Why I Bring a Journal on Every Vacation, and You Should Too

My husband and I once got lost on the streets of Sicily. Without GPS or internet access, we were left to our own devices. The sun had set, the streets were dark and desolate, and my natural sense of direction, well, it doesn't exist. You'd think I'd be scared, lost in the dark, but I wasn't. The hunger groaning in my stomach invaded my mind, eliminating the rational fear any disoriented American lost in a foreign city should feel. Eventually we stumbled into a restaurant and claimed seats at a table. We ordered a bottle of wine and enough food to feed an army. As I looked around the fairly casual restaurant, I noticed men dressed in three-piece suits, sitting confidently and distinctively at designated tables. Other men would come and go at their beck and call, while the portly gentlemen received treatment comparable to what I imagine JAY-Z and Beyoncé receive when dining at a trendy restaurant in New York City.

As our wine arrived and we clinked glasses, I noticed a head-honcho chuckle and look at us like the innocents we were, young and in love, and completely unaware of the world we walked into. As we began to devour our food, it hit me. These guys weren't just important businessmen enjoying an after-work meal. I wasn't sure who they were, but they were definitely a big deal. Everyone knows to eat where the locals eat, and as I drooled over every course we received, I knew we were at the right spot. I spent 12 days in Italy, and not a single meal was remotely comparable to the one I experienced that night. So, the big question is, where was I? The answer? I have no idea. I was in Palermo, Sicily. That's all I know.

That restaurant located on a random street in Palermo is nothing more than a memory now, but it didn't have to be. Had I kept notes on my travels and adventures, I'd easily be able to recall the restaurant's name and location and recommend it to others traveling to the capital city. After returning from Italy and recounting this story to friends and family, I realized it was time to start keeping a travel journal.

I tend to keep a lot of journals, each dedicated to different topics. My travel journal is bound in orange leather, and ironically enough, was a gift from my parents' own trip to Italy. My journal is now almost completely full, but documents everything including my honeymoon in Thailand, my one-year anniversary in the Dominican Republic, and a family vacation in Israel, to name a few. Not sure where to shop in Chiang Mai? I've got you. Looking for incredible food in Tel Aviv? Look no further. Trying to navigate the South of France? I have it all.

Sure, chronicling your travels while on vacation takes a bit of time and patience, but it is ultimately worth it. You don't need to be journaling in the middle of the afternoon, or while you're standing 10 feet from the Eiffel Tower. I typically write sometime between my evening shower and dinner, or right before bed, not interfering with my daily adventures. While traveling through Thailand, my husband couldn't wrap his head around my need to recount everything in words. He told me to drop my pen and live in the moment. We were taking plenty of pictures, and to him, that seemed to be enough. That is, of course, until I asked him to name that restaurant in Sicily. Now, three and a half years later, not only do we have stunning photographs, but also we can look back at our entire honeymoon and be reminded of restaurant names and fabulous boutiques, as well as the way we felt at certain moments when we laughed so hard we cried, or when watched the sky turn 20 different shades of orange as the sun set over the Andaman Sea.

Bringing a journal on my vacations has truly changed the way I remember my traveling. While pictures last a lifetime, unfortunately, memories fade. Now, when I want to muse over the time I snuck into a Grand-Prix viewing party in Monaco, or jumped off the rear deck of a Burger King in Grand Cayman to snorkel, I can visit my journal and remember vividly each exciting moment like it was yesterday.

You might not think journaling is for you, but I promise, it's worth it. Looking back at your journal is an amazing way to relive some of the most exciting moments of your life. As time moves forward, it is easy to reminisce, but more difficult to fully recall every moment, whether surreal or simple. Going back and reading your journal is like opening a storybook that allows you to retake a journey that has started to feel like a distant dream.

A travel journal is a wonderful keepsake. Eventually our journals will end up tucked away in a memory box and won't be unearthed for years to come. I remember finding my grandmother's diary from her teenage years and sat engrossed at her kitchen table reading about her life, in awe of her younger years. I felt connected to her youthful side in a way I was never able to before. One day, our children and grandchildren may stumble upon our travel journals and read them with the same kind of excitement and enthusiasm I experienced while holding my grandmother's early life in my hands.

When you keep a travel journal, you are essentially creating your own souvenir. Your journal can include more than just words. You can paste in pictures and ticket stubs, dining receipts, and perhaps even a piece of string that evokes a wonderful memory. You can buy t-shirts and postcards, but there is nothing more personal than the journal you will return home with. It's a souvenir you won't throw out when cleaning out your closets and one that is likely to last a lifetime.

On the first page of my travel journal, I wrote, "I always wish I had documented more of my life. I sometimes look at pictures, but often forget the name of the building I am standing before. I no longer want to forget." This simple passage is the real reason we should all keep travel journals.

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Photography courtesy of: StockSnap / Thought Catalog

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11 Jul 2017


By Shelby Eden