I’m coming and going at the same time. In a few days I’ll leave for a long-planned trip to Paris and Barcelona with my dear friend and writing pal Dian and I’m madly making lists, practice packing (I vow only a carry-on this time; only two pair of shoes), and tackling to-dos that must be done before I leave the country. Nightly, I’m rereading old journals, recently rescued from my storage unit, of a seven-month-long journey I took 25 years ago. Living in the past, anticipating the future, and doing my best to stay in the present. Impossible.
For this journey, I purchased three sweet, small blank journals. I figured tripping around with one small one in my bag is much better for my back than the larger ones I’ve used in the past. When I fill one, I’ll just start on the next. Because what I know about me is that when I travel, I write often and a lot in my journals. I’m a daily journal keeper in any case, but on a day-to-day basis try to keep my rambling to three pages and not too much blah blah blah. But a travel journal is so much more than day-to-day, and never blah-blah-blah.
A couple of other journals I discovered in those bins were from journeys taken even longer ago than the 25-year-old trip. In 1977 I spent several weeks in Bali, gathering material for an organization I worked for at the time. A year later I was in Bolivia for the same organization, and that time the journey included a ten-day, very primitive, river trip. What I’ve discovered in re-reading these old journals, is the more thorough I am with details and impressions, the more alive the journals are. When I write about my homesickness or my worries about money or mosquito bites, they become blah blah blah.
“Write the Journey” is a workshop and talk I’ve given in various shapes and formats over the years. In it, I talk about what goes in a travel journal. Here are some of the questions I ask myself and the participants. These questions are good for a daily journal keeper, too:
What interested you? Where were you engaged?
Who did you meet or interact with that held some juice?
What amazed or astonished you?
What made you curious? What did you wonder about?
What made you laugh? What made you sad?
In what way did you feel connected to a larger world and in what way did you feel separate?
And here’s the list of what I suggest should/could be included in a travel journal:
• sketches of people and places
• cultural impressions
• emotional moments
• spiritual moments
• times you were afraid
• times you were comfortable or uncomfortable
• dialogues with people and dialogues overheard
• people you’d like to meet or know better
• daily routines
• sensory details
• names of places
• meals you ate and meals you wish you hadn’t eaten.
There’s much more of course: Questions, explorations, serendipitous moments, and always more sensory and concrete details. Our travel journals not only reflect the people and places along our path; they also mirror our own inner journey. Maps to who we are and who we want to be.
I’ll be posting throughout the journey, both here on my blog and on my Facebook page. I may even tweet a few notes. And maybe we’ll meet in some faraway place and be surprised by the coincidence. Or maybe you’re already there. Either of those would be lovely.