How to Start a Travel Journal as a Solo Traveler

    Frankie Wallace April 22, 2022

    Writing while you travel is a great way to enhance your experience of a place. Writing focuses your mind and sharpens your senses — it’s also a great way to better remember your travel escapades in years to come.

    Solo travel journaling has a long and fruitful history, too. From the musings of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus to the contemporary literary sensation that is Cheryl Strayed, travel writing while alone excites readers’ minds and allows authors to see the world in fresh, invigorating ways.

    But starting a travel journal from a blank page can be intimidating, and you may already have cabinets full of half-finished journals from by-gone years. So, how can you start a travel journal that you’ll stick to? Here’s a quick guide to help

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    Addressing the Blank Page

    The first page of your journal is the hardest. The small, off-white rectangle of paper always seems larger when it’s empty, and the first time your pen touches the pad is sure to create a sense of anxiety or a desire to achieve perfection. These feelings are understandable but ultimately unhelpful. You just need to fill that first blank page, and the momentum will spur you on from there.

    There are plenty of ways to start a travel journal as a solo traveler, but perhaps the best start is to answer a simple question: “Why?”. Why are you traveling solo? What do you wish to get from the experience? What life events have led you to this moment?

    When addressing this simple question, you might suddenly draw a blank or feel silly — but stick with it. There are plenty of great reasons to plan a solo vacation like greater flexibility in your itinerary as you get to focus on your own interests. You might also find that solo traveling boosts your confidence and self-efficacy, as the experience will help you feel more capable in new situations and environments.

    By addressing your “why” on the first page of your journal, you’ll also improve your travel experience and will have a clearer vision of how you want your trip to play out.

     

    Journaling to Improve Your Travels

    A travel journal does more than give you a record for reminiscence in future years — it helps you plan your journey and gives you a better insight into your strengths and weaknesses as a solo traveler. Packing a travel journal can also give you a break from the whirlwind adventures and help you foresee dangers and obstacles in advance.

    For example, if you are a woman driving solo long distances on your travels, you can use your journal to foresee dangers and plan your route. This will ensure that you don’t end up driving through areas with high crime or poor infrastructure. You can also use your journal to take inventory and note down things like the amount of fuel you have left and short records of things like tire pressure or any dashboard warnings that may have appeared.

     

    Low-Stakes Writing Exercises

    In the words of journalist and novel-writer Annie Lammot, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” As a solo writer, it’s easy to put too much pressure on yourself and get caught in a vicious cycle of writer’s block and sudden creative output. While this schedule might work for erratic poets, it doesn’t serve your travel journaling efforts particularly well.

    When travel journaling, consistency is your friend. You need to ignore that little voice in your head that tries to tell you “I’ll remember how it was tomorrow”, as you will invariably lose details to the passage of time and forgetfulness.

    But writing every day doesn’t need to be intimidating, either — you’re writing a personal journal, not your magnum opus for public consumption. So, here are a few free-write prompts that can get the creative juices flowing and help you capture life in new and interesting ways:

     

    • If the place you are traveling in now was a color, what color would it be? Would it be bright or dark? Would it be a certain shade like the purple of a plum or the gray of a mountain range? Why?
    • Choose one person, object, or animal to write about and recollect them in as much detail as possible. Describe everything possible like the contours of their face and the sound of their movements.
    • If you were an animal, what would your current environment look like? Would a bird see the skyscrapers differently? Would a mouse appreciate the mountain ranges in some new or unexpected way?

     

    Writing Tips and Tricks

    Low-stakes writing exercises help you get words on the page. However, if you want to write a record of your travels to be proud of, then you should approach writing as though it were a new skill, and take the time to hone your craft as a travel journal writer.

    You can improve your travel writing abilities by reading as much as possible. Reading is often referred to as a writer’s apprenticeship, and books like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, or David Sedaris’ travel essay “Standing By” serve as wonderful mentors. When reading travel writing, take notes about what’s working and how the author spins their writerly yarn — remember, you can emulate them without shame or embarrassment, as every writer is an amalgamation of what they’ve recently read.

    One thing you may notice is that top-notch writers find ways to engage all five senses. So, perhaps you can still taste your last meal while you write about the hotel you’re staying in. Or maybe you can hear the sound of seagulls while you watch waves breaking on the shoreline — this mixture of details will pull you further into the sensory experience of traveling, and is sure to enhance your travel journal.

     

    Conclusion

    At the end of the day, a travel journal is a highly personal, reflective writing space meant for planning, recording, and remembrances. Starting a journal shouldn’t be too easy, just answer your personal “why?”. From there, try to record your journey in new and interesting ways, as creativity is sure to help you sustain your journaling habit, and may just help you avoid a few challenges while living as a solo traveler.

     

    Frankie WallaceAuthor bio:

    Frankie Wallace is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She writes about a variety of topics and spends her free time gardening. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

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