The Benefits of Keeping a Travel Journal

When it comes to travel, it goes without saying – picture or it didn’t happen!

Most of us will come home with a phone full of photos (some of us achieve that before leaving the hotel room). It’s completely unthinkable to roam through and then leave a place without having sufficient photographic evidence. And if we happen to lose our holiday snaps, the world might as well stop spinning – that once in a lifetime moment, captured for posterity and bragging rights is gone forever!

But what about a written record of your travels? Is there something to capturing your journeys through words that a quick pic captured by a machine cannot replicate?

Here’s a few benefits that keeping a travel journal can bring, and once you start, it will be as important to keep up to date as your Instagram:

  • Document the Journey – Inner and Outer

    First of all, a journal helps to keep track of all the places you’ve been. Even if it’s just for your personal travel inventory or to get the location of your next social post correct, journaling comes in very handy. That’s your outer journey covered.

    As you fill your travel journals (be it good old fashioned notebooks or Word documents) you’ll notice that there’s another journey that takes place alongside the physical outer journey - I’m referring to the inner journey that inevitably and necessarily takes place as you travel through life. Your inner journey is arguably the most important to document due in no small part to the ephemeral nature of it.

    As you go along, ticking off your bucket list as well as adding all the unexpected journeys to your Been There, Done That list, you’ll naturally gather a lot of memories and have little moments that, whether you knew it at the time or not, forever altered the way you view the world and consequently, how you conduct yourself in it. This may seem a given – of course I have a bunch of memories and even the odd souvenir to symbolise that trip of a lifetime! However, without a running commentary, a snapshot from one moment to the next written by your past self, you will eventually lose the thread of your journey to the abyss of history – exactly how you got from here to there, both physically and mentally.

    What use is being able to follow a thread? Well it’s a way to recall in hindsight, and therefore better understand, the evolution you witness within yourself after a life altering outer journey. "Can you step back from your own mind and thus understand all things?" As ancient philosopher Lao Tzu records.

    Plus, there will be so many of these inner evolutions that you couldn’t possibly remember them in the detail required in order to marvel at their interaction as they combine together over time, ever expanding your personal evolution. In addition, it will give you the benefit of noticing the serendipitous nature of travel - why you did what you did, met who you met and altered plans last minute; it was all part of a bigger Universal plan unbeknown by you at the time!

    With details documented, at a later date you can compare the perspective you had, the way you thought, the assumptions you made, even the way you once spoke (through writing) from one moment to the next and you’ll see the gradual change in yourself; not just the before and after change we all notice when there’s a big enough gap between who we once were and who we are now. You might think that you’ll remember all the life changing moments in your life, but it’s amazing the things that you forget or rearrange in your memory to create pseudo-memories; once you start journaling, you’ll see exactly what I mean!

    As you mature, and you read the development of your thoughts and how the world that was around you at a certain moment in time shaped them, you’ll also have an understanding of the cyclical nature of time – every moment circles back in the form of a mark that it left upon you. A seemingly unremarkable moment - only worthy of a quick scribble in your journal and nothing to write on a postcard home about – may reveal itself years later through retrospection, to have been vital in shaping who you are today. Or, you might read that once unremarkable event again through new eyes and realise with the humility that maturity brings, just how lucky you were to have had that moment. Merely by having that thought you'll also realise how far you’ve come in the way that you see the world (perspective) and what you regard as being special (value). Seeing little moments like this from travels past reminds you to always be grateful for every moment. Remarkable or not, they all count.   

  • Remember the little details

    As stated above, it’s absolutely amazing, and quite frankly a little alarming, just how much we forget. Most of us have come to terms with the fact that we will forget some things. It’s an inevitable part of life and accordingly, we tend to not be that worried about it. You may be thinking, as long as the big picture is remembered, that’s the main thing! For the most part as we go about our day and as we regale our friends with our travel stories, this is all that’s required. However, the devil is in the detail!

    What I’ve noticed from years of journaling is the first thing to go from your memory (this is surprising) is the emotion. Watching a moment of your life back through your mind’s eye, you become the third person – it’s almost like you’re watching someone else. Well, it was someone else when you consider that we’re not the same from one moment to the next! So, that’s why, unless it’s been documented, you completely forget just how angry, frustrated, sad, pain-stricken, bereft, lonely, sickened, joyously happy, excited, giddy – all of the human emotions - you were. The emotion that you feel when travelling, of course, varies depending on the experience you’re having. You can go on the same trip a number of times and experience a different emotion depending on the unfolding of the trip itself and on your changing perspectives. I would argue that emotion is every bit as important to remember as the destination travelled to itself because emotion provides the purpose for your travel.

    Looking back on all that you’ve done in years to come and seeing just a grocery list of places you’ve been without the emotion is like a piece of thin budget hotel toast without butter – dry and not much substance to it. In fact, it’s plain disappointing considering all the time, effort and money put in to arrive at that hotel – or the end of your travels. Travelling purely to tick off lists is material. Travel like this and not only will you never be satisfied, but you’ll always feel empty, like - what was the point in all that? Emotion brings purpose.

  •  Order and Process Thoughts

    A lot can happen when you go travelling, especially if you’re hopping from one place to the next, smashing through the experiences like shots at a bar constructed of bamboo on – what’s this island again? Writing down the day’s events, even if you don’t read it back again for a long time, helps your mind to process all the things that have just happened. You’ll find just the act of going through and remembering those things in detail (before the details are lost) at a pace that’s slow enough for your hand to make a record, actually solidifies them in your mind. Scientifically it makes sense because memory is actually the act of recalling and the more we recall the stronger the neurological pathway becomes. Plus, you have a cool story already well thought out and ready to recite at will whenever said cool travel story may be required to liven up any conversation!  

  •  A Snapshot in time

    The world is constantly changing. Journaling your adventures and thoughts as they happen to you captures a moment in time that will never be the same – for you or the world at large.

    Think about all the things that have changed in the world since your childhood. Now imagine how different everything will be in decades to come - even the currently mundane may be awe-striking in a future where it is very rare or no longer exists. You yourself will never be the same from this moment to the next. Journaling captures a part of you that once lived, breathed and wandered, preserving it when it would otherwise have disappeared like it never was.

    No matter how many people may have already travelled to the various places you go, your experience will always be unique because it unfolded through your eyes. Write that down!

  • Holds Stuff

    All those little bits and pieces that you accumulate as a consequence of passing through just about anywhere - foreign train tickets, museum tickets, bank notes...parking fines written in Italian...all of that stuff is worth more than any souvenir bought at an over priced tourist shop to a seasoned traveller. It's also totally unique to you and your trip! Your journal is the perfect filing system for it. 

  • Legacy

    Maybe no one will read it. By now you should know that that’s not the point of keeping a travel journal. Your travel journal is a written record of the things you did and the places you saw; more than this, it is something that was created and left behind by you. It is a piece of you that will endure long after you cease wandering the earth, if not in the pages you originally wrote on, in the fabric of the Universe that felt their presence.

    But if someone does read it, maybe a relative yet to be born or anyone else who happened to find one of your dust covered journals, who knows how it will inspire them?

    Read or not, your thoughts were recorded and the world at large is better because of the consequential evolution those words brought. Your written words vibrate with the Universe beyond your physical body, and are forever a part of something much bigger than you and the life you lived.

    So, journal like no one is reading and like your very essence depends on it!

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