Best Travel Gear: Travel Journal

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My best piece of travel gear seems to be one of the most simple. Yet, it is my bible on the road, going with me absolutely everywhere I go: my Travel Journal.

A travel journal can be so much more than a diary of the events of your travels. For me, it is a way of taking down quick notes, creating to-do lists, writing the contact information of old and new friends, and collecting research about future destinations in one place.

This article was originally written in 2009, and has since been updated for accuracy of content and links.

One of the best pieces of travel gear I have is my travel journal. I explain why in this short informative article. #TravelGear #TravelJournal #FullTimeTravel #TravelPlanning #BudgetTravel #TravelTips
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Once filled, my travel journals are a combination of pages with scribbles and crossed out lists, addresses of people back home as well as those I’ve met on the road, quick sketches or impressions of places that had an effect on me, and information gathered about each place I’ve visited. Going back through it is a unique way of reliving the time I used the journal, even if I didn’t do any actual journaling in it.

For me, there are no rules to using a travel journal. I simply record anything and everything that I may need to reference at a later time. It is my scheduler, and keeps me organized and on track. It is a catch-all for information I wouldn’t know where to store elsewhere.

Here is a perfect example of a useful item in my travel journal: Every time I booked a flight or rented a car abroad, I had to call my credit card company to find out what insurance coverage I automatically had. It was usually an afterthought, and an exercise in frustrating (and sometimes expensive) phone calls from sometimes remote places. And I never seemed to remember the details they gave me, so it became an exercise in repetition.

The last time I called for such information, I wrote it down on the front cover of my travel journal. Now I have easy access to the insurance company’s direct number and website, as well as the exact details of coverage I have.

I also record my flight and travel schedule in the front too. It is an easy reference while I’m out and about, and makes for a unique reminder of where I have traveled during the time that I owned the journal.

Here are a few more useful applications I’ve found for a travel journal: 

**When I was on Canada AM, it became my resource for study notes before I went on-air.

**When I read an article about great questions to ask locals when you are traveling, I wrote them down, and occasionally referenced them so I could ask similar questions of my local hosts and friends.

**When I’m in a foreign language country, I write down various useful phrases that I learn phonetically from locals and reference them regularly until they’re committed to memory. 
See also: How to Become Fluent in Another Language

**And when I met a fascinating woman on the subway in New York and struck up a conversation with her, it was an easy way to take down her information so we could keep in touch (as can happen so often on the road).

In this age of technology, some would argue that a smartphone can do the same job as a travel notebook. Yes, this is true, and I do store information and take notes with my smartphone. But to me, there is something inherently more enjoyable about using a travel journal:

  • It isn’t a target for theft. In fact, it is worthless to just about everybody but me.
  • It doesn’t have to be charged. I already have lots of electronics and chargers and associated accessories; I’m not particularly interested in more.
  • It has an organic and tactile appeal. Since I have an invisible umbilical cord connecting me to my laptop given my location independent career, it is refreshing to make and reference notes easily and on paper.

Am I the only one? Do any other travelers use a travel journal, and if so – what do you use it for?

Smartphone Warriors: Check out this list of Best Travel Apps

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24 thoughts on “Best Travel Gear: Travel Journal”

  1. I have to agree, well worth having. I was only introduced to the idea when a friend bought me a small journal before i left for my first trip to SE Asia and it was invaluable. A few pointers of what i did each day makes for a great reminder of my travels. I also use it for essential info, to-do lists and any useful phrases i pick up. Its easy to forget the simplest things when in the digital world but i have to say my journal is on my essential packing list wherever i go travel these days.

  2. Nothing beats a good notebook. Many people go for Moleskins, but I think they are boring. On my travels, I check out art stores to see if I can find new and colorful “idea books.”

    When I get a new idea book, I always glue a printout of all the key projects I am working on as well as daily activities that are important to me. I color code each area of my life so it is easy to keep in my mind and I review it everyday to make sure I am spending time where it is the most important.

    I also glue a copy of phone numbers in the back. Numbers get updated and change depending on where I am going so this also helps a lot.

    • @John – Brilliant use of your travel journal / idea book! I love to use colour in mine as well, as it makes it more fun to both use and to reference later.

  3. I also list my basic packing list for the trip. It comes in handy when I am packing to leave the hotel to make sure that I have all my belongings.

    • @Di – Of course: the ever-present packing list. I haven’t put mine in yet, but there are times I wished I had! Great tip.

  4. I’m a notebook junkie. Something about being able to write any which way I want and doodle at the same time really stimulates my creativity and helps me remember more of my travels.

    • @Anil – Ditto: the doodle-factor is huge in using a good old fashioned notebook! I don’t think I’d be able to exercise the same creativity with an electronic equivalent (like an iPhone), despite its other usefulness.

  5. Also weighing in for notebooks here 🙂 The fact that they never need batteries and weigh virtually nothing is a huge bonus. I’ve also developed a habit over time of inserting random receipts, stickers from the front of bottles and a range of other odds and ends in the pages to lend context to whatever it was I was writing about at the time, if it seemed appropriate. It makes for amazing trips down memory lane months later to read extracts and other bits I wrote and having tickets, pictures or whatever else falling off each page as you go.

    • @Richard – No batteries indeed! And the tactile benefits of being able to insert trinkets lends a great scrapbook feel to it. Perfect!

  6. I agree with you — I can’t go anywhere without a travel journal or small notebook. Yeah, smartphones and computers are great, but sometimes you just need to quickly jot something down or reference it. I use these journals/notepads to write down phone numbers, addresses, directions someone gave me, and in cities like Paris, I used it to write down which metro lines to take and switch to for certain destinations. I also use these to map out my game plan of all of the places I want to see, so it helps me put together a loose schedule (i.e. Tuesday: Louvre, Wednesday: Notre Dame, Thurs: Versailles). I also write down notes and observations. It’s also fun to look back at these later down the road and see all of the things you wrote down. I think people underestimate the power of a good pen and paper!

    • @Emily – I just can’t see making and referencing the same notes with a smart phone or equivalent electronic contraption. I even had a techie-friend successfully and logically shoot down every objection I had to using an electronic device instead and provided me with viable alternatives to my notebook. But call me old fashioned: at least for now – the notebook stays!

  7. Nothing but nothing will beat paper and pencil, no matter how much you love and use your electronics. I love a good mechanical pencil packed full of spare leads. I’ve used Moleskines and “art” books but it doesn’t matter, use something with pages that will stay in but good. I loved putting in ticket stubs to museums, ferry rides, bits of labels, etc,, too, in my travel book…years later I can practically feel the Greek heat on my neck as I revisit Delphi and can touch the actual piece of paper they gave me there…and a glue stick is a handy thing to add, or just a roll of 1/4″ transparent tape without dispenser, to affix those bits and pieces…

  8. Another thought — Levenger Circa notebooks — buy the hole punch and make your own notebook and pages out of anything at all. Menus, theatre flyers…

  9. @si – I actually keep a separate “scrapbook” that I use to paste in tickets and odds and sods that I’ll enjoy reminiscing over later (it’s just a blank paged notebook that I got at the dollar store, and I’m not fussy about making it look pretty; I usually just paste and run!). Although I would enjoy using my regular notebook for such causes, I realize that 90% of what’s written in my notebook is largely useless; to do lists and random notes that are good for a short time, but not permanently useful and that might be more of a chore to sift through while strolling down memory lane.

    I absolutely LOVE your idea about getting a hole punch and making notebook pages out of scraps….that’s my kind of notebook! It’s decided: my next one will be a Nora-style-recycled-paper notebook! Thanks!

  10. Ahh….journals! Yes, I agree, journals are the ultimate “gear”.

    As a mixed-media artist and writer, I’ve always kept detailed visual journals — and I am often on the move, so I’ve experimented quite a bit with the “perfect” journaling set-up for travel. It’s a not-so-mild obsession, I guess.

    On my last trip, I tried an absolute minimalist approach: just some very small wire-bound notebooks (two to start out) which I supplemented as they filled up along the journey. I was going for extreme traveling light, but I write daily. I mailed my notebooks back to my po box in the u.s., along with whatever ephemera I collected: ticket stubs, etc.

    Having a notebook to write in kept me company on a solo journey, and the tiny size made it very convenient to jot down logistics, addresses of new friends, and such.

    I also did another form of portable journal: I sent myself a postcard from every city I visited. This became sort of a game for me, as I had to find out where to buy stamps and select a card that represented my mood or a memory in the moment. I made a quick journal entry and sent it off.

    Stamp buying tip if you’re in Paris: The underground mall in the Louvre has a post office open 7 days a week (!) with very beautiful stamped envelopes, a huge selection of pretty stamps, flat-rate mailing boxes to send home stuff. I collected a lot of paper in Paris…so this was brilliant!

    I’m a always on the computer for work stuff, so I am a firm believer in going analog to give our creativity a place to stretch out and just scribble on the fly. Plus, like you and others mentioned: it’s not a target for theft. Although I consider my journals almost more valuable to me than a passport: which can be replaced.

    I do hope you’ll share more about other gear you travel with (or not). It’s a great topic.


    • @Lisa – I still tend to do most of my chronicling on my computer itself, but that’s because I always have it with me and am posting updates regularly…as a full-time traveler it’s kind of a necessity. But I love your idea of mailing the journals back to yourself to review when you get back….in addition to the postcards, which are fabulous!

  11. A few years back, I took a year off, flew to Amsterdam with my two cats, bought a used RV and traveled throughout Europe. A few weeks before leaving, I bought my first notebook; smallish, wirebound (so you can clip your pen in it), hardcover (so you can write anywhere–a beach, restaurant table, bar…) and colorful. Since then, they’ve been a part of me and I always have one in my purse, no matter whether I’m traveling or back home.

    I used my notebooks for anything and everything: to keep my grocery and to-do lists, addresses and phone numbers of people I meet, directions, my thoughts and feelings, spur-of-the-moment poetry, short stories, story ideas, packing lists, doodles, etc. Very often, my writing of the day ended up as my blog posts that night.

    When traveling in Europe, I used the pages at the back to write down every town or region suggested to me by people I met along the way and most of the time, I amended my itinerary consequently (and never regretted it!) When I arrived in Greece, I realized that very often, road signs (and maps) didn’t have a Greek translation so I found the Greek alphabet online and wrote it down in my notebood and studied it. I also jotted down any foreign language phrase that would be useful where I was at the time.

    I love the idea of keeping stubs and stuff: I usually just threw them in an envelope or Ziploc and never looked at them again. An idea: how about glueing an envelope to the front or back cover to put stubs in? Scrapbooking them among your musings is also a very interesting idea.

  12. My notes and feelings and thoughts from my year and a half vagabond journey across US will eventually become a book which I hope to publish some day!

  13. I also buy a journal for each trip I take, so that I can keep track of emotions, names of places and things to later write about. Also, I wrote a post a while back about a storyteller, Mary Morris, who keeps journals as well, although, hers are much more interesting and beautiful than mine!

    and what Luaay, how can add avatar to my post? I am signed up with my image, but usually nothing posts!

    • Pointsandtravel – Yes, I LOVE pictorial and creatively designed journals like Mary’s. Unfortunately I just don’t have an eye for it, and try as I may have done to keep unlined journals designed for both drawings and words, it doesn’t resonate as much for me. My journals continue to be relatively utilitarian, but still useful nonetheless – despite my also now owning an iPhone.

      As for Gravtars – I believe this site is what I used:


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