Are you one of those rare travelers who still has the urge to write a sentence or two in your travel journal while on the road – your thoughts and opinions about a subject, the things that you do, what your spent on lunch at a small cafe in an alley in Honolulu?

I’m talking about a physical book (not your laptop) and a real pen (not a keyboard). You know – old school!

For me, keeping a physical travel journal is one of the most important things I do when we’re on the road. Michael makes fun of me for it (he’s probably even rolling his eyes as he reads this). I can see him with that sarcastic smirk on his face when I’m sitting on the plane – journal on the tray table and a pen or glue stick in my hand. But later on when he’s describing out trip to someone, he inevitably comes to me when someone asks what we did. For him, the details aren’t important in the moment. For me, writing it all down is part of the fun.

So, is it worth doing? Definitely!

I’m a dedicated travel journal junkie. Maye even a nerd! Throughout my years of travel, I have developed a few unique things that I include in my journals, aside from the usual writing.

Here are eleven geeky things that I do or keep in my travel journal.

1. Glue tickets and maps in your travel journal

Unless you just fly into a city and stay in the airport the whole time, we all have these. But maybe (like Michael) you just put them all in a plastic bag and keep the in the closet. How about, instead of putting them in a shoebox, you physically glue them into the pages of your travel journal? I do this so that I’ll always be able to keep them organized and within their context.

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Pura Ulun Danu on the Indonesian Rp. 50,000 bill, a receipt from a restaurant, tickets for the Indonesian and foreigner.

2. Interaction with others

Obviously, you meet a lot of people on the road, both locals and fellow travelers. You will have to exchange contact info. at some point. Or you might just have a nice chat! Capture all this stuff in your travel journal? Glue their business cards in your book. Let them write their email addresses or contacts. Tell them to do it both in your language and their own. Translate a few local words and phrases.

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An Arabic lesson from a friendly local in Aqaba, Jordan.

3. Sketches

Back in Landscape Architecture school, I did a lot of great sketching while traveling with my class. Although I wish I have done more of these sketches on the road, I did a handful.  I love sitting down in front of an object and take my time looking at and sketching it – even if it’s an animal like a Komodo Dragon, who could easily get impatient with being my model and rip me to shreds!

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A sketch of our location and a Komodo Dragon during our diving liveaboard in Flores, Indonesia.

4. Paper currency in your travel journal

If you travel abroad, you understand the excitement of each new country. One of the first things you do after clearing immigration at the airport is hit an ATM or currency exchange counter to get a stack of the local currency.

At the end of the journey, you probably have some leftover bills, which make great additions to your travel journal. I even keep the whole South African set in my journal! Of course, this always works best with currency that doesn’t have a high value, but go ahead and glue those in, too! Especially if you know you won’t be back anytime soon.

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South African currency – I have the whole set of it in another journal

 5. Stamps from a post office visit

This is where Michael insists on waiting outside the post office. But this is my favorite thing to do in a foreign country. So he stays outside while I patiently explain my request to the clerk behind the counter. I want to buy a stamp to glue in my journal. I want it canceled with today’s date and the location of the post office. And I know you don’t speak English, but I’m not leaving until you understand what I mean in my introductory Arabic.

Hey! I’m a stamp collector, and I love the interaction that I have with postal workers. And I end up with a very unique and pretty keepsake in my journal! In other words, Michael can continue to wait outside in the rain, snow, heat, or cold. It’s my thing!

You can read about my postage stamp and cancellation here.

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Souvenir sheet from Easter Island, cancelled with a souvenir passport and date stamp

I have never encountered any problems with this request all around the world, except in Italy, where the clerk refused to cancel my stamp.

In the United States, all 400+ of the National Parks System sites have the ‘passport stamp’ that I add to both my NPS Passport and my travel journal. NPS locations can be found here, including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Everglades, and the White House.

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National Park stamps from the Statue of Liberty in New York

6. Leaves or flowers from a unique place

As a Landscape Architect, I’m always drawn to different plants in foreign countries. Even if you’re not a plant enthusiast, you can always appreciate them. Plants may also beautifully capture a specific event you experienced – a yellow sugar maple leaf from Canada’s Fall visit or sakura petals from the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan.

My sandwich that I ordered at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town came with a branch of fragrant rosemary that I keep in my journal (I told you I was a journal geek)!

I kept a few Cherry blossom petals from the festival I attended in Nikko, Japan, as well as a small cedar branch that defines this UNESCO site.  As a result, my Japanese journal now still smells like an evergreen forest!

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A section of (found) cedar and a few petals from the Cherry Blossom Festival, Nikko, Japan.

Note. You might not want to tell a Customs agent that you have a bunch of plants in your journal. I’ve never had a problem, but, you know…

7. A color of a place

This idea came to me when I was in Fiesole, near Florence . We spilled a jug of Rosso Vino at a wine bar, which partially ruined my journal. And as it dried, a few of my pages turned in a hue of purple. It became a story in itself that captured our experience in Tuscany.

I know that this may be dirty and messy.  But it’s worth doing.

I even like to rub some dirt onto a journal page. I’ve done this in only a handful places – the ‘pink’ sand of Petra, the mud volcano in Colombia, and during my hike up Table Top Mountain in Cape Town. In Cartagena and Valparaiso, which are famous for their colorful houses, I found a few paint flakes on the street that I glued onto my journals.

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My admission ticket (left) and a mud rubbing from Petra (right)
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Cape Town car rental agreement, Table Top Mountain mud rubbing, found vegetation

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My Totumo Mud Entry, with the Totumo Mud smear 🙂

8. Found objects

I don’t do this a lot. A few times though, I found some interesting objects on the road while traveling, and I keep them in my travel journal. In Lucerne, I found a Ukrainian bill on a road and I glued it next to a goose feather. Both added nicely to the experience I wrote about that day in Switzerland.

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From Lucerne: a canceled stamp, a sketch of Löwendenkmal, and a Ukrainian bill and goose feather.

Found objects can come from anywhere – supermarket flyers, free handouts – all interesting items that can add depth to your travel journal.

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A supermarket flyer for the Braai Day in South Africa during my visit to Cape Town.

9. Stickers or interesting food packaging

I like going to local grocery stores to see what they sell that is different from home. Local products typically have great and interesting packing, with label designs that can be worth keeping.

Keep eye-catching stickers or labels from the products that you used or ate. A sticker from an egg carton. Tea bag tags or labels from wine and beer bottles. Those little stickers from fruit or cheese or prepackaged sandwiches could make a good collage in your travel journal.

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Canada collage
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Japan Collage

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South Africa collage

10. A cover made from something that represents your journey

Yes, I even make my own journal covers. These are usually fabric or bag-like objects that I find during my travels that can easily be made into travel journal bags. I’ve used a plastic bag that I received from my Marathon Expo in Germany, even a goodie-bag from a wedding in Portugal. This is especially good for those crafty types who like to sew: an old garment or tourist t-shirt with the city’s name or a grocery bag. The list is endless.

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Travel journals with their own relevant covers.

11. Postcards that you sent yourself (or your dog at home)

I know right? It sounds pathetic that you would send yourself a postcard, but it is actually a very cool keepsake.

For more than twenty years, I’ve sent postcards to my mom in Indonesia. She’s received one from everywhere I’ve traveled. When I visited her a few years ago, I was astonished to see that she kept every single one of them! From that point forward, I always send a postcard from everywhere I go to either our dog, Charlotte (or to Michael, if he’s not with me). I describe a snapshot of my day in that particular place.

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Charlotte is more than happy to receive her postcard from Key Largo, Florida!

Bottom Line

Keeping a handwritten journal your travels is fun! If you don’t do it now, at least give it a try! If old school is not your thing, at least record your thoughts and feelings on the road in some way.  While digital (blogs, Instagram, Facebook) is easy, a physical book adds the details that you often forget when you just reply on Facebook or even a blog.

I know I take my journal to the extreme, and you definitely don’t need to overwhelm yourself with all of these geeky suggestions. A travel journal just has to be a reflection of you – and there’s no right or wrong on how you do it. Make yours unique!

So give it a try! My guess is that you’ll be glad to have all this stuff written down when you’re reflecting on your life later on.

Halef moved from Indonesia to the US nearly two decades ago to go to college here. He hasn't looked back. He's been to over forty countries and doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon. He's a Landscape Architect in Atlanta, GA.

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