Five Tips for Keeping a Travel Journal

by Yvonne Hanson

Well-known art journalist Yvonne Hanson recently returned from a seven-week trip to Japan where she journalled daily using art, collections, observations, and diarizing to record her experiences.

“Journalling every day of your trip can be a hassle, especially if you aren’t used to keeping a daily journal,” Yvonne acknowledges. “But there are lots of ways to keep yourself inspired.”

Choose the right book

Choose a book that is an appropriate size for the length of your trip. If you're only going to be away for a week or so, a slim cahier-style notebook should suffice. If you’re staying abroad for upwards of a month, a thicker book might be necessary.

Generally, the ideal number of pages in a travel book is 2.5x the number of days you will be travelling for.

Hardcover books are nice and sturdy, but the extra structure makes them significantly heavier than soft cover books. I recommend selecting a book with a sturdy but bendable cover, as lightweight as possible. As you add scraps and souvenirs to your journal, it will become heavier and heavier. If you start the trip with a book that is already a little cumbersome to carry around, it may wind up prohibitively heavy by the end of your journey.

Its worthwhile to invest in a book with good-quality binding, as cheaper bindings tend to fall apart under the pressure of the added scraps + souvenirs, as well as the wear-and-tear of being taken in and out of bags and hauled through different environments.

In my experience, the ideal travel journal is slim and lightweight with unlined pages, good quality binding and paper, and a sturdy but bendable cover. Be sure to confirm that the book you select will fit comfortably inside whichever bag you plan to carry around during your trip.

Carry a small pencil case with essential materials for journalling on the go.

I consider the journal and the pencil case to be two parts of a single whole. You won’t use one without the other, so be sure to carry them together as a set, and check that both are in your bag at the beginning of the day.

I find that a cloth pencil case is preferable to a plastic/ metal one, because cloth is usually lighter and easier to stuff into a tight space in an over-full backpack.  

Necessary items in a travel-journal pencil case include: at least three different pens, a pencil, an eraser, extra graphite sticks, scissors, and a small glue stick. Scotch tape is also worthwhile to carry if it fits in your case. If you are an artist and plan to make art inspired by the places around you, you may also want to invest in a travel-sized watercolour or oil pastel kit which you can carry alongside your journal and pencil case.


Make a habit of writing in your journal every day of the trip

Finding the will to open your journal get started each day can be a bit of a struggle, especially when you’re busy savouring every moment of a vacation.

My strategy to stay inspired is to take out my journal while waiting for things. While waiting for food in a restaurant, take out your journal and have your travel buddies doodle things they see around them, or things you saw that day. I like to fill the page with medium-sized squares and ask everyone to choose a square to draw something in. I may give them a theme, like “things that inspired you today” or “most unusual thing you saw today” and ask them to sign their drawing in the corner.

Take out your journal when you have some time to kill. Even if you aren't inspired to add to it, having it on your lap while waiting to catch a bus or a train can tempt you to write a few lines or sketch a few scenes simply out of boredom. 

Its helpful to plan for a little journal-time at the end of each day while you're relaxing in your hotel room. If you’re expecting to sit down and write when you get home, then it seems like less of a labour to open your journal and get started. If you have spent the day collecting bits and pieces to add to your journal, then the act of gluing them all in at the end of the day next to a list of things you did can feel incredibly satisfying.  

Journal freely

If writing is not your forte, you may want to forgo full-sentences in lieu of point-form.

Not every journal entry has to be a perfectly aesthetic paragraph on a single page of your book.

A journal entry can be a list of places you went, foods you tried, things you noticed. It doesn't have to be incredibly coherent, as long as you can read through and be reminded of what happened that day. Entries don’t even need to be in linear order, as long as you always remember to write the date at the top of the entry. Writing in point form with little care for the aesthetic value of what is written can help liberate you from grammatical hangups that take extra energy and make it hard to stay inspired to keep journalling. Journalling at the end of the day should feel satisfying, like putting a cherry on the top of a finished cake. If it starts to feel like work, you might want to change your approach.


Keep everything small thats made out of paper (especially if it’s in a foreign language)

Ticket stubs, hotel check-in cards, business cards from the restaurants and bars you eat at, tags from the souvenirs you buy, and brochures from the attractions you visit…anything you can find that will help document what you did each day while travelling! This is why scissors, glue, and tape are necessary constituents in your pencil-case. Adding bits and pieces you have found on your trip to your journal can help you add detail to your journal entries with no extra writing or drawing necessary. Instead of describing a scene in detail, cut a picture of that scene out of a brochure you collected at the attraction and write some point-form notes about your impression of it. Ticket stubs can help document exact times and places, which can be especially useful if you are moving around a lot during your trip. Business cards from restaurant and hotels will save you the time and effort of writing about and recalling the places you ate and slept. Basically, any time you have the opportunity to acquire a small paper item from a location you are visiting, take it and tuck it between the pages of your book to glue in at the end of the day.

If you feel up to some extra writing, adding a short description/ rationale for each item you glue in can help jog your memory of the experience when you look back on your journal years later.

If you are travelling to a place where a foreign language is spoken, including some newspaper pages or magazine scraps written in that language can help add to the authenticity of your journal, and will serve to remind you of what it felt like to be surrounded by a language you don't understand.

You can find many of Yvonne's journal pages as well as inspiring tips and information on her tumblr - click here. As well you can find Yvonne on instagram where she posts images of her garden as well as her journal pages and paintings. And recently, you can view her beautiful photography on @yhanson_photography