What’s wrong with this?
“We got up and had breakfast. I had cereal with a coffee but Mark went off piste and had tea instead! I fed the dogs then we went for a walk. It was beautiful! We had sandwiches for lunch, went shopping then had dinner overlooking the beach. The sunset was beautiful. We love it here!!!!”
If you think it’s fine, you don’t need this blog.
If it makes you ask the following questions, read on;
- Is it interesting?
- What does it tell you about the place?
- Will you want to read it in a few years?
- Will it bring back vibrant memories about what you did, what you were feeling or what you saw?
- Has it focused on the right things?
Here are ten tips on how to give your travel journal a bit more pizzazz;
Don’t Forget to Make a Note of Your Location & Who You Were With
I know. Obvious isn’t it.
Except that I have forgotten this loads of times and found myself trawling through Facebook, or the ACSI campsite website, looking to see if we left a review to try and work out where we stayed!
And where was that ‘must see’ place that Fred Fernackerpan recommended?
You need to write all that down.
Be Selective – Choose A Few Highlights Each Day
Just because it happened, you don’t need to include it. The example journal entry that I gave is not very interesting because it is written about mundane things. I once read a blog that began with the author brushing her teeth. I didn’t want to read it and I am sure that in her frail dotage, the author would probably not want to read it either, never mind regale her grandchildren with fascinating tales of her dental hygiene routine abroad.
Once, in Nepal, I stupidly ordered a Tibetan breakfast. It consisted of a variety of inedible items made from rancid yak’s butter, accompanied by a bowl of salted tea. The tea had a slick of rancid yak butter floating on the top. I am not an advocate of including breakfast, however, a breakfast like that would make the journal cut!
A blow by blow account of your day is not necessary. Otherwise, what you will be writing is “Today, I sat down and wrote my journal all day…”
Pick on one or two interesting highlights to record. Here are some ideas to help you spot journal-worthy snippets. Was it;
- Who did you meet? People and conversations are often fascinating
- Quote of the day
- What went right or wrong?
Being selective will make your journal more interesting. It will give you more time to do what you’re there to do; enjoy your travel experience – AND it will help you to keep up-to-date with your journal entries.
Be Descriptive – Write With Five Senses
In the piece at the start, I described both the walk and the sunset as ‘beautiful’ and added a couple of exclamation marks. What sort of image does that conjure up in your mind?
Did you say “Nothing at all”?!
You need to get creative with your descriptions. Why were the walk and the sunset beautiful? Think with your five senses here;
- What did you see – strange colours, views, birds, other people, mountains, waterfalls, reflections, herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plains, something else?
- What did you hear – your favourite song, birds, the wind, a brass band, an inane comment, water, a fairground, aeroplanes, silence, something else?
- What did you touch / feel – sun on your skin, cold water, dragon scales, a warm puppy, did you run your fingers through a field of barley, a child’s hair, something else?
- What did you smell – fresh grass, pine trees, a fish market, boiled sweets, farmyards, flowers, the sewage works, your auntie’s perfume, the disinfectant that takes you straight back to your school days, something else?
- What did you taste – ice cream, a lovely coffee, the worst beer in the world, foie gras, adventure…
Every Creative Writing course worth its salt will tell you to include all five senses. I hope that it is obvious that adding this kind of colour to your descriptions will make them much more interesting and evocative. What if I had written;
“Breakfast was awful. Continental cereals are best described as over-sweetened, flaked cardboard. And that taste that you have in your mouth when you wake up – they’ve made it into coffee. We had brought our own tea bags. Sensibly, Mark didn’t go off piste.”
Have a go at describing your next sunset, meal in a restaurant or something else using as many of the senses as you can and see what happens.
Be Honest – Tell It As It Is
You’re on holiday. You’re writing a travel journal. Who’s it for?
- Hint – it’s for you!
It is your account of your travels and probably the only people who will see it are you and possibly trusted members of your family. So be honest. Record warts and all. Write down your innermost feelings. Make a note of the bad as well as the good – the things that don’t quite go to plan often make the most interesting stories.
We had a wonderful honeymoon in Costa Rica, but the story we tell most often is Honeymoon II – The Sequel about our uncomfortable and scary sojourn on ‘Mosquito Beach’. Further examples of things not going quite to plan can be found in ‘When Caravanning Goes Bad!‘
You might be Bill Bryson but you’re not Bill Bryson writing his next bestseller, so don’t get hung up on grammar, punctuation or form. You’re writing a first-hand account of your travels as they unfold. Just get it written down quickly, while it’s fresh in your mind. I even carry a notebook or make notes on my phone so that I can record interesting snippets as they happen, before I forget them.
Speed writing is another tip from the Creative Writing world. Just sit down and spend 10 minutes writing whatever comes into your head without worrying about what or how it is written. Don’t stop. Don’t think. Just write.
Here are some tips and inspiration;
- Pledge to spend 10 minutes every day on your journal.
- Just sit and write whatever comes into your head.
- Imagine that you’re sending a postcard to yourself every day.
- Pick out a photo of your day and write about that.
- Describe a person or conversation that you had.
- A funny thing that your child did or said – or their reaction to something?
If you’re selective about which events you record, ten minutes should be enough. Spend more time if you like, but;
Don’t Let Your Journal Get In The Way Your Trip
- The trip is why you’re here. Whatever you do, don’t let your journal interfere or become such a chore that you don’t even bother to fill it in!
Don’t Edit Too Much
Editing comes later. Much later. And only if you want to embellish, publish or share your writing.
When speed writing, don’t allow your ‘Inner Editor’ to take over. I.E. will get in the way of your flow of ideas and start nagging you about your punctuation or choice of words. I.E. might even start feeding you horrible untruths like “You can’t write!” and “You’ll never be Bill Bryson!” You must tell I.E. to get lost. You’re busy. You have a journal to write.
If you want further help to get rid of your Inner Editor, Dave Fox has the best tip ever in his excellent book; ‘Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!)’
I can’t tell you what it is. That would be a ‘spoiler’. In any case, you should definitely read Dave’s book, not least for the beautiful examples of travel journaling that will have your I.E. saying “You can’t write like Dave Fox!” Which makes it even more essential to banish I.E. for good!
Record Your Thoughts
Travel frequently takes you out of your comfort zone. You might try a new experience on holiday, or visit a different country with an unfamiliar language and culture. This will add interest and depth to your journals – and will be fun to look back on, since it is a snapshot in time of your mind.
- What were you thinking?
- How did you feel?
- What were you afraid of?
- What surprised you?
- What challenges did you overcome?
- Anything else?
Write Before & After as Well As During Your Trip
- Why did you want to go there?
- How did you plan your trip?
- What do you imagine it will be like?
- What do you want to do or see?
- What is your itinerary?
- On your trip
- Write daily, when things are fresh in your mind.
- Read this blog for tips and inspiration on what to record!
- Was it how you imagined?
- Did it live up to expectations?
- What did you learn?
- What surprised or disappointed you?
- What would you change?
- Where next?!
Personalise Your Journal
It’s your journal. You can do it how you want. I find that adding mementos adds colour, interest or a memory jog. Things like;
- Doodles / Maps
- Business cards from people, hotels, restaurants etc
- Brass Rubbings – or rubbings of shells, leaves etc
- Wine / Beer Bottle Labels
- Anything else – it’s all part of the memory.
Take a Pritt stick or some Sellotape and glue them all in!
I hope that this gives you some inspiration to get started. Really, the only limits are your own creativity. You don’t even need to be chronological; what about grouping your entries in terms of historic sights, seafood restaurants, train rides, windsurfing sessions…
And don’t forget to get the kids journaling too.
It teaches them all kinds of skills; writing, observation, articulation – and in future, they will thank you for it!
Links & Inspiration to Take Your Journaling Further
- Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!) – by Dave Fox. Seems to contain the content of one of his courses.
- Globejotting – Dave Fox’s website, with links to travel writing courses.
- How to Be a Travel Writer – Lonely Planet – a how-to guide.
- 11 Ways to Improve Your Travel Writing – further tips from Nomadic Matt.
- Travel Writing Tips from the Guardian
- The Top 10 Travel Writing Courses
- Check out your local Council Adult Education, U3A (University of the Third Age) or The Open University for Creative Writing courses.
Click on this link if you missed my last post 5 Reasons Why You Should Keep A Travel Journal
My travel journals have now been immortalised in print. Click on this link; Adventure Caravanning with Dogs to browse my books on Amazon.
My friend Carol has created a range of gorgeous Camping, Caravan and Motorhome Journals, which will definitely inspire you to put pen to paper. They make wonderful gifts and, being so colourful, are fab for kids. Please see Leisure Logs Journals. (I am recommending these because I think that they are great. I receive no financial or other incentives. www.leisurelogsjournals.co.uk)
Next time, I will look at some more lovely journals and other media to get you scribbling! If you follow my blog (click ‘Follow’ or enter your email address) and my posts will appear automatically in your inbox.