Have you ever kept a travel journal while on vacation or thought about it? Bringing along a sketchbook when you travel is a fantastic way to enjoy your creative side while you relax. It's nice to reflect on each day, document what you see, and really dig into your surroundings in broad and minuscule ways. The great part about a travel journal is that you don't have to be a professional "artist" to enjoy making one. You don't even have to show it to anyone if you don't want to.
'New Sketchbook Anxiety' is real!
I know, #artistproblems, right? That freshly opened, perfectly pristine sketchbook really raises expectations and is so intimidating. I am in community with some seriously excellent artists and I know I'll never measure up to their expertise and creativity. It's hard to keep the bar low enough that I can still enjoy myself. It helps to have some ready-made creative ideas that will make your journal really cool, no matter your sketching ability.
10 Creative Travel Journal Ideas
Documenting a location or daily scene is one way to fill a travel journal, but here are some other creative ways you can fill your pages. I reached out to the Creative Juice community (particularly Amy Bogard, who runs sketchbook workshops around the world) and gathered some fantastic ideas for travel journals that will inspire students, kids of all ages and even seasoned professional artists. Here is a list of 10 great ideas to get your creative juices flowing into your travel journal while you're on vacation.
"Every drawing you make, “bad” or “good”, you will learn something which you will then apply to the next drawing. Drawing is exercise. Drawing is mindfulness. When we sit down and really see something for what it is, in this place, at this very moment, we are in communion with that thing, in this place, at this time." –Amy Bogard
1. Post Office Stamp
Two ways to do this: Purchase an actual postage stamp (this is especially exciting if you are traveling the world), add it to your journal page and then have the post office hand cancel the stamp like these from The Round The World Guys (below). OR you can have the post office just use the actual rubber post cancellation stamp on your page like the example from Amy Bogard (right). This idea has a charmingly old school feel, reminiscent of another era when people sent postcards from faraway cities rather than Instagram and Snapchat geotags.
2. Incorporate Ephemera
Ephemera is the miscellaneous paper memorabilia from an event or place. You can attach tickets, maps, bus passes, or brochure pages into your travel journal pages. Layer them on collage-style, draw over and around them, describe the event or place in words next to it. The example below is from Oana Illustrations.
3. Map It Out
Maybe you map out the entire journey, maybe just one part of the city or town, but an illustrated map is an excellent way to fill a travel journal page (or pages!). There are some excellent examples on the They Draw And Travel Instagram account. Don't you love this illustrated map from Jolly Edition? I wish for a modicum of her talent.
4. Draw a Series or Collection of Objects
Fill a spread with a series of items; sea shells, buildings, artifacts, people, whatever your fancy. Find a theme and go for it. Vanessa Sorensen filled her pages with the saints of Guatemala during her recent visit.
5. Color Swatches
Deconstruct and categorize the colors of your location. This is an exercise Amy Bogard uses during her travel journal workshops. She describes the practice as "A wonderful, playful way to settle into a new place and to get your eyes seeing in vivid color, without the pressure of ‘making something’. It also serves as a lovely example of how some simple colors can really give one a sense of place." True dat.
6. Document The Mundane
Even the seemingly unexciting or uninspiring aspects of your vacation tell as much of the story as the beautiful scenery and local artifacts. Draw the street signs of your hotel address. Describe and draw your breakfast. List songs on your play list. What did the inside of the bus or the airplane look like? These seem insignificant at the time, but are a fun way to remember the vacation. In this travel journal page, I documented the two days I was sick. I did it mainly because I was bummed at the time but a few months later my bitterness was kind of funny.
Draw tiny landscapes or people in your journal. It's a visual relief in the midst of the bold, color-filled pages and is a great way to get the scene of a place in a simple way. This is also a nice way to give yourself a break from the intensity of a larger drawing. These are from Rosemary Berwald.
Draw out the state or country flag, the local specialities, or write down key phrases you heard. Record how many times you spotted the striped lizards. Document and draw the local plant and animal species. Describe the historical features of the land and it's buildings. This is a wonderful way to become an expert of your vacation spot. This example is from JJ Ang.
9. Make an Illustrated List
Empty out your travel bag or your backpack and draw the items inside it. Draw out your activities for one of your vacation days. Make a list of your artist "must-haves". An illustrated list is a great way to record what you thought was important to have with you. This illustration by Amy Bogard also is a handy list of travel journal supplies.
10. Draw on something other than your journal.
No rules in your travel sketchbook say that you have to draw on the actual pages! Capture a sketch on a napkin of the local cafe. Draw on the bag that your souvenirs came in. Rip out a page of your book (as long as it's not from the library!) If you can attach it to the pages of your journal, I say, "go for it." This little sketch is from Catherine Maix.
More Travel Journal Tips from the pros
What are the travel journal "must haves"?
Here are some tried and true inclusions for your travel sketchbook journey kit. The above photo is from the travel sketchbook of Robin Ewers Carnes.
– A sketchbook! (The most popular are square and horizontal formats) I'm a big fan of this brand from Global Art Materials. I like how it has an elastic closure and a cloth-bound cover.