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May 11, 2012

Journaling on the Road

Let’s face it, finding time and discipline to write well on the road can be really, really tough. Traveling takes a lot of mental stamina. At the end of a long day, once you’ve found a dinner and settled into the hostel, the last thing you have the mental juice for is thoughtful writing about the day’s events. At that point, your brain doesn’t want to process or reflect. It wants to rest. It’s checked out for the night.

But I try to force myself to journal every night on my travels. I’ve got bags full of bits and pieces from my travels sitting in my closet, but the most important physical souvenirs are the small, leather-bound journals that gather dust on a bookshelf. The journals—weathered and worn—contain the thoughts and impressions of places and experiences recorded in the moment. Some entries are shallow and quickly scribbled; some are well-thought out and insightful.

Most travelers will tell you the same thing; their journals are frayed little time capsules of emotions and experiences they wouldn’t part with for the world. Sometimes they’re written on a rickety milk run train in the countryside, sometimes they’re written while perched on a rock high in the Alps while cowbells jangle in the distance. Sometimes the entries are well-crafted insights inspired while sitting in a soaring cathedral during evensong; other times they’re scribbled late at night while the eyelids are forcing themselves closed and the synapses are shot.

It takes discipline to keep up a journal on the road, but it’s well worth it. We’ll return to the smudged pages at some point in the future and be reminded of a vivid memory, surprising impression, or fleeting thought. And we’ll be glad we had the discipline to stop and record it, even when the train ride was bumpy and the eye lids were heavy.

Pick up that pen, open the book and record a memory to cherish.

Posted by | Comments (6) 
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, On The Road, Travel Writing

6 Responses to “Journaling on the Road”

  1. DEK Says:

    I don’t expect my journal entries to be polished and publishable, or even something that I would want anyone else to read. They are just notes to aid my memory, little pieces of my life and thought and experience that I don’t want to blur and slip away, to fade from mind into the soft cotton wool cloud of forgetting.

    I doubt that any great — or even particularly good — travel writing was ever done on the spot. It was all done after the traveler got back and read his notes and checked his facts and was able to sit down and process what had happened, bringing to it any wisdom he might have picked up in the meantime. This is why most travel blogs are indifferently written. Patrick Fermor’s great modern travel classics were written forty years after his trip.

    My journal entries are the first draft of my letters, just as my letters are an early draft of whatever I will write later. If you want to blog from the road, your journal entry can be the first draft of your blog post. Your copy should get better with every draft.

    There are no good excuses for not keeping a travel journal, including “I can’t write”. It’s like travel: start; do it; you’ll get better and whatever you write will be better than writing nothing.

    For myself, keeping a journal is as much a part of travel as getting from here to there.

  2. Sage Says:

    I am like DEK, my journal is to aid my memory. A couple years ago, I wrote an account of my summer on the Appalachian Trail. Twenty years after the event, with my journals, photos, guidebooks and maps, I got a pretty good recount of the trip and something I can leave for my kids.

  3. Roger Says:

    Too many people travel to great destinations and don’t record anything about it. It’s a pitty, because you’ll end up forgetting about half of what you saw, and it gets worse, because You’ll end up blending places together and the memory will become convoluted. You’ll bearly remember who you were with, when and where. The sad thing is that you were bearly there.

  4. Martin P Says:

    I agree as well. Memory does have a tendency to faid and worse at times we may even remember something else entirely. A journal is great and it is full of ‘my’ memories but putting it into sharable and decipherable shape is my nightmare. Editing is the end of me… Any practical tips Rolf?

  5. Ted Beatie Says:

    I have been carrying around a moleskine (small soft-cover quad rule)and Fisher bullet space pen for 8 years. And a bankers’ box full of them which is way more valuable than just about anything else I own.

  6. Rolf Potts Says:

    One of the best resources for keeping a travel journal is Lavinia Spalding’s “Writing Away: A Creative Guide to Awakening the Journal-Writing Traveler”. I interviewed Lavinia on the topic for World Hum a years ago:

    I like DEK’s insights: “My journal entries are the first draft of my letters, just as my letters are an early draft of whatever I will write later.” This underscores how any kind of writing is a process. And even if you don’t write anything later, keeping a journal is a good exercise — and exercise of awareness — in the moment of writing itself.

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