November 30, 2006
The art of keeping a travel journal
(Page 2 - Previous Page)RP: These days, traditional hand-written journals seem to be going the way of blogs. With today's convenient technology, why use a pen and a notebook?
LS: Technology has transformed the way we document travel -- it's now possible to share an adventure in Bangkok with a friend in Baton Rouge at the precise moment it's occurring. However you look at this it's astounding. For travelers who wish to communicate their experiences and knowledge, there's no better way than with a blog and a camera.
Still, neither can substitute for a tattered old journal. A blog serves a wider purpose. It's essentially published, which means that [in most cases, anyway] it's been proofread and censored for public consumption. Thus, in terms of the actual writing, a private diary entry can be authentic and vulnerable on a level that something broadcast on the Internet can almost never be.
The other important distinction between a journal and a blog is the keepsake factor -- journals get hidden away in drawers; years or generations later they're dusted off and enjoyed for the tactile sensation only an old, beloved book can deliver. Consider this: which will descendants and museums show more interest in, your scribbled, rambling pages with the misspellings, doodles, and coffee-cup rings or your perfectly written blog? Think Indiana Jones unearthing his father's roughed-up diary that held the clues to the location of the Grail. That scene would have been different if it were Dad's blog.
That said, I don't think journals and blogs are mutually exclusive. In a way, it's the perfect combination: keep a journal for private memories and discoveries, take copious photos so you'll never forget the beautiful and bizarre, and use your blog as a tool to entertain and inform.
RP: For anyone who's tried to keep a travel journal, the most difficult element is often the discipline to keep writing in it every day. How do you maintain your enthusiasm so as not to abandon your journal midway through the trip?
LS: This is probably the hardest part. The textbook advice would be stick to a schedule -- write at the same time every morning over coffee or at night before going to sleep. This works for a lot of people. It's never worked for me; I'm undisciplined, and my trips are too unstructured. My life, too.
I've found a better approach is to treat the relationship I have with my journal as I would an intimate relationship. In the beginning, I nurture and romance it, and then when it becomes stale, I shake things up and get a little wild. If you've been writing only lengthy, descriptive entries and are starting to bore yourself, try for one day writing nothing but haikus [three lines: five-seven-five syllables, in case you've forgotten]. Or country songs and limericks.
I also rely heavily on lists. A running top 10 of unbelievable meals, weird sights, funny quotes and badly translated English signs will keep you returning to your notebook even when you're not in the mood to write. If your journal leans toward the artistic, the same goes: take a break from sketching scenes for a while to draw lighthearted cartoons, or make a lovely collage of stamps, sugar packets, money, paper chopstick sleeves and your police report. The important thing is to keep it exciting so you don't risk blowing your chance for a beautiful relationship.
Rolf Potts is the author of "Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel" (Villard, 2002).
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