Travel can open your mind, let you explore new cultures, and free yourself from the daily 9-5. Even if it’s just a day trip, going somewhere new can offer a change in perspective that can enrich your life.
Writing about your travels can be a wonderful way to deepen your experience. Taking a photo can only capture the visual sense, but when you keep a travel journal you can incorporate all the five senses. You can also include your own thoughts and inner perception of the world around you.
Your journal can be a resource to look back at your past travels, but it’s also a way of living more intensely in the present. Seeing your destinations with a writer’s eye can enrich your experience and draw your attention to things you might not have noticed otherwise. A notebook can be like a prompt to mindfulness.
As Pico Iyer says “It doesn’t matter where or how far you go – the farther commonly the worse – the important thing is how alive you are. Writing of every kind is a way to wake oneself up and keep as alive as when one has just fallen in love.”
For the last 14 years, I’ve lived outside of the UK, and when I’ve travelled around Asia, and Europe my notebook has never been far away from me. The process of writing and travelling is much more than simply writing down what I’ve done each day.
Writing creates a parallel world made up of thoughts and words that helps me feel more alive. I could take a photograph of the golden light of a Tuscan sunset shining onto an old stone house, but the experience was so much more than this. It was the warmth of the sun, and how the beauty stirred deep emotions in me.
I could take a photograph of the delicious meal I shared with a friend in an Italian restaurant, but the way the food looked didn’t capture the complex intricacy of heavenly flavours, or the cosy tiny surroundings, or the laughter I shared with my friend, or the eavesdropping couple at the table next to us.
Journalling does all this, it captures all of the peak experiences, and is a way to cement memories. It is also a non-judgemental place to be honest about the not-so picture-perfect side of travelling. Here are some ways that keeping a travel journal an enrich your journey.
Read and Anticipate
In his book The Art Of Travel, philosopher Alain De Botton discusses how often much of the joy of travel is cultivated in the anticipation of a journey. The book begins with De Botton being lured out of wintry England by pictures of the sun-drenched beaches of Barbados.
In this quote he describes how anticipating and imagining a trip is a way of crafting it into something different to reality.
‘’The anticipatory and artistic imaginations omit and compress, they cut away the periods of boredom and direct our attention to critical moments and, without either lying or embellishing, thus lend to life a vividness and a coherence that it may lack in the distracting woolliness of the present.’’
De Botton tells the story of a fictional character Des Esseintes, from the novel A Rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans, who wants to visit Holland. However he actually ends up feeling more connected to Holland while looking at selected images of the country in a museum than he does in the real ‘unedited’ Holland.
So beginning your travel journal before even leaving is one way to begin this crafting and editing process.
Some questions to reflect on in your travel journal could be, what has drawn you to your chosen destination? What do you hope to get from your holiday? How would you like to feel at the end of it? Setting intentions for your trip can help you get the most out of it.
Grab some guidebooks, or find some websites to explore more about your destination. What excites you and grabs your attention? As well as planning a practical itinerary you might want to feed your imagination too. Try reading about the history of the place, local legends or even ghost stories. Whatever tickles your curiosity and helps fuel your anticipation.
When I was a teenager I started a diary where I wrote down everything I did each day. However after a while it became a chore. Some days were empty and full of nothing important, whereas others were packed full of excitement and busyness with plenty to write about, but little time to write it.
Keeping a journal works best if you write when feel the urge, so don’t put yourself under any pressure to record everything. During your travels write whenever you have a spare moment, or organise a routine where you write each evening or morning if it suits you.
You could journal as part of the experience by finding an interesting cafe, restaurant, an art gallery, or out in nature. Bringing your journal with you wherever you go helps remind you to see things through the eyes of a writer.
When it comes to what to write, record the things you did, but don’t pressure yourself to mention everything. Jump from moment to moment and follow your thoughts, letting your mind decide what it’s important to include. Don’t worry about chronological order as thoughts aren’t always linear. You can always rewrite later when you are back home and have more time.
Beyond The Events
Don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to what you did. Write about how you felt. Is the trip fulfilling your dreams, or are there parts that are disappointing? Being honest about the travel process can provide you with the richest insights about your journey.
Perhaps the leaning tower of Pisa didn’t live up to your expectations, but you did appreciate the conversation you had with the bus driver in broken Italian. Journalling can be a place to record lessons learned; such as that the best adventures often happen when you least expect them.
A Journal Of The Five Senses
Writing can be a way of deepening your perception of what you’re experiencing and a fantastic way to do this is to write down everything you sense. This is a good activity to do out in the world, while gazing at a view through your train window, or while sitting at a street cafe.
You could begin with a meditation where you spend a minute or two focusing on each individual sense. Create sensory postcards where you write down a sentence or two for each of the five senses. Hone your descriptive qualities as you try to capture your experiences with words.
Fact Or Fiction
Throw out the rulebook about what a diary should be and let your imagination run wild. Perhaps you are people watching in a busy bus station, and imagine the lives of your fellow travellers, or you are staying in an old villa makes you speculate about the original occupants.
What you see around you can inspire your imagination to fill in the gaps. Just let your mind wonder, and don’t feel like you have to stick to the facts.
In fact, why not speculate on the people you see, and invent imaginary lives for them? Your journey may be the springboard to a fictional story.
When things don’t go to plan
Getting lost. Delayed flights. The kind of things that play havoc with your travel arrangements are often what have the best potential for writing. Your journal can provide therapy when things don’t go to plan, and bringing your writing mind to a stressful situation can help you to put it in perspective. As all professional writers know a good story always has an element of conflict – a problem that needs to be solved. Travelling isn’t always easy, but often that’s where the most interesting stories lie.
Happy travels and don’t forget to pack a pen!