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Why I Keep a Travel Journal and You Should Too

Hold onto your memories. And your backcountry permit.

By: Jonathon Reed + Save to a List

I’ve never really been a journaling kind of guy. I usually prefer my laptop keyboard to a pen and paper, pretty much wherever I am—with one exception. When I’m on the road, I’m analogue all the way. For the obvious reason of not needing electricity to power a journal, but also for the reasons I’m about to list.

Read this over, reflect on it and then give it a try. Bring a journal along with you on your next adventure. It doesn’t have to be beautiful or useful or any of the things I’m going to talk about. It just has to be yours.

1. Record your memories.

I find that time goes by really quickly when I’m travelling. The days are so full and they can run so quickly into each other that at the end I’m not sure if something happened this day or that day, or where exactly it happened, or who exactly I was with. Does that sound familiar?

Memories are fickle things. If you don’t take care to record them, you’ll lose them. Or at least, you’ll lose the details, those small pieces that make your adventure so special. If you think you have a strong enough memory to remember things right now, think five years down the road, when you’re reminiscing with your partner on that trip you took together. Imagine how it will feel to pull out that old journal and flip through the memories you shared together.

2. Process the experience.

I like journaling not just to create a keepsake, but also as a way to process what I’m experiencing as it’s happening. When I’m able to pull together quotes, written descriptions, emotion-based reflections and drawings, my experience is richer. It’s richer because I’m intentionally owning it, I’m examining my feelings and thoughts and adding layers of meaning to the landscape and the people around me. 

Journaling from your tent or car or picnic table takes time. It requires you to slow down and open your eyes to the world around you. It means you have to think back on the day, remember what you experienced and think about how to express those experiences on paper. Doing that makes more of a difference than you probably expect.

3. Make art.

If you’re a talented visual artist, have at it. If you’re not, I get that. I know most people decide they’re ‘not artistic’ by the end of elementary school. It’s frustrating when what you see in front of you or in your imagination isn’t what you see on the page, and it can be disheartening to mess up a drawing in a journal you thought was really beautiful. 

My best advice—and I struggle with this myself—is to embrace the imperfection. Don’t expect yourself to be a perfect artist. Just create what you like and do your best to like what you create.

This photo has a sketch of Half Dome that I drew while having lunch on Clouds Rest. It was better than writing about it and I think better than just enjoying the view. It meant I had to look carefully and repeatedly at the landscape for several minutes. Having just been on the summit of Half Dome the morning before, it was a joy to look so closely at it.

4. Get organized.

If you’re travelling backcountry, odds are you have some paperwork; from CalTopo maps to permits to reservation information. If you’re travelling for an extended period of time, odds are you have some logistics to figure out, things like transit schedules, packing lists and contact numbers. The last thing you want is all of that disappearing into your backpack or glove compartment. Keep it in your journal. Have it when you need it. 

This photo has a packing list for Yosemite based on our experience hiking in the mountains in Colorado a couple weeks before, as well as our parking pass and backcountry permit to climb Half Dome. All on page 52.

5. Keep souvenirs.

It’s not by accident that I still have the parking pass and permit. I know they’re technically meaningless at this point, but they couldn’t be more filled with meaning. Every item in my journal adds authenticity and tangibility to my memories. Even though something happened months or years ago, I can still hold it in my hands. I keep train tickets, parking passes, postcards, business cards, leaves. Even that police ticket from the time we accidentally illegally camped in a wilderness area. It’s all memories turned real.

I hope I‘ve convinced you to at least give it a try. I’ve journaled on every major trip I’ve taken since I was a teenager and I’ve never regretted it. So much so that I’m sending journals in shipments ahead of me on my upcoming 6-month cycling expedition. It’s part of travelling, for me.

And if nothing else convinces you, a journal makes the best sign for hitchhiking I’ve ever used.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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