This isn’t as much of a travel post as it is a philosophical one. I’ve been pondering the last couple weeks about travel journals. With my summer backpacking trip across Europe coming up, I’m looking at my packing list and the weight that I’m going to have to lug around. My list includes a journal for taking notes and such, but I’m wondering if a travel journal isn’t just superfluous anymore?
Back in the day when I returned to international travel, there was no such thing as social media and everyone used disposable cameras or 35mm film. The travel journal was kind of a necessity, as it took a week or two to get all your pictures back from the developer – knowing only then if any of them were in-focus. There were trips where I actually needed the journal to decipher what pictures I was looking at. And if you’re talking about diving photos, it can be even worse. (I jumped up from an old 35mm film camera to a GoPro last year, and I can’t believe someone didn’t force me to do it sooner. Older travels tend to hold onto the technology they have, as there is a certain surety that they understand how it works. Just saying – )
Nevertheless, more than just a utilitarian device, journals became the place where the experience of travelling was kept. It housed your thoughts and experiences, your wishes and blunders. It became almost a living thing, imbued with the sweat, tears; and the faulty, leaking, stolen pens of the world’s numerous economy hotels. (As I write this blog post, I stop to look down at a pen I lifted from a hotel in Bangkok about a year ago. It makes me smile.) I remember sitting on the sun deck of a Nile River cruise ship in 2000, and looking around to see almost everyone scribbling in their journals.
Above is my first real travel journal. I found it in a box of books in my storage unit. Leafing through it made me smile. The hotel stickers and customs tags stuck in it reminded me of stuff that wasn’t captured on film. It is a robust volume, and fairly heavy. I carried everywhere that wasn’t my house, and recorded all of my adventures. It ends in 2007. There is another small one somewhere in the boxes of books that goes from 2007 to 2009. Then, for some reason I stopped journaling, almost completely. The reason, you ask? I would say in one word: Facebook.
It seems that when I joined Facebook and started to post all my travel photos online, in real time, with captions; I no longer needed to write things down in my travel journal. Everything I wanted to remember was now on the internet. Also, once I posted everything online, going back to journal was just extra work. So, I stopped journaling.
The cavate to that last statement would be when I’m traveling to places for book research. When researching locations for stories, I would (and still do) take copious notes and pictures. The notes help me retain a feel for the place. I keep them with whatever book manuscript they belong to.
Being a little older than the usual backpacking set (Okay, a couple decades, but who’s really counting?), I have started to feel this nostalgia for things past. When I decided I was going to be working in the Middle East for a year, I decided that I would take a journal with me, and document my whole experience there.
I procured a new journal from the local Barnes and Noble before my journey started. With my new journal, I would document my adventures. The truth of it turned out to be that I made three journal entries in it, all of them being before I left the USA. My trip did get documented, but on Facebook and Instagram. I returned from the desert with the journal being no more used than when it had begun its trip.
My fundamental concern is that I can’t decide if this is good or bad. Documenting your travels on social media is definitely easier (if you have decent internet), but it lacks depth and permanence. Looking at Facebook posts from 2009 doesn’t give me the same satisfaction as thumbing through my journal that I found in the box of books. Truthfully, most of the social media posts from 2009 and 201o don’t even exist anymore, as I have deleted all of the old stuff from my feed.
Readying for Europe 2019, I am resolved to return to travel journaling. Sure, some of the places will be book research, but the remainder will be captured in a way that social media cannot. I feel they will be given a permanence that posts with emoji likes cannot sustain. Maybe it’s nostalgia? Maybe I’m just responding to an earlier travel experience, and wanting a little more of that? Maybe I desire something that social media cannot provide me? Frankly, I’m not sure what the answer is. But I am going to pack the journal and see what happens. Social media may win out in the end, I don’t know.
I am definitely interested about your opinion on this topic. Is the travel journal dead? has social media displaced our need for putting pen to paper? Let me know (Via this social media LOL!!), if you choose.
Now, get out there! Go have new experiences!