How do you chronicle your travels? I use a journal not only to remember the day to day itinerary, but to also record anecdotes that are usually forgotten shortly after arriving home. I find my journal useful to list my pictures so that it’s easy to label the pics in my scrapbooks. I can’t remember which trip I started the travel journalling–I don’t write in a diary or journal on a daily basis. I do remember in 1998 that I was in London with a friend and I slipped out of the hotel room for a pint downstairs and I took a journal with me.
Unfortunately for my friend, I can be moody and a mood hit so I needed to be alone. That’s the first time I clearly recall writing in a journal–I don’t even know why I had the journal with me. I did some free writing to get myself in a more sociable frame of mind. But I did jot some things down like the time we went to a nearby restaurant actually a ristorante for Italian fare and well it’s the first time I encountered Italian food that is NOTHING like “Italian-American” food. Or when we were returning from a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath, our tour bus ran out of petrol. The journal helped me pass the time.
I definitely was in the habit of writing every day during a trip when I traveled with my sister J to London in 2000 and New Orleans in 2003. I took time to write the history of what we saw and experienced every night. It was my winding-down activity before bed. J and I were in London in the beginning of June (before I started teaching and I could still travel during the low or shoulder seasons) and it was very warm for England. We were there 8 days and we traipsed throughout London as well as Dover and Cardiff. I remember sitting outside the Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian bridge connecting to the new Tate Modern across the river from St. Paul’s Cathedral and we thought we spotted the Queen going into St. Paul’s through a side door. Well, we waited and waited. I remember excitedly writing down the details of our “brush with royalty” albeit at a great distance that night before turning in. In Cardiff, we had a brush with a different level of celebrity–Pearl Jam was playing in the city that night and they were staying at the Angel Hotel across the street from Cardiff Castle. We spied them from the top of a double-decker sightseeing bus ducking into the hotel. A few guys at the back of the bus were just as excited to see them since they HAD tickets to the concert! Well–we stayed on that bus for a few loops trying to catch sight of them again. We almost hijacked the food being delivered to them from a local cafe so that we could deliver the food ourselves–that’s what we told ourselves to justify impersonating a delivery girl in order to meet with grunge rock royalty. We had fun scoping the hotel and being sort-of stalkers–wishing we thought to look for concert tickets before leaving home. I learned a lesson–now I check out tour dates before travelling to see if anyone interesting will be in town. I usually see a play in London, but I hit up the “discount, last-minute, hope there’s no pole in front of me” ticket counters. For Christmas that year, my sister gave me the bootleg CD of that Pearl Jam concert in Cardiff. I didn’t feel too bad for supporting the bootleg because I believe the band sold the CDs outright as they were in a dispute with Ticketmaster and maybe even their music label at the time. I also remember eating a burger in a Cardiff pub at the height of the Mad Cow disease scare. The men in the pub sent us sideways looks while we discussed the chances of contracting the disease from our one time eating red meat during the week. I giggled while writing down our risk-taking foodie/stalking celebrity-royalty adventures.
In Paris, I encountered a family (father, two adult daughters and a teenage grandson) from Boston a few times. Unfortunately they embodied the classic “ugly American” tourist stereotype–I admit that I used my journal to record snippets of their conversations while trapped in a tour bus on the way to Vaux Les Vicomte estate since I couldn’t say what I was thinking or apologize to those around me for the embarrassing Americans. The father was a retired firefighter and a widower with a girlfriend that he travels the world with (his daughters did not like that at all!), the daughters were needy and whiny with pitched accents that grated on one’s nerves, and the teenage boy was quiet, depressed-looking, and sullen. I cringed at lunch when the older adult daughter sent her chicken back three times because it was not white meat. She desperately asked what the French word for “white” was (“blanc”–I finally told her though I don’t know if it describes the “white” in “white meat”) and all I could think was that this was the best roasted chicken with a cream sauce I had ever eaten in my life. I prefer to eat white meat and it was dark meat but I just shut up and ate it. I busied myself in conversation with the very sweet family from Mexico also on the tour. The husband was in Paris on business but brought his wife and daughter along. Lunch came with our tour and well we all had to sit together. I enjoyed speaking with the family from Mexico quite a bit. I never had a chance to speak with them on the drive as the Bostonians were difficult to please with the seating arrangements when we picked them up. We all had to shuffle seats for their comfort. I had to move from the center of the van to the front with our tour guide/driver. It worked out–it was like Nick was my private tour guide since we talked quite a bit between his tour guide spiels during the drive. Well this Boston family–I saw them a few times while I was sightseeing later in the week and I admit that I ducked away to avoid any kind of interaction. I need to disclose that my sister lives near Boston and I go there a few times a year to see her since she moved there for college and I LOVE Boston so I was disappointed that this very annoying family hails from Boston. My journal helped me remember the little details.
Over the years my journalling has evolved a bit. I used to jot down notes during the day or rely on my memory then write it all down at night. I didn’t really like that as I forgot details or they came to me in a haphazard manner and the storytelling became jumbled. Later, I decided that I liked to jot down the locations of my pictures every day by number–especially after the digital photography conversion. I can usually identify 90-95% of my pictures without trouble. I sometimes have to consult my various guidebooks to confirm the correct location–especially the old buildings. The town halls in many old European cities look like cathedrals or maybe the cathedrals look like the municipal buildings (it’s a “which came first? chicken or the egg?” dilemma). It also forces me to start thinking about my scrapbook that I will put together after returning home. I now buy relatively small journals and carry them with me in my day bag with a stack of post-its stuffed inside. I usually plan my wish list for the next day the night before and write it on post-its tucked into my journal–then I add notes of history or anecdotes to the post-its that I want to embellish later. Now throughout my day whether I need a breather in a park or at lunch, I start chronicling the events of the day. I finish up the entry with a list of my pictures and my hopes for the next day’s itinerary. If I travel between cities, I sometimes write “Favorite” lists: favorite picture, museum, site, story, attraction, food or drink, souvenir, or whatever hits my fancy at that moment.
I now have others in my family writing while travelling. In 2004, I went to Ireland with my mother, youngest sister M, and Mom’s BFF, they saw me write notes while on the tour bus going from place to place. By the end of the tour–we were all stealing the hotel stationery and pencils to jot notes down. My Mom and I went to London not long ago and I encouraged her to buy a little journal to bring along with her. I think she enjoyed the nightly journalling routine.
When I get home and sit down to edit my photos and design my scrapbook–I love going through the journal–I can’t believe how much I forget between the plane ride and home. I often just read through the entries and either grimace or grin depending on the story. The journals serve a way for me to cherish and hold onto the experiences from going someplace new or someplace rediscovered.