Last Seen... Journaling

journaling2 Recently I’ve been re-reading old journals for one of my book projects. It’s exciting to remember people and events I’ve long forgotten but I wince at some of my banal turns of phrase: ‘the view was breathtaking, the landscape beautiful.’ Yuck!

Keeping a travel journal for yourself or your family—they might be incompatible—helps keep your memories alive. Looking back on my own early attempts, I wish I’d followed a few simple rules to make them more compelling.

Here are some tips. For an entire book and website dedicated to the art, look for Dave Fox’s Globejotting (thanks Graham for the link).

  • Write as you travel. Quick notes, short sentences are fine, just get the impressions down as immediacy generates sharper writing. I have a small pocket notebook handy and a bigger journal for longer writing at the end of the day.

  • Aim to write about different aspects of your trip. One day focus on people. Note facial expressions, the fabric of their clothes, distinct mannerisms. Jot down snippets of conversations—both with the Gujarati bangle seller in the bazaar and the couple arguing next to you on the train. If you don’t speak the language, listen for catchphrases to add authentic voices to your prose.

  • Think how to paint the countryside with words. Pay special attention to the trees or geological features. Chose different aspects of nature to bring to life.

  • Show don’t tell. Instead of writing ‘the view was breathtaking’—which means very little—I could have described what the view was like. Did it shimmer like a mosaic? Was the landscape sculptured by the winds?

  • Note down the names of key towns you pass through as it can be easy to forget on a road trip. If in doubt, look at the map, ask your guide or a fellow traveller.

  • Describe how places make you feel using the five senses. How you respond to your environment is a way to situate your writing. If you walk into a cave and prickles crawl down your spine, write it down.

  • Don’t forget facts. The date of a medieval citadel; the temperature at 9 am; how many hours it takes to reach your destination. Facts help anchor descriptions and make the writing less impressionistic.

  • Keep a page at the back of the journal for questions. I always have a list of ‘things to know’ and if I can’t find out at the time, I go back later and do the research.

Most of all have fun. Doodle, sketch, stick things in. Sometimes have a splurge about what’s going on internally for you. Let the pen decide what to write, bypass the rational mind and play.


Joanna Maxwell — 09 June at 06:32PM

Nice one. I also record street noises, someone busking, impromptu chats with people (with their consent of course..). And sometimes I do a 'digital diary' of photos along a walk. It all adds great layers of memory later...which can inform my writing or give it nice accurate detail. Different kind of journal, but fun.

Dawn Herring — 14 June at 09:50AM

I just loved the wonderful mix of prompt ideas for journaling when you travel. The different aspects of the trip, using all your senses, and painting with words are my favorites. What a fabulous way to experience and record all of your traveling journeys!

I have chosen your post, Last Seen...Journaling, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 6/13/11 for all things journaling on Twitter. I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and my blog, Refresh with Dawn Herring.

You’re welcome to follow my @JournalChat account on Twitter for all things journaling.

Thanks again for this wonderful cornucopia of travel journaling ideas.

Be refreshed,
Dawn Herring
JournalWriter Freelance
@JournalChat on Twitter for all things journaling

Claire Scobie — 15 June at 12:25PM

Great to hear from you again. I've also done recording street sounds (still have a whole load of discs from Lhasa). A great idea to add to the mix, together with photos and also video. I love Flip videos, very easy to use (even for a technophobe like me), just shoot and point, and then download straight into your laptop.
Thanks for taking the time to write. Claire.

Claire Scobie — 15 June at 12:27PM

Thanks so much for your kind words and for posting a link on #JournalChat Pick of the Day. Great that it is going to a wider audience. Will look out for your journal tweets for more ideas. It's such a huge topic, it deserves another post.
Thanks again, Claire.

Roz Hall Farlam — 15 June at 12:34PM

Dear Claire,

I just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your blog & I'm always cheered when it pops into my inbox. I get a lot out of them; they're full of practical, helpful tips & yet written like an email from a friend. I have found what you say influencing my photography which I have newly taken up & todays blog is a perfect example - I love photographing people at markets & in the middle of a conversation on a bus (subtly of course). The framing of a photo often inspires or adds to the words I want to write about the scene as well & you have been a big influence in this.

So thank you & please keep doing it! I hope you enjoy it as much as I & no doubt many others, enjoy reading it.

Best wishes & happy trails,

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