Beginners Guide: How to write a travel journal

Do you want to record the thrills and spills of your adventures, but struggle with keeping your thoughts together? This is how we hold on to memories the old-fashioned way.

When starting to write a travel journal, think about what you want to remember from the trip in ten, 20, or how ever many more years. For this reason, I want to share a very private story with you. My grandma kept travel journals for years. She started writing them in 1945 at the age of 13 when she took a trip to her uncles’ in Parque (Cyech Republic), telling stories about what she experienced during this particular summer. She also wrote about a trip to a lake in Styria, which isn’t too far away from where my family lives, but for her it was a very important journey. She never learned to swim her entire live and the journal includes the stories of how that felt and she almost drowned. Later on she also included trips taken with my grandpa. Those were my favorite.


My granny died a few months ago, but before that she always read out loud to me from the books and whenever I read them now, it feels like she’s sitting right next to me. I never told her how important all her stories are for me, but I guess she knows anyway. That’s the reason I also started my own travel journals. First for me, now I started sharing them with Josh, and who knows who might enjoy reading our stories in the future.


Every travel journal sitting on our bookshelf holds a countless amount of memories. But why keep a journal these days when there are so many other ways of collecting memories? Of course, if you travel with a laptop, a tablet or any other electronic device you can use it to take your notes, but this is not always practical and you will also have to worry about battery life and backups. When we travel, we still rely on paper and pen to record our experiences. It feels real to me. This may mean I’m a bit old-fashioned, but I don’t think anything is wrong with that. There are no particular requirements for what you write in yours. It should be small enough that you can easily take it with you, but on the other hand it should be big enough to maybe glue a train ticket or postcard in it. In the end it is really a matter of taste. For me, not just any notebook will do, because it always inspires me to buy new fancy notebooks. Our journals mean something to us even before we start to write the first few letters. My absolute favorite one has a brown leather binding and thick hand-made parchment paper. It cost a small fortune, but I think it was worth it. We also always have two different pens with us. It’s funny, but I don’t like Josh’s favorite pen and he refuses to write with mine.

Before you start, decide who you are writing this journal for. Our private travel journals are written just for us and very close people in our life. They contain funny situations, facts we want to remember, and many times we use words and phrases that only we understand. We write about conversations we’ve overheard, and one time, we wrote about the money talk we had with a sheik from Dubai. Our journals are not our blog and each one contains some details that would for sure be boring to you. So for whom is yours written? Is it just for you to read or to share with your friends and readers? This could influence what you put in or leave out and will also influence the style of the journal. We write like we speak and we keep it simple, but we also use evocative words. You want to get the same feeling you had during your journey when reading the pages again later. Also don’t be afraid to sketch what you saw or use colors.

I’m a morning person. Like morning-morning. Like super early morning. Usually I’m the only one awake and when we go on a travel adventure I usually dedicate this time in the morning to write in the journal. Later in the day Josh adds things or uses the time I need in the bathroom to get ready for dinner. You, of course, can write whenever you want. That's the beauty of writing a travel journal - there are no rules. Instead of picking a certain time, squeeze in a writing session whenever you have down time and for the case that you don’t have time at all, simply make notes of whatever is important to you. But what is really important, you ask? Why don’t you ask this question to yourself. Think about what you saw that surprised or amused you. Think about the different smells, tastes, and sounds. Hmm… tastes… I remember the taste of pastel de nata (at Pastéis de Belém), a Portuguese tart pastry that melted in my mouth. Try them if you ever get the chance. And bring some for me too.

So why should you keep a travel journal? Because of memories like the one from Lisboa. I won’t forget this amazing city and I hope I can get back one day, but reading in the travel journal helps to keep the memories alive and sometimes it brings me back to the place for a little while.

If that’s not reason enough, here are a few more I can think of immediately:

- Every journal has the function to gather information, such as the best way from the airport to the little fishing town you had this great white wine with the locals, or the price you paid for the beach bungalow in Bali. Maybe you even glued the business card of the hotel or restaurant next to your entry. Wouldn’t it be nice if when a friend asks you for travel advice you can simply open your journal and give him or her the best tips possible?

- Before I met Josh I traveled solo to many places and writing down my impressions was like sharing them with a travel companion. I actually wrote some of the funniest entries ever when I was on a tour trough the Toscana (Italy) trying a different red chianti every night. My travel log, the wine and I, we had a blast.

- I tend to write about the people we meet on our journeys and I’ll also keep their contact information in the book. Sure, we also connect on Facebook or share pictures on Instagram, but after many years of not seeing some of the travel accountancies we made, it’s so much fun reading about what we experienced back then.


The Behlster Way: Enjoy Writing! 

Vacations, travels and trips are fun, so should be your writing! If it's becoming a burden, you should change something. How about summarizing each day with just a few sentences, or make a simple bullet point lists and add more stuff than words… Pictures, tickets, pieces of newspaper, seeds, dried flowers, entrance wristbands, bottle labels, stickers, receipts, etc. Pick something meaningful and you’ll end up with a thick book full of amazing memories.

It’s relatively easy to start a travel journal. The hard part is sticking to it. Keeping a travel journal requires a little effort, but it is so worth it. Do you keep one? What does it mean to you? We'd love to hear in the comments.

// Journalist / US Correspondent / Blogger // You want to know what makes my life so special? EVERYTHING! And I don't want to miss a single little thing - where I live, what I do, and especially with whom I spend my life. Life is absolutely fantastic, so just join us here on the sunny side!

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