Keep A Travel Journal, Writer’s Block Not Included.

I want to help you find a way to inspire yourself to record musings from your trips into a travel journal, without pushing you to be someone you aren’t.

travel journal
Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Not everyone was born to translate living experience into the written word. To polymerize lonesome characters into chains of delicious soliloquy bursting with inner-truth: to shiver as lines and lines of pen scrawled genius thrust forth onto the page like black serpents desperate to claim their spot on an ivory lane…

If my former somewhat desperate-to-be-artsy sentences irritated you, you are not alone. While writing in flowery, somewhat grammatically incorrect English is fun for some of us, not everyone enjoys it. When it comes to travel journal, I know many decide not to keep one because:

  1. They’ve “never been able to keep up with a journal,”
  2. “Won’t have time to write in a journal” or
  3. “Just don’t like writing.”

If one or all of these applies to you, I want to help you find a way to inspire yourself to record musings from your trips into a travel journal, without pushing you to be someone you aren’t. Hopefully, some of these tips will resonate with you. Take one and roll with it, or dispel all of them and decide to get a tattoo to signify your experience instead. No matter what, stay true to yourself, and if the only thing beautiful about your writing is that you used a gel pen to do it, then so be it.

1. Take it easy, tiger.

Go easy on yourself, especially in the beginning. It is okay to skip a few days, write that you don’t feel like writing, or note in all capitals that all you want right now is a cheeseburger with mustard, pickle, and onion. Years from now, remembering who you were when you traveled is just as important as recalling the places you went.

2. Keep it small.

There is no need for you to intimidate yourself with a huge, eight by eleven notebook that demands paragraphs of writing. I find that the smaller the notebook, the more often you pick it up to scrawl teeny bits of your time abroad. If you’re feeling wordy, you’ll fill pages quickly and feel accomplished like no other. On days you don’t feel like writing much, you’ll create an artsy observation in the center of a page, rather than what looks like a third grader practicing cursive in the first few lines of a composition book.  Being minimal is also a gift, not a curse; a mono-sentence personal reflection or note demands more thought (awesome) and less dry retrieval of mundane details you won’t care to remember (lame).

3. Write for you, no one else.

As a non-writer, getting yourself to put pen on paper takes more work, so take a moment to decide what is meaningful to you. Don’t waste your time pumping your hippocampus for details of what the marbled arch looked like, instead write what you would tell your best friend about. If you stepped in dog poop outside the Vatican, write it down, that is what you’ll laugh at and remember later. There is nothing you can’t or shouldn’t write about, so be true to yourself and your experience. There are no obligations in the creative process!

4. Press, collect, rip, and destroy.

You’re going to carry this thing everywhere (just wait for #5) so use it for everything. When you buy something, what is it our mothers always say? Don’t buy it if you aren’t going to use it. This journal shouldn’t be pristine when you’re done with it. Write down contact info and rip the bottom of the page off for your friend. Tuck ticket stubs and train receipts between pages. Use the back cover to mop up coffee for all I care, but don’t be afraid to make this thing yours. Know the Hunter S. Thomson quote about sliding into the grave totally worn out yelling “what a ride?” You want your journal to retire looking beaten to death, not pretty and neglected.

5. Carry it with you everywhere.

Familiarity breeds liking right? Make this thing feel like your long lost twin from the womb and you’ll appreciate it and write in it more. You’ll also always have paper with you when you need it. (Did someone say no toilet paper? Just kidding.)

6. Include the Bad and the Good.

This piggybacks on #2, but is worth it’s own number. You don’t need to make your experiences sound a certain way for them to have been meaningful. Only you can legitimize your own feelings, memories, and experiences, no one else, so don’t ever feel you have to sugarcoat anything. Don’t exclude the night you couldn’t find your hostel and hiked for an hour only to realize it was across from the train stop. Cringing and laughing at the memory later is the most delicious part of keeping a journal, and there’s a sense of emptiness to excluding the bad parts. Think about it this way: a story isn’t a story without the bad moments; even Disney princesses have to bear the glass coffin now and then.

I hope that my six tips made you want to buy a journal, or at least jot something down now and then the next time you travel. An overarching theme I hope you’ve picked up on applies to journaling and to traveling in general: don’t try to force yourself to learn a place according to a generic formula (England = Monarchy (Cricket)^2), to define your experience in the words of another (why don’t I sound like Hemingway?!), or to feel the way you’re supposed to feel. We’re all human, and that is what will make your writing unique and important. For all we know, Paul Revere may have written in his journal,

JOURNAL

XXX

Good luck with writing!

Lena Kazer

Lena is a Chicago native, her travel style consists of red cowboy boots that make her feel like she can take over the world. She adores Peru and can't travel without her journal to draw or write in.

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