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Put Down the Social Media and Revive the Lost Art of Travel Journaling

Open blank journal and travel accessories lying on top of a map.
Luke Holland/Shutterstock

If you travel with a smartphone, you probably see most of your vacation moments through the lens of social media. From photo-ready meals to Instagram-friendly buildings, it’s easy to spend a large part of your trip thinking about how you’ll document and post it online. Here’s how to reframe your experience.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with snapping photos with an audience in mind or posting about your experiences. Social media provides a valuable way to connect with others and share moments to reflect on later. However, an even deeper way to connect in-the-moment is by keeping a travel journal.

Travel journaling turns the idea of planning and documenting your trip into a private activity. Instead of creating content to share with the world, you create it for yourself. It’s an entirely different experience than posting a set of photos on Facebook—and for some, it’s more rewarding.

Journaling can become a supplement to posting your trip on social media, or it can replace it altogether. Here’s how to disconnect and dig deeper with the art of travel journaling.

What Is a Travel Journal?

Just like a regular journal, a travel journal can be anything you want it to be. You can use it to:

  • Plan your trip
  • Write down stories, thoughts, and feelings
  • Reflect on difficult moments
  • Jot down important stuff, like contact information and directions
  • Paste train tickets, flowers, and other visuals
  • Reflect on your trip after you return

And anything else you’d like. A travel journal can be any notebook. (It’s also possible to keep a digital travel journal, but we’re focusing on the benefits of a physical one here.)

The beauty of a travel journal is that it’s for your eyes only. You might create it as a document to help you look back on your trip in the future, or one you’ll never read again when your trip is over. It’s up to you.

The Benefits of Travel Journaling

Keeping a journal might sound like an exercise in futility. Why write something no one else will ever read except, maybe, your future self? But there are some compelling reasons to journal your next trip—here are some of our favorites.

Let Go of Your Filters

When you post on social media, you’re always thinking through the eyes of the audience. Who will see this? What will they think? How will they respond? With a travel journal, though, you can document your trip liberated from those filters. This can open floodgates of self-reflection and growth.

Remember the Details

Your travel journal can also help you remember your trip more clearly.

Research shows that when we take notes by hand, rather than on a phone or computer, we remember information better. So even if you never reread your travel journal, it will help you retain memories from your trip.

Your journal is also a useful resource if you want to publish the details of your trip online later. You’ll have a reference for all the little moments you might otherwise have forgotten. And it’s those little details that often make the story enjoyable to others.

Record Valuable Information

Your travel journal can also help you out in a pinch. Use it to jot down important information, like your hotel’s address and phone number, basic phrases in the local language, or contact information for new friends. If your phone dies (or gets lost, stolen, or broken), you’ll have a backup of the essential stuff.

How to Get Started

For some people, the open-ended nature of travel journaling makes it a challenge. If you find the idea of documenting your trip on paper daunting, try some of these ideas. And even if travel journaling doesn’t immediately appeal to you, give it a shot—you might just discover that you love it.

Write What You Can’t Post

Woman sitting outside next to an old-fashioned bicycle, writing in her journal.

Your travel journal is the perfect place to write the sorts of things you don’t feel comfortable sharing online. You can document your insecurities, embarrassing moments, or raw reactions to a different culture.

Online, we often default to sharing only the positive moments of a trip. In your journal, though, you can process the good and the bad simultaneously. If you hate the weather, feel uncomfortable fumbling through the local language, or had an unpleasant run-in with a fellow traveler—write it all down.

Make It Multimedia

Your travel journal doesn’t have to be just writing. You can add doodles, sketches, and drawings. You can tape in business cards, receipts, and anything else that fits. If you don’t feel like writing, or you’re having a hard time getting started, try adding visual elements to your journal.

Have a Plan

Some people might find keeping a journal easier if they have a plan for it. If you’re one of those people, start with a specific idea about how you want to use your travel journal.

Maybe you want it to serve as the blueprint for a future blog series about your trip. Maybe you want to use it to map out your daily itinerary. Or perhaps you just want to document all the fabulous places you visited so you can recommend them to your friends.

No matter your original plan, once you get going, you might find that your journal takes on an entirely different purpose, which is fine. But giving it a purpose from the start can inspire you to use it.

Start Before You Leave

Consider starting your journal before you embark on your vacation. Use it for simple stuff, like writing down the details of your flight and hotel. You might jot down some things you’d like to do once you get to your destination. Or, use it to record your excitement and thoughts about the upcoming trip. Once you’ve left, you’ll already be in the habit of journaling.

Reflect When You Return

Similarly, your travel journal doesn’t have to end when you get home. Try writing a few reflection entries to capture your thoughts. Write down what you learned, what challenged you, or what surprised you. This is a great way to make sense of difficult or unexpected experiences, but it can also help you derive more meaning from even the most mundane vacation.

Add the Dates

Merely adding the date and time of an entry gives it context if you read your journal in the future. Consider adding your location (like the name of the town, business, or neighborhood you’re in) as well.

Document Your Meals

If you love food (who doesn’t?), try keeping a food journal. It’s an easy way to kickstart your inspiration and motivate you to write more. Jot down which restaurants you visited, what you ordered, and what you thought of the meal. Make a list of other restaurants and dishes you’d like to try. You can also write more generally about the local cuisine, cooking methods, and ingredients.

Start with the Basics

Ideally, your travel journal won’t just be a list of where you went and what you did. The goal is to delve deeper into thoughts, feelings, and reflections. But if you’re struggling with descriptions, try simply listing what you did that day. Once you start writing, it’s easier to keep going until you get to the exciting stuff.

Remember Your Senses

Adding sensory detail gives texture to a journal entry, and will spark your memory if you reread it later. Write down what you heard, saw, smelled, tasted, or touched. This is also a great way to boost your inspiration when you don’t know what to write about.

Don’t Record Everything

Finally, don’t feel pressured to record every single thought or moment. Write in your journal when you can, but don’t worry about capturing everything. The idea is to help you be in the moment, not distract you from enjoying your trip. And don’t stress about making every entry brilliant or inspiring—just write what feels right.

Travel journaling doesn’t have to take the place of your Instagram stories and Twitter updates (although it certainly can). But even the most social-media-savvy traveler can benefit from putting pen to paper to document a trip. Travel journaling is also an excellent tool when you’re traveling solo—check out our guide to the benefits of traveling alone next.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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