Why I Don’t Keep A Travel Journal

Memories are imperfect. I like it that way.

When I lived abroad in London from 2001 to 2004, attempting to experience each day as it came, while navigating a new world to me was a challenge. My job had its ups and downs and I was broke compared to my colleagues. This was the result of having started the job directly after full-time doctoral studies. Possessing a young person’s shortsighted view on saving money that would give a financial advisor nightmares did not help.

Regardless, my time in London gave me an opportunity to be a three-year tourist. I also made several trips throughout the other parts of the UK and the Continent. Trips back to America were also common. Throughout this period, it was clear that some documentation of my time was needed. But, it was also the time before smart phones. I honestly did not want to write about everything I did and who was involved. Photography was also a different animal with the need to lug around a separate device called a “camera.” Some of you may have heard of it.

Journals, In General

People are encouraged by experts to keep journals for everything from physical fitness, to cooking, to mental health, and the subject of this post: travel. The line of thinking is something like this: “If you get your thoughts down on paper you will have a better recollection, while also putting life’s events in perspective.” Or, “Writing about feelings will help you unburden your mind.” There are certainly more reasons given, but these two are prevalent.

Believing that memories are best when fluid, my photo collection is smaller than most. Even photos often mask the true feelings and emotions that individuals experience. This is especially true in this day of selfies and social media overload.

Additionally, and this is just me, isn’t it sometimes better to romanticize a memory, let it mature, and use the positive parts of it to influence future endeavors in a positive manner? And from a selfish standpoint, the thought of someone finding a journal of my ACTUAL feelings strikes fear in my heart. Worrying that my children, sibling, spouse, or others might stumble across my most sacred, private thoughts from any given day is a game of Russian Roulette that I am not equipped to play.

My “Travel” Writing

True travel writers are relied upon to make helpful suggestions, document experiences, and give an educated perspective to their readers. That is not my style of writing. Often using the hashtag #storytelling, my approach to words is more like that of a chef preparing a specialty dish. A basic structure is there, but the unique blend of ingredients, spices, and cooking techniques are what set the meal apart.

The truth does not need to be purposefully stretched, but reconstructing one’s past experiences is almost always subjective. This is what makes it so rewarding. One of my favorite books about the accuracy of memoirs is written by the late New York Times columnist, David Carr. It is titled The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own. [You can find it here] If memories of my travels and other topics can become relatable to readers, does it matter if they are 100 percent accurate?

Writing about travel, food, or whatever strikes my fancy has been incredibly satisfying. Those who know me are surprised how accurate the recollections are and have only rarely contacted me to point out slight errors, which are immediately corrected.

Other Opinions On Travel Journals

When I started writing this piece, I posted a short, unscientific poll of my fellow writers on Twitter. The question was whether they kept a travel journal and they were also asked to comment, if they were so inclined. The answers were almost equally divided between “Yes”, “No”, and “Sometimes,” with a slightly higher number of “Yes” replies. The comments were mixed and there was a consensus that people liked to record their travels in some way, but not necessarily a journal.

Across the Pond| Travel Blog (@pint_pound_pate) wrote: “Not a journal, per se, but we keep a running list of all the places we went, pubs we drank in, etc., so we can remember all the specific names after the trip is over!” Pints Pounds and Paté

Christine|The Uncorked Librarian (@TheUncorkedLib) wrote: “I have a little notebook that I use to record quick notes.” The Uncorked Librarian

CarpediemEire (@carpediemeire) wrote: “I bought a journal and ended up writing nothing in it. But I make notes in my notes app on my phone, for little things that I may not remember. And I take photos of information everywhere.” CarpediemEire

Green Mochila (@GreenMochila) concurred: “Exactly the same (except we didn’t bother buying the journal in the 1st place). Our blog also acts as some kind of travel journal.” Green Mochila

Elisa Perry (@thewannabegypsy) wrote: “I buy postcards from everywhere we travel. We’re going to eventually frame them and hang them on our travel wall” The Wannabe Gypsy

I Lied…

So, I DID once keep a travel journal for a short time during my time in London. Distinctly remembering self-editing my words, the journal has gathered dust since. The cover photo for this post is the actual journal, and I am about to open it for the first time in nearly ten years. Each of the two short journal samples below are followed by a short self-analysis about similarities and differences from my current memories.

Journal Versus Reality

First of all, it turns out my travel journal includes more visits from my American friends and family than I remember writing about. One friend’s visit I only vaguely remember happening. Here are two journal entries from my London days.

Journal Example 1:

From Dad’s Visit (17 Aug-23 Aug, 2002): “We had a great week and visited all of the popular London tourist stuff. I will try to list them: [very long list]…We also had a nice day trip to Cambridge. A beautiful place! We asked around, went to the Fitzwilliam Museum, and avoided the temptation of “Punting on the Cam,” much to the dismay of the vendors! The colleges are beautiful and the town was very quaint. We liked it…”

How I remember it: My Dad experiences major short term-memory loss due to a brain injury in the 1980’s. He repeated himself each day and did not remember even the smallest part of our daily walks to the Tube. He did, however, continuously repeat a bit of Cockney rhyming slang that was offensive when spoken at the volume he used. I had to remind him numerous times not to misuse the phrase. Additionally, he had trouble walking because he had not heeded my warnings to take some long strolls before journeying from Syracuse New York—a driving city—to London. Regardless, I was happy that he visited. And, we did see a lot of London.

Journal Example 2:

From: March 2002 Last Week—Spring Break!!: Rested, rested, rested! …Beautiful weather…Thursday (My B’Day)—went to Victoria and Albert Museum and Natural History Museum with Bronwyn…Proceeded alone to Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, Harrod’s, and Covent Garden…A short pilgrimage to Bar Soho…Dinner at Magdala—yum! Friday—Finally explored the Heath. It’s beautiful. Kenwood House is gorgeous. Many wooded areas and ponds.

How I Remember It: I felt quite alone during that Holiday week and tried to make the best of it. Most of my colleagues had journeyed to other places in Europe and beyond. The weather was indeed nice, but I really wished I had the money and the opportunity to go away. I missed friends from home and distinctly remember being sad on my birthday, but trying to put it to the back of my mind as much as possible.

Are Travel Journals Accurate?

Skimming through the rest of the journal, there are three entries that are accurate not only to the facts, but also to my state of mind. Not coincidentally, and in keeping with my point, those entries were truly good travel adventures where there was no need to self-edit my own journal entry in order to glamorize. It is also extremely telling that some of my most remarkably powerful memories are completely left out of the tiny travel tabloid.

Since skimming through this journal, it reinforces my belief that memories are not as consistent or even factual as we think they are. We can self-edit in writing just as much as we do when we refer to our memories verbally.

For someone looking to keep a fact-based, step-by-step account of their travels, keeping a journal makes a heck of a lot of sense. However, it is my contention that while recounting travel, food, relationships, or even life’s trials and tribulations, memories evolve as the person evolves…and that is something to cherish.

~Kevin

In My Unexpected Life, I share stories, thoughts, and simple ideas to entertain and maybe even inspire others to engage with new food, travel, and more…no matter how big or small those experiences may be.

Even if my writings do not produce the desired result—please enjoy the blog!

18 comments

  1. I love this post!! What a fun way to show how we not only perceive something but also store it. I’m so honored to be included in this article! Great job!

    1. I was truly surprised by some of those journal entries after all of these years. I didn’t mention it in the post, but it can also make you harken back to ways of thinking that you have grown beyond.

  2. Really interesting to see examles of journal entry vs memory, thank you for sharing those! I’ve never kept a travel journal, but I have sometimes experimented with journalling my day-to-day life. It can be enormous fun to look back and see what small details I decided were worth recording on any given day, especially in the few journal entries I recorded as a teenager. I’ve not done a lot of travelling, particularly since moving away from home, but I have a very exciting trip coming up in the form of my honeymoon – shall have to think about whether I want to try to journal it or not!

  3. Love this! Very interesting perspective. Honestly I hadn’t thought of things this way. I do – sporadically – keep a journal and think I need to go back and re-read it. And yes I know about toting a camera around – still do! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Such a great post! More than a post about journals, it’s a reflection on memories & passing time -a topic that particularly touches me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Kevin!

  5. I always tend to just record the facts in my journals, so that I can refer back to them for my scrapbooking pages and travel blog posts. Oftentimes my feelings on the day are not related to the future enjoyment someone else can experience with the same activity, so I tend to leave them out – unless I think someone will get a laugh out of reading about it!

  6. What an interesting post, Kevin. It makes me think of how often a travel journal more accurately represents how we “tried” or wanted to feel at the time, rather than how we actually experienced it. I could relate to the attempt to cheer-up a lonely birthday wandering around London and the radical reframing of a tricky visit from someone you ultimately love. Perhaps your re-tellings of those entries shows how much we advance in our capacity to recognise and engage directly with our true feelings as we get that bit older and more experienced. I think so, and I hope so. Thank you for the thoughts.

    1. When I kept a hand-written journal, nobody was keeping anything electronic. Now some people do both. I tend to write my blogs from memory and post on social media in more immediate form or accompanied with photos.

  7. I loved your take on journaling in general. I too, hesitate to truly journal my thoughts and feelings for the reasons you mentioned…”Worrying that my children, sibling, spouse, or others might stumble across my most sacred, private thoughts from any given day is a game of Russian Roulette that I am not equipped to play”

    I do like to keep kind of a running log of events that occurred, places, I’ve visited. More of a historyical account. Though honestly, I don’t do it often.

    I tend to prefer to take photos as they really help to jog my memory.

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