Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Keep a Journal

You've heard it before-keep a journal when you travel. It seems a simple enough idea but most of us don't manage to do it. Or if you're like me, you start out well and fizzle out as the trip goes on. Over the years I've forced myself to make time for my journal and I'm always glad I did.

I took a journal to the Philippines when I was 16. I wrote in it sporadically but never captured the really important details I wish I had now. My next big trip after that was to Ecuador and I did keep a daily journal.  I even managed to include a few sketches of local plants. It was easier on that trip because I was in a remote field station with lots of down time in the afternoons/evenings.

I pride myself on having a good memory but even I forget the important details over time. I realized this recently when I wrote a non-fiction story about my encounter with a poisonous snake in the rain forest of Ecuador. I recounted that first meeting, which, frankly, is emblazoned in my mind. But, by the time I related my meeting with the 4th poisonous snake, I got some details wrong. Luckily, I had my trusty journal to reference and I corrected the details. Now, maybe you're not a writer, so you think these details don't matter so much. I'd say they do.

At some point in the future when you go back and meet your former self in a journal you'll be glad you recorded the details.

Here's a tidbit from my Ecuador journal:
 "I'm amazed by the clothes I now consider clean. If they're not totally covered with mud...they're wearable! Things take so long to dry (and even then they're not dry- they're still damp) that it's not worth washing anything. I keep wearing the same yucky clothes over and over again and keep everything else closed up tight in my bag."

Another important result of keeping a journal is you get to know yourself better as you learn and grow from your travels. My early journals are more record keeping of my trips- you know... what I did, saw, ate. That sort of thing. Over time, though, they've become more important records of me as a person. My last travel journal from India is rich with personal expressions of my feelings and responses to the trip.

Here's one excerpt I'm willing to share publicly:
 (For context, our friend Lisa was marrying Aravind in Hyderabad India. Lisa's parents couldn't make the trip so my husband, Rick, and I stood in for them during the ceremony).

"...I was seated on the stage with Rick facing Aravind and his parents. I was so overcome with emotion at the enormity of what was happening that I welled up. Was I really part of a Hindu wedding? Was I really playing such a significant role in this rite of passage for Lisa? I was glad I was seated with my back to the guests so they couldn't see my face. (It was only later when we switched sides that I realized a video camera was facing us and projecting everything onto a large screen for everyone to see).

I was in the moment. I was overwhelmed. I was happy and excited and awestruck. Rick and I looked at each other and acknowledged that this moment made all of the challenges of traveling with young children in India worthwhile."

There are many more personal and thoughtful entries in that particular journal. I developed as a journal keeper and moved from record keeping into being more reflective.

If you haven't kept a journal during travel, I encourage you to do so. It can be on paper, in your computer, or on a blog. The sky's the limit nowadays. (Just make sure you back up digital journals). Ask your children to keep one, too. Our son kept a journal when we were in India. He was only 5 at the time, so his journal consists of roughly one page per day. In typical Kindergarten fashion, he drew a picture and wrote a sentence below the picture. He wrote about whatever was important to him at the time so it's a wonderful record of who he was then. He focused on the plane ride, playing with Aravind's nephew and the henna that decorated my hands.

Have you kept a journal during travel. How have you benefited from it?


  1. I haven't kept a travel journal before, what a great idea. I'll have to try it next time I travel. . .although who knows when that will be! :)

  2. Rachel,
    Of course writers are advised to keep a journal all the time. I'm aware that I'm best at doing it, however, when I'm traveling. The rest of the time I am very sporadic. There's something about the magnitude of the travel experience that makes me want to record it.

    Do you journal in your "regular" life?