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help me be a better journal-keeper

I was resting for a moment against the rim of an historic fountain in the Cours Saleya of Nice, near the old city branch of the Post Office and the Fragonard perfume boutique, when a fellow tourist came out of a souvenir shop holding a few postcards and took a perch beside me. He asked to borrow my pen, which was peeking from my shirt pocket, and proceeded to fill in the postcards. His handwriting was beautiful, and I complimented him on it. He in turn complimented my pen -- I like to carry good fountain pens and choose them to match my outfit and the occasion.

We chatted: he was from a little town just north of Paris, and comes to Nice a couple of times each year. Many French people visit to get a taste of Italy without having to cross the border, just as Americans might seek out Tex-Mex in the Southwest or Caribbean flavors in Florida. It was a small but pleasant encounter that could easily have never happened.

And except for noting it down just now, I haven't actually written out and preserved that moment anywhere.

RS advises us to keep a travel journal -- he explains how he jots notes down as he goes along and then further elaborates and shapes his observations when he gets back to his hotel room in the evenings. The RS store sells his recommended notebooks. Not following this advice is one of my regrets! I pack a nice small bound notebook (often a freebie from magazine or journal subscriptions) to go along with my nice pens, but I always end up making a few stream-of-consciousness entries inconsistently at the start of a trip, and by the end not even carrying it around with me any more.

Why don't I keep up with the journaling? Lack of discipline? I'm also more apt to throw dirty underclothes away and buy new ones than to do laundry when I get back to the room at night. Maybe I'm thinking that I didn't come on vacation to do chores...

Help me out, those of you who do good journal-keeping! Convince me that it's worth the effort, and even more importantly, explain how to fit it into my travel routine.

I'm already worried that I think back to trips just a year or two ago and have trouble figuring out what I did on a particular morning, or where I found what has become my favorite scarf...

Posted by
9361 posts

It is worth the effort, if for no other reason than to be able to recall the name of that great B&B where you stayed or how long it took to get to a particular location. I have referred back to my journals lots of times for various reasons. But some people just aren't writers, no matter how useful they might be convinced it is. I always journal. I generally do as RS does, keeping notes of specifics and filling in the rest when I actually write later. I allow for writing time in my evening. Even when traveling with friends, if I get quiet in the car, my friend will say, "You're writing in your head right now, aren't you?", and I generally am. I think of it as not only documenting my trip, but as entertainment for myself later on, when, on a cold, rainy afternoon, I can reread about a tropical December day I had in Costa Rica. What is the point of carrying a pen if you don't intend to use it?

Posted by
590 posts

We travel hard and have full days. I've tried to journal previously and I fatigue at night with pen and paper. On our France trip, I packed an iPad with keyboard and it made journaling at night so much easier. I love having my journal to go back to. Try finding a method that works well for you.

Posted by
340 posts

By all means journal -- for all the reasons mentioned above. Plus, when a family member and I recall a location, meal or event differently, we can refer back to the journal. I do have mixed feelings about whether to do it on paper with a nice pen, or electronically. I am a tactile person, and love the smell and feel of nice paper and ink. I even keep a paper calendar, still. Last summer I journaled exclusively on my iphone as we traveled -- mostly at night, and found that I recorded great detail, especially as I snapped photos along the way that helped me recall specifics and keep everything straight. Since I could look back at my photos as I wrote, I had a chronological photo diary to prompt details. Anyway, yes, write!

Posted by
5308 posts

Sorry, I am more of a snapshot journalist -- I try to get a photo of the castle name, train station, hotel or restaurant so all the other photos are linked to a place (and a time) Also snap a receipt from the hairdresser in Paris (with address), parking lot cross streets (so we can find it at the end of the day), luggage, and rental car at pickup and return. But anything that triggers memories of a great trip...

Posted by
645 posts

I keep a sketch diary, but I have my own reasons for that. For basic needs don't feel guilty about not keeping a diary. Take place identification photos of signs and storefronts so you can place your pictures later and name hotels. I take pictures of the what-you-are-seeing maps at view points too. I keep a notebook (really just a little pad) in which I jot down notes about hotels, apartments, restaurants, things we should have brought, things we should have done, places we can't get to but would like to on another trip, transport services, guides good and bad etc. Unless it's either really good or really bad, I don't make a note.---- Then half the time I lose the notebook. :)

Posted by
4011 posts

Avi, I find the concept of "journaling" intimidating. I keep what I call a travel log, which usually I update every evening. In it I'll note the main events of the day - an outline, really. If some experience was worth especially good, I sketch a star in the margin. I don't do much detail, or my explore my feelings (usually) about what we've done. But I can tell you what hotels we stayed at, whether or not we liked the room and staff, what restaurants we enjoyed (or didn't), what museums we visited, or with whom we had dinner. The last couple of years I've added a section covering what local or traditional foods we've tried, or what wines we've enjoyed.

It's not a lot of detail, but enough to recall the high points of the trip, and offer input to people asking "What's a good, cheap hotel in Granada?" or "What did you find to do in London for five days?"

It works for me. Sometimes I wish I did a true "journal," full of impressions and emotional reactions, but truly, for me that would take more time than I want to spend on the project.

Oh, and on the recommendation of some fellow RS travelers, I've also added a post-tour section headed "What I would do differently next time." The first entry I ever made on that section was to let DH make the plane reservations: he didn't like the seats, flight, or airplane food on that trip. (Not that anything changed the next trip...)

Posted by
9361 posts

Like Laura, I also take pics of signs, information placards, menus, and lots of other things just for my own reference later. And in my online journals, I always do a "follow-up" a couple of weeks later, when I have had time to process it, to remind myself what to change for the next trip (or what went well).

Posted by
1447 posts

I use the same method as Jane. I jot down the highlights, mostly activities, restaurants, mode of transport. I also take pictures of signs, food, stores, etc. this helps me later on with my scrapbook.
I will only go into detail if it was something out of the ordinary.

Posted by
272 posts

I would second everything that previous posters have listed. The hard part is setting aside the time to put your thoughts down. Lots of people can journal on travel days. I get motion sick, so that doesn't work for me. I try to set aside 5 minutes at the end of the day to put some thoughts down. (I'm a pen and paper journal-er). I just write down the highlights and lowlights. When I get home or have extra time I will embellish. I like to re-read my journal after I get home. I do pictorial scrapbooks and it really helps me to organize my thoughts. I always wish I had written more information down. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I would be too exhausted. I would try to double up the next day. Just Do It!

Posted by
13959 posts

I think some people must be natural writers. I struggle, always have, so for me it's a chore. While I may make notes during the day, perhaps resting my feet for a few minutes on a perch or having a drink, when I get back to my room in the evening, I often have "sensory overload" and just want to veg, maybe watch tv or solve a crossword puzzle to clear my mind and get a good night's sleep.

I am learning to take more photos. Sights, foods, experiences, and hotel rooms tend to kaleidoscope, especially on a long trip. Maybe for folks who take a 2-week trip once a year or two, it's more memorable. And those with good memories (sadly, not I). A couple years ago, I learned to take photos of people I have good conversations with.

And something I've started doing again is writing down everything I spend. It's useful during a trip to see if I'm staying within my (elastic) budget. It's also becomes a record of my daily activities and of course it's helpful for planning future trips . . . and answering questions here, like how much is a cab from . . . I carry a small notebook (you never know when you'll want a piece of paper) but now mostly I use my iPod Touch (works like a smartphone) to make notes.

When I get home and start wading through my thousands of photos, I can put together a pretty good "diary" based on them and my expenses . . . and I do make sporadic notes during a trip too.

Posted by
11613 posts

I used to keep paper journals (have a bookshelf full of them), but I have some of the same issues as the OP. I take my iPad mini with me for photos and journaling, and the journaling goes great for a week or so, and then...I am beginning to think I don't care so much what I think anymore!

I also travel for months at a time. My journaling is - or would be - about my impressions of a place or event. For data I keep hotel and restaurant business cards if the place is memorable.

Chani, I keep a notebook with day-by-day hotel and transportation info (one page per night), and correct my estimated budget with real numbers daily. Very important to me on a long trip.

I remember things I did, like walking in a particular area, but sometimes forget where I did them.

Posted by
769 posts

I always journal as for me it is a great way to remember the details for my scrapbook later, it let's me get my thoughts on the day down, and I love to reread them and enjoy my trip all over again when I'm home. Finding time can be tricky. 15 minutes here or there and some dedicated time at night gets me through.

Posted by
2075 posts

I love to write, but paradoxically I have no interest in journaling when I'm on vacation. I'm not interested in having an obligation to write every day, and I don't want to take the time. If I lose a few memories, I can live with that. I have my pictures as a partial compensation.

In recent years, I've come up with a compromise. I always take a tiny notebook (3x5) that has all my notes - confirmation numbers, hotels and addresses, transportation details, things I want to do, etc. (I will not carry guide books around - too heavy.) I leave some blank pages at the end. Everyday I jot down notes about the day - and I do mean jot. Just a page for each day. When I get back, I write a report of my trip in a Word doc. It works for me.

Posted by
4011 posts

I think some people must be natural writers. I struggle, always have, so for me it's a chore.

Chani, you do yourself a disservice. Just listen to this line:

Sights, foods, experiences, and hotel rooms tend to kaleidoscope...

Wow. Please know that we all enjoy your beautifully written, cogent posts. Even when we don't agree with you! :-)

Posted by
2427 posts

I take an ap. 5" X 8" soft notebook with me. Prior to the trip, I have one double page for each day in the front of the book where I have important information; i.e., reservation numbers, times, etc. I also have a list of possible activities for the day or to carry over for the stay in a certain location. On these pages, I also keep track of how much I'm spending daily so I know when I'm under...so I can splurge... or when I'm over...so I can ignore it. ;) Then after those pages, I have my journal. This way if I don't write in the journal every day, I still have a record. In the past I've been much better at keeping a journal in the beginning of the trip than at the end when it trails off. However, I found that when traveling alone I do much better and my journals are much more complete. The best time to write in my journal is while waiting for my supper. I do enjoy looking back in them, complete or not, for information...and they sure do activate memories of events that I had forgotten.

Posted by
231 posts

Has anyone used a dictation app in lieu of a notebook and pen? I have many trip journals that I enjoy immensely, but am having a difficult time keeping them current anymore. I am looking for a diction app with good voice recognition that will work with at least some background noise. Just thought this might help me by hopefully taking less time, being accessible as far as maintaining it on the run, and not waiting until the end of a busy travel day where a journal is most important to preserve details. Thank you for any input!

Posted by
30958 posts

For journaling or diarizing travels, I always use a Netbook and MS Word. I find that I can express myself much better and infinitely faster using a keyboard rather than hand writing in a notebook. Once the information is recorded I can polish it as desired for inclusion in Blogs or whatever.

Posted by
6172 posts

Why don't I keep up with the journaling? Lack of discipline? I'm also more apt to throw dirty underclothes away and buy new ones than to do laundry when I get back to the room at night. Maybe I'm thinking that I didn't come on vacation to do chores...

After reading this passage, I think you may be genuinely thinking of the act of journaling as a chore, much like doing laundry. Maybe the best way to overcome this is to think of the goal in positive terms and to identify any barriers that keep you from achieving it. Then work toward removing each barrier, one by one.

I am totally exhausted when I travel because I have an (overly ) aggressive travel style and not much downtime, so for me the barrier was to simply find the time when I'm least likely tired and most likely to have free time. When I'm traveling alone, journaling comes much more easily because I always do it over dinner and wine. If I wasn't journaling, I would feel really weird - there's so much time to kill between when the courses arrive and I can only stare into space and people-watch for so many minutes :-) I love reading my old entries from years gone by - I am really happy reliving my trip (and that motivates me to journal).

Posted by
1173 posts

Thanks for your comments, everyone. My computer fried yesterday so I can't reply until I get to another desk.

Posted by
1173 posts

The aggregate advice is good -- don't let journaling be a burdensome chore or a consuming artistic project but something more modest, like an extension of tracking spending and logging activities. It reminds me of Stone Soup -- add a pinch of this and a dollop of that, and before you realize it you'll have a tasty pot already prepared.

Regarding the incident in the OP, my memory places it much closer to the flower and vegetable market stalls than it appears on Google street view -- based on google, the shop with the postcards was the papelerie called DezirDezArts and what I thought was the post office is actually the Palais de Justice; the man filling in his postcards was gesturing towards a building farther south, apparently!

I further speculate that the Place de Palais de Justice might sometimes have stalls set up on it, too, so that in my meanderings it didn't occur to me that I'd left the Cours Saleya section.

Posted by
5435 posts

One thought: lots of folks have talked about journaling at the end of the day. I'm among those who find I'm too fried then to think about taking on something requiring my brain. I enjoy journaling the most during the day, at a café. Kind of a variation on Agnes's journaling at dinner, which I totally get, and have also done.

Posted by
25 posts

When I was much younger - and before modern electronics - I would write my feelings, and any things I wanted to remember, on the back of a postcard from the place I was visiting. Then I would mail the postcard to myself. It was quick, easy and a nice reminder when I got home. Now, I'm much older, and I like to unwind just before bedtime by journaling my perceptions of the day's events on my tablet.

I think it is definitely worth the effort to take some time everyday to preserve my travel experiences so I can enjoy them again whenever I want to, but only YOU can to convince yourself that it's worth it to you.

Posted by
1060 posts

I did well journaling thru our last italy & slovenia trip.....i had even shopped on line for a couple of travel journals, kept the one i liked best, & gifted one to one of my fellow travelers (she had agreed a head of time she wanted one) i left it in my suitcase, but days we changed location by train (every 48 hours) is when i caught up. Having a ridgid one page per day actually helps me. I do outline rt on the page each day" Morning-museum " "lunch-sidewalk cafe" etc so i have some markers to go back too. It was nice that carole & I were able to encourage each other, and even though our books were individual works, we occasionally interviewed our fellow travelers "what was yr favorite part of yesterday?" one other item i placed in my suitcase was a roll of scotch tape and almost each day includes the business card from the hotel or restaurant . a nice visual, and further fills up some of journaling space :) i chose a journal with its own elastic band and a pocket in the back

Posted by
101 posts

I really like to maintain a journal during vacations, but the truth is that I never manage to keep up with it every day.

I've found that what works for me is to be able to catch up when I have downtime. One thing that helped me a lot during my last vacation was my phone. I realized that Google Maps on Android has a Timeline feature, and it rolled up the GPS data and photos I took into a timeline of where I went each day. If I lapsed in my journal-keeping, being able to look back through the digital records helped me remember everything once I found time to note it all down.

Posted by
2525 posts

Keeping a decent journal is not in my DNA despite half-hearted efforts in the past. Photos are my journal and I constantly enjoy viewing them.

Posted by
2 posts

I want a way to journal and add photos to upload so that family and friends can see where I've been and what I've been doing. Any suggestions on how to do this?

Posted by
8609 posts

Since this post has been resurrected, one thing I occasionally do is buy postcards of the sights I've seen and describe the day on the back. I don't send these but keep them as mementos.