As a writer, I’ve always believed it’s important to keep a travel journal (and any journal, really), but have, sadly, been a little resistant to putting this idea into practice in the past. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that it’s not always easy to remember to journal when you’re on the move.
When I travel, I’m always trying to take things in and am so focused on what I’m experiencing that I often don’t pay any attention to that blank little notebook in my bag. I want to keep my eyes open. I don’t want to sit down, jot a few notes about what’s happened and risk missing out on what’s happening at the moment.
And yet when I come back from a trip in which I didn’t journal, I tend to feel like… something’s missing.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned: experience is more than just the seeing. It’s the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings you have when you encounter new places, people and ideas. And sure, you can just depend on your memory when it comes to remembering and reflecting on the details of your trip. But writing things down brings them back to you in a way that our minds sometimes can’t.
And that’s the first and most basic reason you should journal while you travel: you’ll remember things you would have otherwise forgotten. Names of places, people, what you were wearing, what you ate, what you smelled, what you saw. Even if you’re not writing the most detailed account of your day, you’ll likely end up writing about something that you would have otherwise forgotten.
When you journal, and then re-read what you’ve written a a few months or years down the line, even the mundane details feel exciting. On my first night in Florence, I wrote about my experience eating at my first actual Italian restaurant. Before I read the entry all I’d recalled about that night was that I’d enjoyed the food and had drank maybe a little too much wine that night. But when I read back the entry, I discovered that I’d mentioned certain details that had escaped me since: the menu, hand written and completely in Italian so we’d had to guess with our orders; the children who had stared at us wide eyed and curious throughout the entire dinner; the chill in the air, since we’d chosen to sit outside even though it was a particularly windy night; and a bright white cat who walked back and forth between the tables and seemed to wink at us whenever it passed as if it knew something we didn’t. These had been insignificant little details when I wrote them, and perhaps they still are, but altogether they enrich my memory of the experience. They bring me back.
Being able to relive the experience through your words and getting back into the mindset you were in when you originally wrote the entry can also help when it comes to processing different emotions you might have on your travels. As long as you don’t sensor yourself in your writing (and why should you? This journal is just for you unless you choose to share it), you’ll be able to better understand why you might have particularly liked or disliked a place you went or an experience you had. And it could help you understand some of the difficult emotions you go through too.
Last year in Italy, I was confronted with the reality of my American privilege, something I don’t think of often. Living as a black woman in America where I feel the opposite of privileged, it was strange to have to come to terms with a privilege I do have, but rarely think about. I was angry when I wrote about it and confused and a little ashamed, but having had time to process those emotions since, I’m happy to be able to see how far I’ve come in my understanding since I wrote that hard entry.
So yes, journaling helps you to remember, it helps you relive, and it helps you to process. But more than anything, I think journaling while traveling helps to deepen your love of and appreciation for the place you’re in. Contrary to my initial belief about journaling taking me out of the moment, I find that when I do plan to journal, I’m much more likely to pay attention to the details in anticipation of writing them down later.
When I traveled to Ireland for my study abroad trip, our aim was to do a lot of note-taking, journaling and poetry writing about our experience. To this day, out of all my travels, the things I remember about Ireland are the most vivid. Trying your hardest to see, hear, taste, and smell in anticipation for writing about it later all makes you notice doesn’t take you out of the moment, the experience — it puts you right in.
So make an effort to journal the next time you travel. Take 30 minutes of your day before you go to sleep and jot down five things you did, saw, smelled, tasted, and heard that day and what you thought about them. Or do it while you’re on the bus or train. During breakfast, lunch or dinner. It can be as simple or as detailed as you want. And then, a year later, when you happen to come across those pictures you took again, you’ll be able pick up your journal and travel back to that exact time and place they taken and read a little note from you from the past. And you won’t regret it. I promise.
Do you journal when you travel? Why or why not? Do you find it’s as helpful for you when you recount your experiences? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. 🙂
Photo found here.