Ever been at a flea market and come across a box of vintage postcards scrawled with someone’s tales from their travels? Such handwritten vignettes help you to step into someone’s shoes for a moment and see the world through their eyes, if only briefly.
Even better is when you happen to stumble across the weathered journal of a parent or grandparent — an intimate insight into their life and perspective from long ago, perhaps from when they possessed a youthful enthusiasm akin to your own.
Now that social media is the go-to communication channel for many of us, we’ve become less likely to document our travels by putting pen to paper. After all, why send a postcard to one person when you can, within seconds, reach hundreds (or thousands) of people through your Instagram or Facebook feed?
Since the Internet is rapidly evolving, it’s hard to predict what it might look like in the future. But more importantly, think of how you would eventually like to be remembered by your children and grandchildren. It might be hard to fathom right now, especially if you’re a long way off from having kids, or perhaps you’ve decided that having kids isn’t for you. But in that case, think about what it would be like, in 20 years’ time, to be able to read back on the travels and experiences you’re having right now. Though reading your old diaries can make you cringe at times, it can also be a great illustration of how much you’ve grown since that period in your life.
Don’t worry if you don’t consider yourself to be a writer – it’s not like you’re aiming for a travel journal to be a published literary phenomenon (and, if you are, this is a great place to start). Not to mention the fact that it’s an excellent excuse to go shopping for the perfect notebook or journal, and even a nice new pen.
Once you’ve got the essentials, here’s how to get started writing a travel journal:
It’s almost always easier to write in your travel journal when you’re in the moment, rather than trying to recall it later once you’re home. First, you’ll need to sharpen your eye so that you begin to notice all the smaller details that you might usually brush past — like hidden alleyways, out-of-the-way cafés, or a tiny inscription etched into stone. This means slowing down, putting away your phone, taking off your headphones, and really being present in your environment. Sit down on a park bench, or at a café, and simply observe life as it happens around you.
Don’t think, just write.
If you’re not used to writing, the thought of putting everything on paper can be daunting. The trick is not to put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t worry about making every sentence perfect, or even checking it for spelling and grammar. Just let things flow and write about anything that comes to mind, without any judgment of how it may sound.
Tap into your senses.
An easy way to get started, if you’re not sure what to write, is to tap into your five senses. Can you hear the rustle of the trees, or perhaps the rhythmic cadence of your footsteps on the cobblestones? Or smell the beguiling mix of spices that floats on the summer breeze from the nearby marketplace? What does the wall feel like as you absent-mindedly trail your fingertips along it? By simply describing what you see, hear, taste, smell, and touch, you’ll already have vividly captured the moment. And the more you do it, the more creative your descriptions will become.
…think about what it would be like, in 20 years’ time, to be able to read back on the travels and experiences you’re having right now.
Don’t just write about the things you see and do, but also the people you meet along the way. It could just be someone you crossed paths with for a few moments, or perhaps the person you sat next to on a train journey. Write down any interesting details you might have noticed about them, or that they told you about themselves and where they are from (note: chatting to strangers is also a great way to source stellar travel tips). While such encounters might seem fresh in your mind now, you’ll be surprised how quickly such memories will disappear in the space of a couple of decades, especially if they were fleeting. And if one of those encounters happens to turn into a lifelong friendship or great love, then you’ll always treasure those pages upon which you captured those first few moments together.
How do you best like to document your travels?
Images via Monica Friese