Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Travel Gear Highlight - Travel Journal

The first time I mentioned that the travel journal was a piece of my essential travel gear was in Favorite Travel Gear where I briefly discussed the remarkable utility of this item. I feel that a piece of gear with the raw utility of the travel journal requires it's own post. For my purpose I will define a travel journal as a journal that you travel with, though a travel journal could very well be a journal which you record your travels in after you've traveled.

The journal, like life itself, is full of possibilities. When it is new, much like when we as people are young, it hasn't been locked into a future. The journal is full of blank pages, by the choices you make, you get to decide what it is and what story it is going to tell. Of course it doesn't have to tell a story at all, it's what you make of it. Something about the large number of possibilities, the flexibility and control of a journal are remarkably appealing to me.

There are certainly plenty of options out there for someone who is interested in a travel journal. They come in lots of sizes, colors and with loads of miscellaneous options. I have had several types of journal in my travels including journals that have special paper, lined or unlined, clasps and bookmark ribbons. The only things that I've found to be consistent is that a journal that is labeled as a travel journal just isn't for me. "Travel Journals" aren't usually a good value and are generally decorated with pictures of the Eiffel Tower on them. While there are better ways to stick out and look like a tourist, carrying one of these funky journals is a good way to do it.

I have owned one of the Rite in the Rain travel journals, which is a great concept, but it didn't turn out to be a practical choice for me. This type of journal has special paper that you can write on even when it is wet. The problem is that it takes a regular ball point pen and I don't like those. The pens that I liked at the time I was using this journal didn't have a compatible ink and it took several months to dry completely. This journal was also lined and I found that I didn't like this limitation.

What the Rite in the Rain journal did have that I liked was an ID page and a page for writing down your airline frequent flier numbers. I have since included this information in every subsequent journal that I have owned. The ID page in the front is something I hope I never need. I put down my contact information and a note to whoever finds it asking that they contact me so I can retrieve my journal somehow. There's also a note inviting the finder to read the journal and if they are so inclined to add an entry. Like I said, I hope that the ID page is never used.

On the frequent flier number page I've also included handy phone numbers for airlines that I commonly fly as well as the number of my travel agent. I should also probably keep notes of trusted airport restaurants, it wouldn't take much space as my list of good airport restaurants is quite short.

Beyond storing frequent flier numbers the uses for a travel journal are limited only to ones imagination and cleverness. To date I have pressed leaves, recorded where I parked my car and jotted down restaurant recommendations along with instructions to get to said restaurants. I've written down the names of new biscuits that I become fond of while abroad and record the events of a given day. I've used my journal as a memory aid many times to make sure I am on time and to remember what station to get off at while riding the train/bus/streetcar. Any observations of note go into my journal so that I can take a look at them later if I'm so inclined, this proves handy when I revisit a city.

I have found the travel journal such an invaluable tool that when I train anyone in a position where they travel I am quick to make a gift of a journal. Inside I inscribe it as follows:
Travel Journal of INSERT NAME
For the journey yet to be taken
For the story yet to be written

For me this sums up what a journal is nicely and I like to pass that on to others. I present the journal on the occasion of the first trip that I take with them. In addition to the journal I impart general travel advise that only comes from experience in hope that their path to becoming an accomplished traveler is as smooth as it can be.

In using a journal regularly I have found that the 4x6 inch size works quite well for me. Unlined paper is handy as I sometimes draw maps for myself and I can write as large or small as I like when lines are absent. While a nice feature, I've found that a clasp is not something that I require in a journal. If I was in the habit of keeping more things in my journal, pressed leaves or odd bits of paper, I would find this more of a necessity. A tough exterior is definitely a must as my journals get tossed around a bit and get stuffed into my bag quite frequently. I can go though a journal in about 6 months depending on my travel schedule so I do look for something that is reasonably priced as I'll soon be replacing it.

I have been most fortunate as I have found a journal that meets all of the above criteria nicely along with being widely available. Small sketch books, available in any art supply store, fit the bill nicely. At about $5 I'm not going to complain about the price and they are meant to be carried around so they are built tough. The paper is thick and will accept a variety of inks without a problem. They are easily found in black which works well for me as they are very low key.

If you travel often you should definitely consider a travel journal, it's not for everyone but you just might find that it makes your travels a little easier.

Do you carry a travel journal? Is there a particular brand of journal that you gravitate toward? If you do have a journal preference, please let me know why.

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Coming Soon: Travel Distraction - Sock Monsters


  1. I'm a travel writer and travel goods blogger and a big fan of the classic Moleskine, too. Their City version is great, what with the maps and all. But Poketo's Travel journal is my new crush. See:

  2. trustpony: I keep hearing great things about Moleskine, I'll need to try one one of these days. What exactly is it about the Poketo Journal is it that you like?

    The description sounds kind of limiting to me with itinerary pages and that sort of thing.