narrative waiting to be published.
Here are some travel journal prompts to get you writing:
- What were your expectations for this trip? Is it living up to your hopes?
- What’s your itinerary, and what have you done spontaneously?
- Describe a person you’ve met – their character and personality, their mannerisms, their appearance and clothing.
- Write about a new food or restaurant you’ve tried.
- Describe the best and worst part of your day.
- Describe a place you’ve visited. What’s the history, the atmosphere and the smells and sounds of the place?
Best travel journals
How do you pick a travel journal that’s right for you?
Here are some criteria to keep in mind:
- Spiral-bound: Go for a spiral-bound notebook if you plan to glue and collect souvenirs into your journal. A spiral-bound notebook gives you more leeway to make collages because it expands more than a tightly-bound journal.
- Paper thickness: Pick a journal with thick paper if you plan to write in ink (which can easily bleed through thin paper) or if you want to sketch or do watercolors.
- Number of pages: Get a thick notebook if you plan to use the same notebook for multiple trips. Opt for something thinner if you prefer individual notebooks for each trip.
- Size: Pick a notebook that’s large enough to write and sketch in, but small and light enough to carry easily in your bag.
- Format: Consider a lined notebook if you plan lots of writing, or a blank notebook if you’re more into sketching and art. There are also ready-made travel journals with writing prompts to give you ideas and inspiration.
- Lays flat: Pick a journal that opens flat and is easy to write in. A small, tightly-bound journal may look pretty, but it’s not practical when you’re writing on your lap or in a cramped space.
Experiment with different journals, pens and markers – and find whatever works best for you.
How to write a journal that’s worth reading
Keep your travel journal honest.
Be truthful with yourself and don’t be guided by what you think a travel journal should look like.
Let it be yours – and let it reflect the good, the bad and the ugly of your experiences.