Whether you’re just starting off your jet-setting or you’re a veteran globetrotter, you’ve probably heard this advice before:
You should keep a journal!
The idea of a travel journal sounds rather nice, doesn’t it? It invokes a sort of Hemingway-ian feel and before you know it, you’re envisioning yourself sitting at a quaint café, furiously scribbling down your latest observations on the human condition. You tell yourself you’ll write every day and each entry will be filled with insights so significant that one day when your journals are discovered in an elegant desk drawer, they’ll be immortalized in the history books.
You may even get so excited that you purchase a cute little diary with a world map on the cover and a ribbon to mark your place. You’ll probably write one entry… and never open it again.
Why? Because journaling is hard! If you’re traveling from city to city, studying abroad, or working in another country, it’s often very difficult to find the motivation to write down your thoughts and adventures.
After I graduated college and decided to move to Spain, I bought myself a red leather-bound Moleskine and told myself that I was going to to be a 100% legitimate person-who-journals.
Now, this wasn’t my first stab at it; in fact I had been attempting to document my thoughts since I was 7 years old (thank you Lisa Frank rainbow leopard diary). My efforts continued throughout my adolescence and young adult life in random notebook entries or in Word document diaries where I heavily abused figurative language to describe the woes of my freshman year experience.
I was not disciplined, nor was I particularly insightful, but worst of all I was too hard on myself. Nearly every entry began with “Wow, sorry I haven’t written in ages…” as if somehow I was preparing for some self-imposed guilt trip.
The standards I held for myself were ridiculously high. Did I really expect myself to not only write every day, but also write something interesting every day?
It’s unrealistic to assume you will immediately become so disciplined. Keeping a journal, like many other things, is a habit and habits take time to develop.
So you may be wondering – what’s the point of all of this anyway? Why do I want to put in all that work to establish yet another habit?
The truth is, no matter how good you think your memory will be, chances are that you won’t quite remember the very first thing you noticed when walked out in the streets of New Delhi, or what you felt when you saw the stained glass in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, or even the loneliness you felt sitting up on a rooftop, feeling homesick and staring up at the full moon.
Journaling about your experiences not only documents them, but also allows you to process and reflect on them. Traveling is not always an easy, breezy experience and, as travelers, we are often confronted with difficult or uncomfortable situations that make us think. When we journal, we can acknowledge the good and the bad, recognize our successes and remember our challenges.
Since that red Moleskine, I’ve filled out over four journals and I can assure you, they are not all filled with profound wisdom. But what they are filled with are memories and thoughts, some of which are hilarious, heart-breaking, and reflective. By keeping a journal, I’ve become more more accountable to myself and my goals. I’ve looked back at something I believed impossible three months before, only to write that I did it today.
What I learned was that the worst thing you can do when writing a travel journal is to catalog every thing you do in a day. Not only is that exhausting to write, but it’s also not really that interesting. In ten years, will you really care about the fact you ate a caprese pizza in Pisa before going to the hostel or will you want to remember the sublime sense of peace you felt sitting in that olive grove overlooking the Mediterranean?
And hey, maybe you will care more about every single detail of your trip. But I’d bet that your journaling experience isn’t too fun.
My advice to you? Be realistic: don’t expect to write every day and forgive yourself. You may miss a few days during a busy week, you may only write two sentences – the important thing is that you write something. Little by little, you’ll be surprised at how much easier it becomes.
And who knows, maybe someday your insights and adventures will make it into the history books. Happy writing!