In an age of digital literacy, most travelers opt to chronicle journeys by shooting photos and videos and sharing them on social media platforms. While these images help jog your memory when you scroll through them, they don't paint a full picture of your travels. A travel journal allows you to revisit the sights and sounds of a destination, giving you the opportunity to relive your favorite days abroad through words, illustrations, ticket stubs and any nostalgic keepsakes you decide to include. Here's why it's time to bring back the travel diary.
Inside a convenience store in Malang, Indonesia, I asked the staff to purchase a train ticket to Yogyakarta. However, between my limited understanding of Bahasa and their limited knowledge of English, the fact that their ticket machine was broken was lost in translation. A passerby kindly intervened and explained in English that I needed to visit the rail station instead, and offered me a ride there. We had a wonderful conversation on that trip to the station, one I remember vividly every time I flip through my travel diary.
Our years begin to blend together as we age, and experiences are lost in the decades. A diary serves as a record of our experiences and transports us back to a time on the road with the turn of a page.
It’s a Stress Outlet
Approaching the boarding gate in Las Vegas for my trip home to Vancouver, a gate agent informed me I was bumped from my flight and that the next flight home would be in 16 hours. Overcome with a myriad of rage, confusion and hopelessness, I turned to my journal for refuge as the foulest of words spilled furiously from my pen, documenting the situation in pursuit of understanding how an airline that promises customer satisfaction left me stranded for half a day. Journaling allowed me to embrace my feelings with honesty, and served as a therapeutic solution.
Sometimes unforeseen circumstances can derail our travel plans, and a diary can act as a tool to help express and process difficult emotions of frustration, loneliness and homesickness. Writing serves as a way to manage stress, allowing us to draw comfort from penning our thoughts, and the pages of our notebook will allow us to read back and learn from the difficulties we faced abroad.
It’s a Personalized Guidebook
My diary entry from when I was 14 and visiting Florence for the first time reveals an afternoon of sightseeing at the Duomo and opposing Baptistry of St. John, followed by an evening of indulging in the most delicious ravioli at a restaurant named Zà Zà, a dish so memorable that even the indoor smokers of the time couldn’t take away from the experience. I revisited Florence over a dozen years later, and relived my fond memories of the Italian city by consulting my diary for my favorite hangout spots and eateries.
A diary is a vault of information, holding the details of places we frequent in the form of receipts and business cards. When friends and family ask for recommendations in a destination we've visited, we can easily pull from our diary and share the name, address and contact information of our favorite establishments, or return to later for ourselves.
Self-Discovery and Reflection
For eight weeks, my daily routine in the village of Padampokhari consisted of waking to the call of roosters, showering in ice cold water, eating breakfast of rice and lentils with my hands, and walking 40 minutes along dirt paths to my teaching placement at a secondary school. Having arrived from North America where I drive to work and turn on the taps to hot water in a matter of seconds, no amount of research and conversing with previous volunteers in the village prepared me for the culture shock I experienced on my first trip to a developing nation. Using squat toilets and riding on the rooftop of public buses to reach nearby towns was unfamiliar to me, but reflecting on my experience in my diary led me to realize the importance of global perspective and understanding the norm in nations around the world.
An extraordinary opportunity for growth, travel thrusts us in a multitude of uncomfortable, awkward and unfamiliar situations as we break out of routine and navigate our discoveries in foreign cultures. As an avenue for self-discovery, writing encourages us to slow down and pay attention to what’s around us, keeping a physical and emotional record of our time abroad. Reading back will allow us to understand what we’ve achieved and how our perspectives have shifted over time.