When I was in my early twenties I embarked on my first solo trip, not knowing much about travel. More than simply wanting to sightsee, I wanted to learn about myself and the world around me.
Backpacking along the east coast of the United States was my first time being alone and without any obligations, and I didn’t want to waste it. I wanted to use my journey to explore the kind of person that I truly was.
So, I brought a travel journal, and I was so glad that I did that I never travelled without one again.
Years later when I was feeling sentimental, I picked up that same journal and realized that I had a story in there worth sharing with others, and I ended up publishing my first book.
I’m a firm believer that everybody has a story worth telling, but first you have to pen it down. Here’s why no traveller should ever go without their journal.
It Forces You to Introspect
Carrying a travel journal in your purse or backpack will compel you to reflect on your thoughts. Whether I was stuck on a long bus ride in the Deep South, sitting alone in a South Beach hostel, or strolling down the famed Madison Avenue, I had plenty of time for reflection—time that would have been wasted had I not brought my travel journal.
What was on your mind at the time? What was going on in your life? During my trip, I had left behind a failed relationship with a boy that was no good for me, and I wrote about my insights from this experience in my journal. After failing to secure a nine-to-five job, I was also wondering what I was going to do with my life when I returned. I wanted to start my business, but I was still feeling trepidation.
I’ve come a long way since then, and I would have forgotten a lot of the thoughts that consumed me during that period in my life had I not written them down, which would have made my trip much more shallow.
Our travels are always characterized by the life issues that we face at a given time, and acknowledging these issues as we look back at them from afar is what makes our journeys meaningful.
It Will Take You Back
It’s easy (and sometimes necessary) to whittle away a bit of time checking social media, daydreaming, and doing nothing in particular, but when you’ve got a journal with you, you have something productive to do while you’re sitting alone or in transit.
You’re forced to think twice about the friendly bus driver who cut you a break on your fare, or the slightly different subspecies of trees that line the streets in a new town. Experiences that you would otherwise gloss over become solidified in your travel memories as you jot them down on paper.
Even if you have a really busy day, make sure that you take at least a few minutes to write down the day’s highlights before bed.
Your future self will thank you when you’re telling a new friend about that one time you spent the night at that “haunted” bed and breakfast. Was that before or after you made that new friend and saw that sand dollar at the beach? Your journal will be able to tell you long after the memory has faded.
It’s More Valuable Than Any Souvenir
This is the most important reason to bring a travel journal, so I saved it for last. You won’t keep your old clothes, and that cool rock or shell you found will probably end up collecting dust somewhere, but you will never misplace your travel journal.
Your travel journal will earn prominent shelf space on your bookcase, and every time you leaf through it, it will take you back to that time and place when you saw those beautiful things, met those unforgettable people, and faced the circumstances that shaped you into who you are today. They say that people who spend money on experiences are happier, and this is because memories are priceless.
If I hadn’t brought a travel journal with me, my travel memoir I Am the Ocean wouldn’t exist. The manuscript ended up being that much stronger because I had kept such a detailed journal.
Best of all, through the written word, I have immortalized my experience to share with future generations. What was I like? What were my innermost thoughts? My grandchildren, or even great grandchildren can read about my journey and forge an intimate connection with their ancestor that would otherwise be impossible.
Even if you decide against publishing your travels, your journal is still something that you will come to cherish for the rest of your life. I never travel without one, and I recommend that all travellers do the same.
Do you keep a travel journal? Let us know in the comments below!