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A drawing of a greenhouse in a Buenos Aires parkA drawing of a greenhouse in a Buenos Aires park

Tips on Keeping a Travel Journal 


Remember that old poetry trick from elementary school? The one where you print a person’s name in block letters down the edge of a page and then write a sentence or one word starting with that letter to describe the person? Haul it out and use it for the city or country in which you’re traveling. Sure it’s retro, but it’s kinda fun.

Buy a postcard and mail it to yourself. On the back, describe one thing in your immediate view. Do this more than once. These tiny missives in my mailbox make the act of coming home more bearable.

Copy yourself on any email you send out about your trip. I’ve found my emails usually contain stories that never make it to my journal. It’s tiresome to write the same thing twice. If I type it up, I rarely write it down. When I get home, I print all the emails and paste them in my journal.

Instead of transcribing your day in rambling paragraphs, open your journal in the midst of random activities, note the time and in one or two sentences, what you are doing. This brings your journal a tone of immediacy as your words are “right now” as opposed to a recollection at the end of a long day.

Put away your camera and draw a picture instead. The act of drawing forces you to narrow your focus and really see something. I’m hardly an artist, but I love my lopsided travel sketches. If you just can’t squelch your snap-happy ways, draw something first and then take a picture. You can laugh at your poor attempt once home. 

Draw a map of a neighborhood or city block you’ve come to know. Plot your hotel, the kiosk where you buy bottles of water, the café where you discovered a killer cappuccino, the shop where you bought a postcard, the street vendor mixing pungent dishes you don’t have the guts to try.

You’ve got five senses and five fingers. Trace your hand on a page in your journal and fill each finger with quick description of what you can see, hear, taste, touch and smell.

Write a haiku. Remember the rules? Three lines of counted syllables: 5,7,5. Traditionally, a haiku is supposed to be about nature, but I’ve use the format throughout my travel diaries. Here’s a haiku from my Roam journal:

Sticky table top
Hot waiter winks and I will
Forgive anything

At home, I have daily routines. I get up at a set time. I buy coffee from the same place. I drive the same roads to work. When I travel, those routines get broken, but I’ve found I often create new ones. What new routines have you created for yourself on the road?

In a book titled Sold, author Patricia McCormick traces a Nepali girl’s journey from a simple mountain village to a big city brothel. When the girl enters a city for the first time, she is overwhelmed by the sheer number of people doing different activities right next to each other. Here is an excerpt:

"I crane my neck this way, then that, looking at a man scooping hot popcorn into a paper cone, next to a barber lathering an old man’s face, next to a boy plucking the feathers from a lifeless chicken, next to an ear cleaner, his customer grunting with satisfaction, next to a woman whose arms are draped with a hundred necklaces, next to a man with a flute coaxing a snake out of a basket, next to a tailor pumping the treadles of his sewing machine, next to…"
            The list takes up an entire page. Try this idea in your journal.

Postcards I kept for my travel journalPostcards from the Czech Republic I penned to myself. On the back of one I wrote: 'Sitting in garden of Italian restaurant and flying ants keep falling on me. I just found a wing on my shoulder. There’s an ant on my paper. They’re beginning to fall with more frequency. I’m getting the check. I’m wearing red shoes.'
Keep a daily list of the 5 best things that happen to you. This sounds like an easy task, but travelers too often dwell on the negative, like a gross bathroom, a taxi driver that ripped you off or getting lost on the subway. But if you know you have to make a list of “good” things that happen every day, your perception will start to shift and you’ll notice and appreciate the tiny bright spots, like the sweetest pineapple you ever tasted, the store clerk that forgave your incorrect change, or the man working the Internet café who gave you a discount because you’d been there three out of the last four days.

Write about a person you encountered on the road. Describe his or her hair, skin, eyes, teeth, jewelry. Did you simply watch this person or did you actually exchange words? When I’ve taken this on, it’s turned into a daily, competitive, personal assignment. After two or three days of sitting in a café and describing a customer nearby, I get bored. Pretty soon, I’m no longer content just to describe the first person I see. Soon, I’m on the lookout for someone “different” and I go out of my way to talk to strangers so that I’ve got an interesting person to write about. 

Want to start a travel blog?

Here’s a list of Web sites that provide free blogs for travelers. Each boasts its own layout, photo posting and map services, so click on a few examples to find the one that you like best.

My Trip Journal

Travel Pod

Real Travel

Globe Notes


Boots n All

Travel Blog


Kelly Westhoff 


Kelly Westhoff is a traveler, teacher and writer from Minneapolis. See more of her work at


Visit our Kelly Westhoff Page with links to all her GoNOMAD stories.

Kelly Westhoff

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Tags: storySection: Women's Travel
author: Kelly Westhoff
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