As I have mentioned, once or twice, I love journaling and I love reading about journaling and if I can, I combine both loves and create really marvelous journals that no one reads including myself.
Except when it comes to travel journals.
I read my journals, I refer to them, I keep them on the shelf with real books. I love my travel journals. And yet, after years of journals I still have not achieved travel journal perfection.
(If you have, please email me, if you haven’t, here’s an idea to help you on your next trip.)
One challenge with travel journal advice is that the author pre- supposes that you, the traveler, will experience at least one endless afternoon huddled in a cafe with a sweating glass of beer and a raging tropical storm filling the gutters at the rate of one inch every twenty minutes as if a firehose was trained on the street. Or you are making notes for an epic poem while contemplating the stone faces leading to Angkor Thom. Maybe you even bring water color pens and sketch the street scene while sipping a cappuccino in Zagreb.
If you can do any of these activities, you are not traveling with your mother.
I travel with my mother, it’s not a bad gig, and I’m not complaining. But the company changes the artistic focus of a trip, in that my mother’s presence strangles any insipid creativity before it can even rear up and manifest in a bad water color sketch.
Instead of writing during the thunder storm, I help my mother negotiate the filling gutters and call a cab for the hotel so she can nap.
Instead of writing even a single note on the magnificence of Angkor Wat, I spend five hours making sure mom doesn’t trip on a stone, rock or small tourist.
Instead of sitting in a cafe drinking cappuccino. I sit in a cafe watching my mother nurse a beer for an hour while reminiscing about how difficult it was to travel with my grandmother.
Every day I dutifully trudge behind a local tour guide and make sure mother is keeping up with the glacial pace, not falling behind, minding the stairs, minding the traffic, minding the gap.
What would you like to know about my mother? Exactly.
So what if you aren’t taking the romantic eat pray love trip and instead are about to embark on eat, queue and listen tour? None of those activities support or inspire those legendary marvelous, creative travel journal entries.
If you are traveling with a parent or a child (often the same, the parent, however, is not as cute), or a group of any sort, you need to be creative between the cracks.
The very first thing to do, is not give up on the idea of journaling.
Bring the note book. I have tried many, and on a recent trip to Germany, Hungary and Austria, worked with two sizes, one small, by my Bound Journal and the other larger, by Cavallilni Papers & Co. Inc.
The Bound journal fit in my small purse, the Cavallini was large enough to hold postcards.
The second thing to do is forget deep thoughts.
Embrace expediency and the whole experience will improve.
Here’s what to do.
Shop for postcards.
They make great, cheap souvenirs and are an excellent way to start a travel journal habit.
I look for postcards with names of cities, and recognizable features, just to help my memory.
If the weather is bad – the post card will show you what the place should look like when the sun shines.
If the particular site is underwater due to flooding, a postcard will show the place dry.
Get a postcard of the city at night if you are only visiting during the day or in daylight if you are only cruising by at midnight.
Get a different shot of the landscape that you can’t manage yourself.
Date and scribble on the back of the postcard and mail it to yourself – dear me, having a wonderful time, mom almost got hit by a motor scooter.
Or paste them into your journal in the order purchased.
Or write on the back of every postcard as if you were describing what you see to a friend and keep them in the back of the journal.
Another fast way to keep track of what you are seeing, doing and how you felt about it, is to pick up the free brochure – the language is immaterial – rip it apart and smack it into your note book. Then write a few words around that scrap of paper and move on.
While indulging in that brochure snatching, do keep the notes and ephemera in chronological order, and if you’re feeling very organized, date the pages. I know, this is a vacation. But dating and place names will become critical during that inevitable conversation – were we in Bamburg on Tuesday or Wednesday? (Monday, I kept notes.)
It’s not an elegant solution, and it’s not as romantic as leaning against a high castle wall overlooking Heidelberg and imagining what Mark Twain must have felt (he felt that he was living pretty damn cheaply in Europe, which can account for much of his enthusiasm for the place). But picking up a couple of postcards on the fly, writing a couple of lines while the bus chugs and groans back to the hotel or ship, will be good enough.
Good enough, is good enough.
Treat the journal and your notes as a way to keep track of things rather than the be-all of creative rumination. I had to let that fantasy go years ago. A feature of travel is to be able to really be in the moment (or as my husband’s company says, be ready before the moment). If you are already distracted by the travel companion, worrying that you can’t capture everything you experience in a journal will just add to the stress.
Take photos and make notes that will trigger these marvelous foreign moments for contemplation at home.
I found that if I don’t worry about creating great comments and art in situ, it not only relieves the pressure to be the perfect journalist – it also relieves any resentment about my traveling companions. One of whom will remain nameless.
Yes, yes, there is face book, Instagram, instant post cards, many ways to communicate what you are doing all the time. My husband was in charge of face book postings because frankly, the overseas data plans are still pretty ruinous. The analog method is what was are discussing here and we can debate what really lasts in another blog.