The 1 Thing I Do to Remember My Travels (Hint: It's Not Instagram)

I like to keep things pretty spontaneous when I travel. Yes, I'll have a list of a few important sights, tours, and restaurants that are must-dos, but for the most part, I think a strict schedule is more limiting than beneficial. Some of my most precious travel experiences were born from taking an impromptu walk in the city or through a recommendation I received from chatting up a local at a cafe. I want to allow myself the ability to take an afternoon nap if I need it or spend multiple hours at a mom-and-pop brunch spot because the pancakes and laughter are just too good to leave.

But one ritual I firmly abide by is taking some time each day to write in my travel journal. Just like the stamps in a passport tell the story of the places you've been, a travel journal, for me, is like a photo album turned up a notch. Each day, I jot down some of my favorite memories of the previous day — where I went, what I learned, what surprised me, what made me laugh, and so forth. I jot down little details that would probably escape me as time went on, like the location of a quaint cafe or the name of my favorite tour guide. I also collect small keepsakes to line the pages of the journal, such as a postcard, train ticket, or admission stub to a museum.

When I return from the trip, I print some of my favorite pictures and include a photo recap of my experiences, but for me, they're secondary to the diary entries. While I do agree photographs provide excellent snapshots of our favorite moments in time, they are only two-dimensional reminders of the exhilaration, joy, and growing I experience during these getaways. Yes, I have a photo of me standing proudly at the entrance of cave in the Thai jungle, but my journal reminds me of the grueling (and intoxicating) hike it took to get to that moment — what I saw, what I thought, and how I felt.

One of my favorite pastimes is going back and revisiting all the trips I've taken. In an instant, I can be transported back to the top of The Farm at The Lodge at Kukui'ula in Kauai or the day I got engaged in Corniglia, Italy. If someone asks me for recommendations, I can turn to a page and give them the name of an off-the-beaten-path restaurant they won't find on Yelp (and the server they should ask for), where to shop authentic local art, and where to go for the best sunset views. It's a way to keep these memories alive and fresh in my mind forever.

If you're new to keeping a travel journal, below are a couple tips for creating one. It's important to note, however, that you'll want to make this your own, and let how you're feeling each day of your trip guide you.

  1. Take 30 minutes each morning, perhaps while you're drinking coffee or eating breakfast, to write in it. If you're not much of a writer, who cares. It doesn't have to be fancy prose. Just jot down what you did the day before and your favorite takeaway memories. You'll be surprised at how much even the small stuff will bring a smile to your face later.
  2. Be sure to note the tiny details, especially if they were unplanned or impromptu. These are the details you won't already have saved in your phone and, in my experience, are the best memories of all.
  3. Save little keepsakes. I love postcards because they brighten up the pages and show visual distinctions between destinations, and they are usually supercheap buys. Save the tickets or receipts from your favorite activities, and glue them inside. I love putting the receipts of my favorite dining experiences on the page — it reminds me of the incredible (and sometimes wildly unfamiliar) meals I consumed, the name of the wine, the address of the restaurant, and how cheaply or not-so-cheaply I could eat in that city.
  4. Personalize it! If you fancy yourself more of an artist than a writer, draw picture recaps of your experiences. If you're an avid hiker, keep top-10 lists — the most difficult, the most beautiful, etc. Write down the words you learned in the language of each country you visit. You can preserve flowers or plants in the pages. Get creative!
  5. You're creating this for you, not Instagram, so don't get too caught up in the photos. I'm not here to denounce photographs as the enemy of travel — they are a precious keepsake for any wanderluster. I've just witnessed people lose the magic of the moment by spending too much time trying to get the "perfect shot" or checking their phones to respond to likes or comments. The outside world isn't there – you are. Drink it in, take in your surroundings, and put it in your journal.