When I left the US, four of my friends gave me journals as going away presents. I took it as a visible sign that I should start writing in them. I write something every day and looking back, I’m so happy I did, for several reasons.
It’s a space to vent.
For one, it allowed me to blow off steam. I laid awake with a buzzing mind countless nights, and the only way I ever got to sleep was by putting pen to paper. Whether you’re frustrated, sad, happy, anxious, or on to some great idea, write it out, even if it’s a mess, a grammatical nightmare and words are so misspelled you don’t know even know what they say. There’s nothing more cathartic than releasing thoughts like that and bringing peace to your mind.
It’s a motivator.
I also found that challenging myself to write every day made me want to do something worth writing about every day. At home, I was in such a routine that weeks would pass by, and I’d be like, “what did I even do?” When I was writing about every day, it made everyday count for more. When I go back through my journal, it helps me to recall more from the past six months than I can from the past six years. It makes you feel like you lived more, and it helps slow time down.
You’ll capture what’s real.
Social media is great for sharing photos and keeping a timeline of events, staying connected with family and friends, and staying up to date on current events. But a picture is just a picture and the only person who knows the thousands of words it says is the person who took it. Looking back through my Instagram, I see a picture from the top of a mountain I hiked on a lovely autumn day. I remember how it took almost a whole day to do, I remember the drive and being blown away by the scenery, but when I look back at my journal and what I thought I was a mental mess that day. My mind was plagued with doubt about big decisions and a relationship I felt I needed to end.
The juxtaposition between these two sources of memories says so much about these modern times.
What is portrayed through social media is only that, a portrayal. Someone may look like they have the perfect life because you see the sunsets and the fancy dinner dates from just the right angle, but there is always more going on outside the frame and underneath the filters. I think it’s essential to make sure you’re not comparing your life to anyone else’s.
The best and worst memories of my life don’t make it to social media.
Beyond the emotions and thoughts and ideas, I like logging stories, especially about people I meet. I don’t have many photos of the friends I made while living abroad, but I have memories of them and with them that I’ve kept track of. Pictures of scenery are great, but 20 years from now, I want to remember the funny story that the guy at the coffee shop told me about his shark encounter or how I felt the morning after the night we all stayed out until 7 AM… or maybe not. Actually, I’d just like to remember the nights I spent too busy having fun to take any pictures.
Tips for keeping a travel journal:
First, pick a journal YOU love. If you find a journal with a beautiful cover or a quote that inspires you, you’re more inclined to carry it around with you and want to fill it with love and words. I found a leather notebook with a floral design and an AUS stamp at the Queen Vic Night Market in Melbourne. It makes for a great souvenir, and I can change out the pages once I fill it up. I’m obsessed with it. I carry it around like it’s an accessory.
I like to write dates every other page for about a month or so in advance in pencil. It helps to keep me on track. I also don’t like to limit myself to a specific number of pages a day, some days are more eventful than others, and if you commit to a page a day, there’s so much left unsaid.
I try and write every few days, so I don’t forget anything. The longest I’ll go without writing is a week. I reference texts and pictures to help me recall activities if I forget, but I find writing every day I can write in more detail and about what I’m feeling and thinking.
Keep a collection of stamps, postcards, tickets, business cards, maps, pictures, foreign currency, and tape them between the relevant pages. I like doing this to brighten up the pages and help tell the story.
If you’re struggling with what to write and had a fairly uneventful day, make a few notes and move on, or you can start with a writing prompt.
Really though, do whatever the hell you want. That’s the best part about journaling. The contents are for you and only you. If you’re going to doodle, write poetry, draw, copy quotes, make a list or spend a whole page bitching, that’s your prerogative. This is your chance to write about what you don’t care to share.
“All great things are only a collection of small things that have been carefully collected together.”