Introduction: Using a Travel Journal
Journaling is a wonderful way to document and reflect on a trip as it happens. I usually keep a journal when traveling for long periods, but on my recent trip to Europe I was able to use a few new methods. I'll share what I brought in my mini art supply kit, how I incorporated photos, what kind of journal I used along with the types of paper, and a few other tips and tricks to help you document your next trip.
Step 1: Journal
Why this type.
I initially made a journal specifically for the trip that was full of different types of paper and pages removed to allow space for me to glue stuff in. After using a journal with half binder and half book at home for about a month prior to the trip, I ultimately decided to bring an empty book with just a binder. This way, nearly every part of the journal would be from the trip.
I'll outline how I made it and how to use it in the next two steps.
Step 2: Making a Binder Journal
I bought a 2-ring binder from the scrapbooking section at my local craft store. I found a book that felt like a good size and would accommodate the binder. After cutting the pages out with an x-acto, I could have just drilled a couple holes in the spine to rivet the binder in. However, I decided to wrap a piece of bookboard in matching paper from some of the cut out pages and mount the binder to that before glueing it to the spine. This way, the rivets wouldn't show on the outside of the spine.
Step 3: Using a Binder Journal
The binder format allows you to add any type of paper and most items into your journal with ease. It's also easier to work on pages because you can take them out and work on them while on a flat surface. Traditional journals can be difficult with their tight bindings. Simply create a cardstock template that you can use to guide punching holes in each new item. You also need to make sure that your mini hole punch has a clear bottom to allow you to see where you're punching your holes. I kept a small envelope for all the dots produced by punching holes in the front of the journal to avoid looking for a trash can every time I got my journal out.
To create a hole punch template, mark the placement of the binder rings on a piece of cardstock, postcard, or other piece of paper.
Punch holes on the marks you made. I've removed the bottom of my hole punch to more clearly photograph this step, but my punch actually has a transparent cover that allows me to see the placement of the holes as they are punched and still capture the paper pieces. This is most ideal and should be considered when purchasing a mini hole punch.
Lay the template onto each additional piece of paper or object you wish to add to your journal in order to easily punch holes in the correct location.
When your punch becomes full, empty the dots into an envelope that's been added to your journal.
Step 4: Paper
Various types of paper are useful. I acquired most of mine on the go, but you may want to save yourself some time and money and put a bit of each type in your book before you go. Don't fill it up though. You'll need lots of space for other items.
I printed some city maps for cities I knew we would be in before leaving. I was able to use them when the hotel maps were too bulky or hard to read. It was also fun to mark where we visited throughout our time there. I also made an envelope with a plastic bag for a map of dublin that I liked.
I meant to add a few sheets of paper to get me started before we left for the airport, but it was the one thing I forgot. When we got through security with 2 hours till our flight, I got desperate for some paper. All I could find was a legal pad at a magazine shop, so I spent a bit of time tearing it down to size and punching holes in it. This notebook paper was nice when I wanted to write, but I was in need of some white paper for more attractive drawings.
I kept my eyes open for some different paper options and within a day or two of arriving in Dublin, I found a shop that sold art supplies. They had some small stacks of multicolored scrapbooking paper. This was great for photos and drawings and added personality to whatever images I put on them.
After being on the road for a while, I started to collect various items I could draw/write on like paper bags and flyers. These were my favorite things to work with because they represented an experience in and of themselves. I was enhancing them by adding drawings or writing.
I didn't use my watercolor much for the first few days, but was saddened when I finally had the chance and the scrapbooking paper didn't absorb the paint well. It was very splotchy and wouldn't blend. Later, I was happy to find another art supply store that had watercolor postcards. These were excellent for painting and I could even mail them back home to friends! To avoid punching holes in the whole pad, I used my duct tape to attach strips of cardstock from a spare Zink card (see Add a Photo step) to the back of the pad and punched holes in that.
Step 5: Mini Art Supply Kit
I gathered various items for my kit and used them with a journal I keep at home for about a month before the trip. This helped me determine what I didn't need and what needed to be added. In the end, this is what was in my kit:
- mini duct and washi tape rolls (I recommend only one duct tape. It was sticky and bulky)
- various pens and markers
- pencil, I forgot one and ended up buying one at a museum we visited
- white out
- mini crayons
- crayon stubs, I bought these on the road as well with the intention of doing some rubbings. Sadly I didn't get the chance
- washi tape sticker sheets
- glue stick, I usually would recommend Crayola glue sticks, but they dry out after long periods of not being used. This Sargent brand glue stick has been in my kit for at least a year without being used and still goes on nice and smooth and sticky.
- pencil sharpener
- scissors, If you're flying, be sure they're under 4" in order to carry them on. I brought two pairs. I like my crane scissors for their precise tip, but was more confident about being able to carry on the collapsable ones. In the end, neither seemed to be an issue with security.
- mini hole punch with clear bottom
- mini watercolor kit
- travel watercolor brush
- Zink smartsheet for LG printer paper (See Add a Photo step)
Step 6: Mini Watercolors
I made this kit with a mint box and some InstaMorph plastic. I don't have progress shots of it, but if you've ever used the stuff or want to play around with it for a little while, you'll be able to pull it off with these basic instructions. I've also made an instructable on how to make a similar one in an Altoids tin that has a built in palette.
- Coat the bottom and sides with a very thin layer of InstaMorph
- Cut strips to form the center walls. Connect them by pouring a small amount of hot water into the tin to re-melt the plastic already coating the inside of the tin.
- Let cool or place in the freezer for a few minutes.
- Spread a very thin piece of plastic on a flat surface, re-melt it and press it onto the top of the section of the tin where your paint will go. Trim off the edges. This is your seal that will keep most of the wet paint from leaking out or mixing with other colors when you put the tin away.
- Fold a paper towel and trim to fit in the lid.
- Add your paint and let dry.
- Rubberband it shut. The plastic on the inside of the hinge prevented my lid from snapping shut completely but was necessary to make it watertight.
Step 7: Add a Photo
The LG Pocket Photo is a bluetooth thermal printer that lets you print from your phone or tablet onto 2"x3" inkless paper. With this printer, I was able to print the best pictures of the day and add them to my journal as we went. Other than my husband, this thing was my best friend on the trip. It's so much fun to use. I have chosen to trick mine into using Polaroid PoGo* paper because it's exactly the same as the LG but it has a peel and stick backing. If you're taking one of these on your trip, I highly recommend keeping a portable charger around to make sure you have enough power on both your phone and printer when you need it.
The LG Pocket Photo app allows you to print to your Pocket Photo printer and format your images with text, QR codes, emojis, frames, filters, and collages. These different features give you plenty of options for your travel journal.
* There are several types of bluetooth thermal printers on the market. The most prominent are the Polaroid PoGo and the LG Pocket Photo. I have a PoGo from many years ago that I am quite fond of. However, it doesn't travel well because of it's large brick charger. I think they've eliminated it in the more recent models, but I decided to try the LG Pocket Photo. The main difference is that the LG model requires you to print from their free app and the PoGo prints directly from your photo gallery. The LG app is pretty cool as it allows you to collage multiple images and add frames and text. The PoGo paper is better than the LG because it has the peel and stick backing.
Step 8: Using the LG Pocket Photo
Using the app: The app is quite easy to use and doesn't require much explanation, but here's a few suggestions to keep in mind.
The QR code and date stamp that you see when first importing a photo into the app will not show up on the printed image unless you click on them and add info.
The QR code might seem a bit useless in a travel journal, but it can be used to add additional information that you may not have room for, may not be attractive, or may not be possible in a physical book. You could add the museum website to a pic of you enjoying some beautiful artworks, or add a Dr Who youtube video to a pic of your visit to the Dr Who Experience in Wales, perhaps even the email address of a new friend you met at a hostel in Boyle.
The app lets you easily add the date, and while it may not always be very attractive, it's necessary to date your pages in a journal that can have the pages moved around so easily. You can of course date the page with a pen, but sometimes adding the date to an image is more convenient.
You don't have to always use the app's tools. If you have another fun image editor on your phone, you can use it as well. Simply use your other app and save the finished images to your camera. They can then be imported into the Pocket Photo app and printed without changes.
Tricking your LG to print on PoGo paper (or presumably vice versa): The printer uses a barcode on a piece of blue cardstock in each pack of paper to tell whether you've inserted LG or Polaroid paper. They are both made by Zink and are the same (except the sticker back). All you need to do to use the Polaroid paper in the LG is use the blue card from the pack of LG paper you will most likely get with the printer instead of the blue card in the Polaroid packs. Once it is scanned, you can just add more paper without adding the blue card. The blue card also cleans the machine, so if your pictures are coming out streaky or strangely colored, just re-insert the blue card from the LG pack to clean it.
Cleaning your printer: When images come out streaky or discolored, your printer needs to be cleaned. To clean the printer, pull out the blue cardstock zinc barcode paper and place it face down below the paper in the printer. The next time you print, it will spit out this paper before printing your photo and you should see an improvement in the picture quality. You can see an example of pre and post cleaning images above.
Step 9: Tips and Tricks: Collage Photos Before Printing
Collage four photos together to save paper and describe four different parts of one activity or cut the four photos apart for really tiny pictures.
On one page, I described four different aspects of our trip to Boyle, Ireland. On a flyer for Dublin Summer Markets, I added tiny pictures of our experiences at those markets.
Step 10: Tips and Tricks: Use Prompts
Sometimes you're just at a loss for an idea. I had a book of postcards by Keri Smith called "Everything is Connected" that I used for some prompts. Before I left, I tore out a few that would work well while traveling. I didn't use them all, but many of them were very fun. My favorite was the smudge log. I didn't fill it up while traveling, so I'll be adding it to my home journal for finishing.
Step 11: Tips and Tricks: Add Items
My husband found a beautiful raven feather. The ravens in Ireland were unlike any birds we see in Texas. After picking up the feather, he cut the end to make a quill pen. I used my watercolor set like ink and stored the pen in a clear plastic sleeve.
Don't forget that flyers, tickets, and other items can be a great representation of what you did on your trip. Some of these items can be punched and added like any piece of paper. However, some are too small or made of un-punchable materials. When I bought the binder at the art supply store, I also found some sleeves. These sleeves allowed me to put items into the book that were un-punchable as well as put items in quickly. Sometimes they were just a holding space for items I wasn't sure what to do with yet. I would pull them out later for gluing or annotating.
I also created a few sleeves with plastic and paper bags I acquired along the way, so that's an option if you don't have access to these pre-made sleeves.
Step 12: Tips and Tricks: Record Where You Bought Items
I like to buy "normal" items on my travels. These non-touristy items are more usable on a daily basis when returning home and are a more constant reminder of my travels. However, it can lead to forgetting where they came from.
There were lots of charity shops in Ireland and I love a good thrift store. This lead to me buying several items of clothing. I decided to record the items and where I got them so I wouldn't forget.
Step 13: Tips and Tricks: Always Bring It With You
I did my best to keep my journal on me at all times. You never know when you may have a few minutes to jot down some thoughts or paint the scenery.
One of my favorite pages was made while listening to a wonderful trad session at the Crane Bar in Galway, Ireland. I highly recommend it if you're ever in the area.
Step 14: Share
Once your journal is complete, it makes a great way to share your travels with friends. If you've entered a few personal thoughts that you don't want to share, they are easily removed for share time and re-inserted after.
I used to have bags and boxes of small items from my various travels. They got tossed in more boxes and stuffed away to only be seen when moving or cleaning. By journaling in this way, you don't have the chore of scrapbooking them all together when you get home. Just set it on a shelf to reminisce and reflect whenever the mood strikes.