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Keep It Old School: Travel Journals & Notebooks

travel journals notebooks scrapbooks

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With most people relying on smartphones and apps, or starting a blog or social media accounts, to document and share their travels, the joy of keeping a paper journal has been lost in the modern age. Many travelers don’t even think about packing a simple pocket notebook and pen.

I’d like to think that the art of keeping a paper journal in addition to the more electronic forms is beneficial. There’s bound to be some thoughts, observations, and notes worth writing out and keeping to yourself.

I always bring along a pocket-sized notebook when I travel. I like to keep a very loose daily entry where I jot down expenses, little observations, and doodles… all the things that will spark those memories up down the road.

And yes, I can do this all on my phone, but there’s something therapeutic and relaxing about writing, especially while in transit.

And there’s something even more therapeutic about having a physical notebook to flip through down the road.


Benefits of a Travel Journal or Notebook

  • You don’t have to censor yourself. Say what you feel. Get out any stress or emotions on paper. There shouldn’t be anyone else reading it.
  • It’s a really great souvenir to bring home. Nothing like being able to flip through your old travel notes in a physical notebook form.
  • It’s perfect when you need to minimize excess use of your phone. Save your battery by going old school.

Travel Journal/Notebook Ideas

Travel Diary/Journal

travel journal diary
My travel journal from 2007/2008 trip to Guatemala.

Photos speak a thousand words, but those photos also don’t tell the whole story. Your thoughts and feelings, the way the air felt, the sounds you can only explain as YOU hear them… these are the bits of the experience that drift away over time.

Keeping a long-form travel diary makes the ultimate keepsake of an adventure. I don’t always keep one, but I will say that the ones I do have are inspiring to look back on. It’s a place to get out your internal frustrations, a place to reflect, and a place to be creative.

Writing is therapeutic and relaxing, not to mention a great way to pass time on long plane and train journeys.

No batteries or recharging necessary, you are only limited by page space and ink levels. My suggestion is to write small and write frequently.

Money Journal

kyrgyzstan money journal
My Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan money journal from 2008 kept in a Moleskine pocket planner.

Use a simple pocket notebook to keep track of your expenses as you travel. It’s a great way to ensure you’re sticking to a travel budget.

Plus, you’d be surprised at what memories these little entries can spark in the future! A little note like “lunch in Singapore food court” can instantly transport you back to that setting- the sights, the sounds, and to the best chicken rice you’ve ever had.

To make it even more interesting, get a notebook with a built-in pocket to store receipts, or attach them to the notebook as you go. You can add doodles to your entries, or extra explanations for your expenditures. Next to your entry for purchasing a hat, you can add a note that it was unexpectedly freezing cold at night in your Guatemala hostel.

If you’re not one for keeping a proper journal/diary, this would be my go-to recommendation. It’s simple and helps with the logistics of travel- staying on top of your money!

Of course there are loads of apps that allow you to do something similar on your phone.


Two page spread on Magnetic Island.
Caroline’s travel scrapbook: two page spread on Magnetic Island.

Bring along some tape and a couple of colored pens, and a simple travel journal turns into a scrapbook. Ticket stubs, beer labels, receipts, photos, drawings, and so on transform a journal to a coffee table worthy souvenir.

I’ve always enjoyed the unlined Moleskine Cahier notebooks for this purpose. I can write tiny entries and add in other paraphernalia without lines getting in the way. The built-in back pocket stores my scrapbook items until they are used.

Plus, they pack up super small, which is always important to me!

Travel Bullet Journal

Bullet journaling has become quite popular in recent years as a way to combine both mindfulness and productivity into one. It’s not a long-form diary, but more a series of tick-lists and goals – perfect for travel planning and presenting achievements in a visual manner.

Bullet journals vary greatly, ranging from categorized lists to pages of hand-drawn pictures and doodles. For example, you can list all the destinations you wish to visit on your upcoming trip, or you can draw a world map and color in all the hot spots with different markers. The possibilities are endless.

Buy Travel Journals

Europe map travel journal on Etsy shop miss Araya
Europe Map Travel Journal


Travel Journal with Envelope pockets on Etsy shop Bespoke Bindery
Travel Journal with Envelope Pockets


OddsnBlobs travel journal from Etsy
Tropical Jungle Travel Journal


For the hefty, bound, and ornamental type of travel journals, check out any physical book store or search on Amazon. Some really special and bespoke travel journals can be found on Etsy.

Buy Travel Scrapbooks

Retro travel scrapbook from Etsy
Retro Travel Scrapbook


Travel Suitcase Scrapbook on Etsy
Travel Suitcase Scrapbook


Strawcoco navigating travel scrapbook on Etsy
Navigating Travel Scrapbook


When we say travel scrapbook, we mean a scrapbook that you can actually fit into your luggage and take with you… not the gigantic, oversized ones that your mom has made from your baby photos!

For a good traveling scrapbook, really any type of notebook or journal will do the trick, as long as there’s room to grow (meaning the cover will still cover it when extra items are added).

Just be sure to pack some extra tape, washi tape, and colored pens to make it fun. A page of stickers can add pizzazz in a pinch. Oh, and a simple envelope attached inside will make a great place to store loose items and memories.

Buy Travel Notebooks

Moleskine Cahier Journals
Moleskine Cahier


Moleskine pocket planner
Moleskine Pocket Planner


Moleskine Classic
Moleskine Classic


For everything else, there’s no looking past the timeless Moleskine cahiers and pocket notebooks. I’ve used the unlined pads for travel journals, and I’ve used the pocket planners as a money notebook.

Do you carry a journal in your backpack, or do you think it is a waste of time and space?

P.S. Keeping a Watercolor Journal on the Road

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Written by Brooke

I run the show at Her Packing List and love packing ultralight. In fact, I once traveled for 3 entire weeks with just the contents of a well-packed 12L handbag. When I'm not obsessing over luggage weight, I'm planning adventures or just snuggling with my pet rabbit, Sherlock Bunz.

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Travel Resources

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Reader Interactions


  1. Anastasia says

    I haven’t gone on trips longer than a week yet, which means I haven’t found it necessary to bring my computer with me and do blog updates! However, I do bring a travel journal and I can’t see myself stopping that practice even when I DO have my computer. Why? Because my journal is where I glue stuff! Like tea bags or tickets or other random flat paper stuff. I’m totally a packrat, especially with useless paper stuff (I used to “collect” those silly tourist pamphlets on road trips when I was younger), and sticking it in my journal at least keeps it off my bedroom floor! It all goes in my journal! If I only had my computer, I wouldn’t be able to keep that stuff with me. (I guess I could take a picture of it? But that’s not the same.)

  2. Sasha says

    I carry around a small notebook in my bag at all times, it acts as shopping list, random street addresses/phone numbers but most of all pages to fill when the words start flooding out of my head at the most random times. I’m lost without my notebook, I’ve been known to write on the back of receipts or any piece of paper I can find if for some stupid reason i’ve left my notebook behind!

  3. Odysseus says

    Before leaving on my current trip, I actually spent my last night at my parents’ house in America handmaking two journals. It took me all night, but they’re pretty amazing ~ and it feels good to know that these journals are completely mine, from the words I write in them down to the handcut papers and handsewn signatures.

  4. Linda ~ Journey Jottings says

    Nothing can beat holding a notebook or piece of ephemera that you once held when standing in some far flung corner of the world ~ It totally bridges the gap across time and space – something that a blog that only ever exists in a virtual world can never do 😉

  5. Alouise says

    I always find if I take a journal with me, I am not too diligent about writing in it. But if I don’t, then there’s always things I want to write down, but can’t. I recently but a moleskin for my next trip, it’s nice and small so it’s easy to put in my purse.

  6. Bobbi Lee Hitchon says

    On my first big trip abroad I journaled religiously and loved doing it! I would cut out bits of pamphlets or things I found and put them in. They look back at it throughout my journey. I loved that journal and know everything I did on that trip is it there. For Australia I planned it not journal and just write on my blog instead. I would just scribble some things down in a book to remember instead. I guess that is technically journaling but it doesn’t feel as nice as sitting down and just free writing everything that happened, what you really feel about it and more. I kind of censor my feeling on my website, which I’m sure most people do. I kind of want to just journal again!

  7. Susan says

    I write in a journal on all my vacation trips. I take LOTS of pictures, so having a journal helps me remember the little details about places, or funny things that I captured in a picture. I make myself write each night when travelling, so the experience is fresh in my mind. Plus they are fun to read and reminisce!

  8. Sharon says

    Totally love the idea of travel journalling and have been doing so since 2011 when I went to Japan. Must admit though, that it was a couple of colleagues who got me started when I watched them pen thoughts while travelling on the shinkansen in 2010.

    Getting my first journal was quite the experience! Be it collecting commemorative stamps from the various JR train stations, entering my own thoughts & pictures, personalizing brochures and maps with my own experiences, the joys & tribulations (still cannot forget my missing the train by a mere minute when Piriton almost completely rendered me useless), all have been faithfully written into these journals have seen my collection rise to 4 as of June 2013. While they have dominantly featured Japan, Philippines has made its debut, and others probably will once I can convince myself to move past the Land of the Rising Sun (LOL).

    Because it’s mostly my happy or reflective thoughts when I’m travelling, friends and colleagues have begun to borrow for reference. While it is somewhat embarrassing that others would be interested to read what I have to say, it’s also pretty flattering. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Pi says

      Nice to read your comment. I got a Midori TJ for my first trip to Japan. I love it and use it almost daily now even though my travels are just around town. Cannot recommend the Midori highly enough. I am making my own inserts now too.

  9. Suzanne says

    I always journal. I have a really cool (& heavy) journal that I use when I’m home. When I travel I buy the thin journals so not to take up space or weight. I’m a carry-on only gal & still learning some tips. But leaving my journal behind…NO WAY!!! I have been to Israel 4 times now. I now have the opputunity to share about my travels with some church friends, so you bet I’m going back through my journals to remember the things I have forgetten. Plus I’m a pen and paper freak. So its kinda fun to go to stores when traveling to see what pens & paper I can collect to use for my journaling. Plus there is nothing like purple ink to lift my spirits on a rainy day : )

  10. Angie says

    I used to journal every day but I stopped. Now that I’m going on my first trip overseas in years, I’m definitely taking a journal to document all the curious things I will run across.

  11. DG Andrews says

    Brooke, I enjoyed reading all your ideas about travel journaling. I am always looking for new ideas. I have been journaling all my trips since 1975 and in 2004 started using those journals to make the 12×12 size scrapbooks of all my trips! In 2020, I have finally caught up! Over the years my journals have at times become a work in progress travel scrapbook, as you mention. My latest thing to try: before my trip, I use colored 3×5 index cards and embellish them with stickers and stamps to use for journaling on my trip. I take pens and glue stick so I can add small memorabilia as I travel. When I return, I use the cards for journaling in my scrapbook I make of the trip. This has allowed me to capture the trip as I go and has also cut down on the time it takes at home to make the scrapbook. While for those trips, I no longer have a separate journal to store and reference as I do for most trips, I still have access to fresh travel memories whenever I need them. I currently have between 75-100 scrapbooks and journals that I will use for “ armchair travel” when I can no longer do the physical traveling. And what a creative outlet this has been for me! Hoping to travel again soon after having to postpone my 2020 trip—keep those travel tips coming, Brooke!

    • Brooke says

      Congrats on catching up on the scrapbooks! What a fun little idea on the index cards. We have so much “down time” when in transit while traveling, it makes sense to use it to craft those memories. Keep the travel spirit alive – you’ll be traveling again soon 🙂

  12. Andrea L says

    I’m not much of a journal person on a regular basis, but when travelling I have a journal, and write in it daily, as you say feelings, venting and little things that happened.
    One or two previous trips I started a journal and then didn’t finish….wish I had.
    Have to be disciplined about it. Spent 3.5 months in C.America last year and grateful for the little details. There were days when I didn’t write but did voice recordings of my daily journal and then wrote them in a few days later…the voice recording actually helped recount details as I was writing. (So the digital helps the analog 🙂)

    • Brooke says

      I am so thankful for the travel journals I did keep. It’s amazing the moments I thought I had lost, but then found again in my notes. Love the idea of voice notes!


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