A major part of my travels and life abroad has been my travel journals. To understand why it is so important, some back story is needed.
In June 2009, my boss at the Birkenstock store in Springdale came in frantic after his drive up from Las Vegas earlier that day. He had run over a snake in Virgin, about 15 minutes down the road from Springdale. He asked if I would come with him to find said now very deceased snake in exchange for a dinner at Oscar’s, my favorite restaurant in Springdale. It took no convincing on Charlie’s part to get me to go. Dinner at Oscar’s? Guacamole at Oscar’s? Of course! We drove the entire town of Virgin twice and never found this mystery snake, but we did get to see a fire someone started at the side of the road. Nice! A fire during the summer in the desert next to dry brush. That doesn’t have bad written all over it or anything. On our drive back to Springdale Charlie said to me, “Charlotte…I see you writing.” Huh. Nothing like that had ever been said to me before. The next day I see a posting at Info Central in Springdale aka the Post Office about a class on travel journal writing. I was in, and since that time travel journal writing has become my writing outlet. I write daily, and when I don’t something is missing from my day.
The class turned out to be a book reading by Lavinia Spaulding, the author of Writing Away: A Creative Guide to Awakening the Journal-Writing Traveler. I bought the book and begin reading it, and I took to heart a comment she made to me while we were chatting. She said to start keeping the journal before I leave, to record what happens leading up to the departure. At that point in time I still had not decided where I was going to spend my winter abroad. I had barely finished my MBA, and as my graduation present to myself I was going abroad for a couple of months. I was thinking of Australia, India, and Israel, where I eventually went. Because I had 6 months before I actually left, it is interesting to look back at how I felt and what I did in order to get ready to go. It is also interesting for me to read about the 3.5 weeks I had to prepare for my overseas move to Georgia.
As I read Spaulding’s book I learned a lot about what can truly be categorized as an art form; mine surely have become that for me. Travel journal writing represents you, and can go in any direction. Once I returned from Israel, I kept writing in this format. Now my travel journals include things like to do lists, my calendar, cards, magazine clippings, receipts, movie tickets, brochures, etc. anything associated to something significant. It even included the card I was given by NPS in Zion during a routine DUI check over 4th of July weekend last year. The ranger asked if I had been drinking, and my response was, “Yes…water.” I had to be truthful right?
My journal comes with me all the time and people often comment on my “scrapbook.” I quickly correct them, and let them know that it is NOT a scrapbook, despite the colors, papers, stickers, memorabilia, etc. inside it. After almost 11 years in Utah, the scrapbooking crowd is not one I want to get mixed up in, however, I will admit that sometimes I do buy scrapbooking supplies for the travel journal because they are acid free. But in no way is my travel journal a scrapbook.
After almost 2 years of travel journal writing, here are some things I’ve learned about it.
· It might become your most treasured souvenir. It truly represents you and the experience you had. When I came back from Israel, the TJs came on my carry on; they were too important to trust to checked luggage, no matter how good Air Canada is. This is going to be difficult when I return from Georgia, as I just started my 5th journal and I still have 3 months to go. That is going to be very heavy.
· Work on it daily. Before I would gather things to include in my journal about a trip and think I would deal with it later. I never did. Doing it in small manageable sections helps keep things in order and your memory of the events fresh. Working on it daily, it has the potential to become a meditative practice of sorts. In Israel, I thoroughly enjoyed and looked forward to my time I would spend at the Basilica of Annunciation garden in Nazareth every day. However, in Georgia I have not been as diligent as I would like to be. Despite my desire to work on it daily there are two major gaps since June 2009: Jerusalem in 2010 and being back in the United States over Christmas of 2010.
· Find a format that works for you. For me, I like the sturdy sketch pads with a soft, blank paper, hard black cover, and a wire binding. They are perfect for adding bits of memorabilia. I also like to use a variety of colored pens, and I only write on one side of the paper, leaving the other side blank to attach things to.
· Get others involved. I’ve not done this the best, but get others to write in your journal. My old host brother, Patara Jaba, LOVED the travel journal, especially putting stickers in it. I have a whole page of nothing but snowmen now sitting on clouds, which Jaba believed to be snow. Creative.
· Be creative. Simple but true. Add anything to make it your own. Even the mundane can be interesting. For example, I saved every bus ticket in Israel. They were in Hebrew after all. In Georgia, I save a lot of receipts and try to use my rudimentary Georgian to decipher what it is I bought. Some other things I’ve included are:
o Post cards
o Ticket stubs
o Business cards
o Boarding passes
· Remember you do have something to say, whether good or bad. Abroad what can be considered mundane in the US or wherever home may be could be an exciting adventure abroad, so write about it. For me grocery shopping abroad is a great experience; you never know what you may find. But in the US, I try to do it as little as possible. Moreover, my early journals in Georgia are filled with pages of how much I was struggling and questioning my decision to come. Now I have the capability to look back at that time with a lot more knowledge and perspective with the ability to learn from it. Travel isn’t always happy and rosy, so there is no need to hide the truth. Tell it like it is. When I was in Israel, I think I made things out to be better than they were. My fear of riding buses, sitting next to military personal, border crossings, bag checks, etc., was significantly downplayed.