How to Keep an Effective Travel Journal



image by miscellanea


Travel is not only for experience, but also for memories. Every trip creates its special memories, and you hope that when you are too old to take new trips, memories of the old ones will sustain you.

Keeping a travel journal is the best way to preserve your memories. Yes you can take photos, but they are merely one aspect of your trip. It’s also usually a note-quite-honest aspect, because you pose for pictures. You can also take videos, record everything as it’s said, but then the actual experience might be lessened while you are busy recording. Even with a video, while you capture what’s going on, you are still capturing what’s going on inside you.

Travel journal is your ultimate souvenir. It’s cheap – the only costs are a notebook and a pen. It’s unique. Your travel journal will be different than anyone else’s travel journal. It’s a method through which you can capture the facts and feelings of your trip. That way, the record of your journey will also be as unique as your memories.

If the memory fails when you are old, your travel journal will take you back to the time and the place. Whether it’s the scent of lavender in the fields of Provence or the pyramids of Egypt or the colours of an Indian temple. You can pass on your journals to your children, or just keep them for your personal exploration. You can use them for inspiration to write travel articles or your personal memoir. How you choose to use your journal is up to you, but no matter what you decide, a travel journal will be something you will treasure forever. 

While there is no specific way to keep a travel journal, there are things that could make a difference between an interesting travel journal, or something that will sound like a monotone description of your minute by minute movement, or worse, like a guidebook. 

The most effective travel journals include Three Stages of the Journey: 


Your trip starts the moment you plan to go somewhere. Sometimes, this may have begun years in advance, but for the purposes of the travel journal, we will count the time you confirm – whether by buying airline tickets, booking a hotel etc. – that you are definitely going somewhere. The moment you do this, you are start day dreaming. You get impatient and wish yourself there. You imagine what it will be like. You start thinking about shopping you need to do, or any practicalities such as visas or vaccinations that you need to take care of. 

Record your anticipation. Write about:

  • Your expectations from this trip
  • Why did you pick this destination
  • What plans do you have
  • Do you expect to do something special while you are travelling 
  • How do you feel about your upcoming trip. Try to capture your excitement and expectations. 


This portion of the travel journal begins when you are on your way. It may begin while  you are waiting at the airport to board your flight, or in your car driving to your destination. This is where the meat of your travel journaling comes in.

Here you can record: 

  • Places you visit
  • People you meet
  • Experiences with a new location – both positives and negatives
  • Things you find extra-ordinary about being in a foreign environment
  • Any mishaps or success with a new language
  • Snatches of conversation you hear
  • How you feel about the places you visit
  • Kindness or cruelty that you witness
  • Things that remind you of home
  • Things you fall in love with
  • Your feelings about being on this trip
  • Things you think you are missing out on
  • Adventures you’ve experienced 
  • Local food
  • Shopping
  • Local flora and fauna
  • Facilities available, and what’s been difficult or easy

You are only limited by your imagination. Paste any memorabilia you collect on the way in your journal, but be selective. You don’t need to save every single receipt. Keep things that remind you of things you want to remember. 


A trip doesn’t end as soon you come home. Once you are home, you have the memories and often the longing to be back there. You might think of the experiences you had, or miss the new friends you made. You may miss the sunshine, or the amazing new dishes you tried. All the things that were memorable about your trip, good or bad, you will be reliving them when you get home. When you look at your pictures, you will be thinking of stories associated with those pictures. 

This is the time to jot down your reflections about the trip you have just completed. It’s best to do this soon after you’ve returned so that impressions are still fresh in your mind.

You can write about: 

  • Were your expectations met
  • The best and worst experiences
  • Best memories of the people you met
  • What did you love most about the place
  • Would you go back there again
  • What experiences would you care to repeat
  • What experiences would you rather not repeat
  • When were you most afraid
  • When were you most excited

Again, personalise this. Write about whatever feelings you have about your trip. Savour your memories in your journal before they become stale. 

In your travel journal, you don’t have to limit yourself to a particular format. Doodle or draw. Use different colours. Use stickers. Remember, it’s your journal, so make it your own. Be authentic




9 thoughts on “How to Keep an Effective Travel Journal

  1. On my trip to Crimea I had a travel journal and covered a lot of things you listed. I found it was a disappointment. for some reason I did not write that much even though I wanted to. There simply wasn’t time to set aside for writing, there were only two weeks to see everything and go everywhere. Mountain-tops to caves, seashore to palaces, all sorts of places, but no time to sit and write.


  2. Annette,

    I’ve experienced that problem in the past, and I’ve only found one solution to that. There is no time to sit down and write, so what I do now is literally take the journal with me everywhere, and jot down things on the go. While you are travelling, there is always time: while having a coffee or lunch, just sitting at the beach or on the park, resting your feet, on the bus or train whatever. There will be moments when you are just taking some time to rest or relax. Jot down a few things. You don’t have to write essays. Just capture your impressions, and then you can elaborate on them either later in the day, or even when you get home.

    Don’t worry about setting aside time for writing, because you want to see everything. But incorporate journaling into your travelling.

  3. These are some great tips. Especially the “anticipation” part. I’ve got a long week-end trip coming up and have started my travel journal. I would only start writing about the actual trip and never the preparation and anticipation.

  4. Sara,

    I hope you have fun with your travel journal. For most of us, anticipation is such an exciting part of the trip that it’s a shame not to record it.

  5. An excellent article. I plan to document using both a handwritten journal and a blog. I think sometimes it will be easy to photograph and jot a note that can easily be uploaded immediately or at the end of the day. And sometimes it will be appropriate to doodle, write or glue-in something that captures the moment. I, too, like the anticipation part and hadn’t really considered that aside from an itinerary and a few packing lists. It will be interesting to compare my expectations with my actual experiences. Heading to France/Spain in May 14

  6. Hi Dolly,

    I’ve been touring and travel a lot, and being in Africa, there are quite a variety of cultures and nature enjoyments. I do take a lot of photo’s, and being digital, all stored on a computer.

    I started to do some research on keeping a journal, because I experience a lot, but haven’t documented it in a readable format.

    Thanks for explaining the progress of emotion build-up (I’m a planning freak). Now I will make it part of the journal.

    Next week we’ll (me & my lovely wife) off to the Kruger National Park for 5 days, end of the year to Cape Town and next year to northern Namibia.

    Tomorrow I’ll buy my first journal and will immediately start to write.

    Thanks again

  7. Georg,

    That’s excellent. I hope you and your lovely wife have a great time, and I look forward to hearing about your travel journaling experience (and perhaps even seeing a few sample page) :-)

    Enjoy your travels

  8. Hello Otha,

    I am glad you enjoyed it. You can take a fragment to post on your blog if it is properly credited back and linked to this website and me.

    Best regards,

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