Over the past fourteen months of travel we’ve probably amassed 5,000 photos and 50 hours of video. If we ever get through sorting and editing all of it, we’ll have some wonderful imagery to look back on. Our most cherished mementos, however, will be our kids’ travel journals. They are brimming with the thoughts, memories, drawings and keepsakes from a world seen through the eyes of an 11, 9, and 7 year-old.
When we set out on our adventure, we all had ambitions to keep a journal. Mine, scrawled in A5 size notebook (a thoughtful ‘going away’ gift from a friend), lasted until about Chile and never really got much more detailed than a series of random notes. I kicked myself for neglecting it but between homeschooling, planning our travels and helping out with this blog, I just couldn’t find the time to write. Courtney struggled to keep up a journal too, but argues that this blog is ours. I think she’s probably right.
Journaling for the kids, on the other hand, was not optional. We decided early on that each would keep a journal as part of their homeschool. Thankfully they enjoyed the activity and over the course of the year we refined our journaling process, came up with several different activities for them and discovered the best materials to use. We wanted to share some of the things we learned in this post.
When we started our journey I thought that the kids should write in their journals daily. I imagined them sitting around a cozy table each evening, teeth brushed and pajamas on, logging their adventures, thoughts and feelings from that day. It took only two days to smash my delusions. I was definitely asking too much of them. Plus, there wasn’t always something memorable or interesting to write about. Instead, we adopted a weekly, or semiweekly if a lot was happening, approach. Mornings, we quickly learned, were far better than evenings for the kids’ concentration. I also discovered that their writing flowed more easily if I wrote out a few questions to prompt them. For example, ‘You spent seven days in Tokyo this week, how would you describe the city to your friends?’ Or, ‘You made some new friends in Pichilemu. Who were they and what games did you play with them?’
As time went on we discovered more creative ways to use their journals too. We all love maps, as objects of learning and beauty, so we decided a map of each country we visited would be a great addition to the journals. It was a fun a way for the kids to visualize and orient themselves in each new country, and a sneaky geography lesson. Some of our maps focused on countries, others on cities or regions, but each highlighted the destinations and landmarks important to our journey.
After creating a map, our next entry was usually facts about the respective country. We documented things like their populations, official language/s, indigenous people, capital cities, main industries, interesting historical facts and sometimes just random or funny trivia – did you know the longest place name in the English speaking world is ‘Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu’ in Hawke’s Bay, NZ?
One of our kids’ favourite journal activities was creative writing. Like the regular entries, I found it helpful if I prompted them with questions or gave them a few parameters to work within. For example, ‘write an imaginative story involving the local animals, places and foods you have been enjoying in Sri Lanka. ‘ Or, ‘On a trek through the Australian outback, you discovered a previously unknown animal. Name and describe the animal, list its unique characteristics and tell us how you discovered it.’
Scrapbooking was another favourite activity in our journals. Our kids – I think most kids – are innate collectors of bits. I know Marlow and Quin are content to comb beaches for hours on end seeking the tiniest of treasures. Some of their finds fit neatly within the journals so we began making it a regular thing. We also looked for small souvenirs to place within them. The kids enjoyed taping these items onto their pages with washi tape and soon we had entries full of everything from postcards to feathers, ticket stubs to bottle wrappers. Courtney always a sucker for a photo booth, insisted we add silly strips of photos from Palm Springs, Tokyo and Florence too. On the rare occasion when we had access to a printer, we added a few prints of favourite photos to augment other entries.
And then there were stickers—lots of stickers! We thought it would be fun to collect stickers everywhere we were and decorate the journals covers. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to find stickers in some parts of the world, while others are dripping in them. In Trancoso, for example, we scoured the town and only found one, semi-decent, Brazil flag sticker. The few other stickers we could find were mostly branded or comic book characters — not so interesting for a world travel journal. In Japan, however, entire shops were dedicated to stickers and we spent over an hour in B-Side Label in Kyoto.
As for the journals themselves, finding the right one for the job was important to us. For the first three months of our travels we co-opted some notebooks we had around. We soon learned that these were too flimsy for the task. I set about looking for an A4 size (roughly US Letter) hardbound, lined notebook. It turns out there’s not many options around but I was thrilled to discover that Leuchtturm, a premium German stationary brand, made them. I had used Leuchtturm diaries for work so I knew they were solid. They also come with page numbers, space for date and title entries, a section for a table of contents and a handy pocket in the back for stowing a few keepsakes.
Next we needed good pencils. I started my career as a traditional animator, drawing every frame of a film, so I got very familiar with the best ones on the market. My favourite were Blackwing pencils, famous for their smooth, dark lines. They were difficult to find (I think because they had been discontinued) so I was amazed when I tracked down a box for the kids. Turns out, the company is makings something of a revival and I’ve recently seen them sold in boutiques and trendy bookstores.
As for colour, which was just as important, we knew markers weren’t an option – we couldn’t risk bleeding through pages — so we chose nice, solid coloured pencils. Other than that, some washi tape and a good metal pencil sharpener, is all that’s needed. I learned the hard way not to skimp on the latter, as a half dozen attempts to find a reliable plastic sharpener just chewed up our pencils. Spend a bit more for a metal one!
19 thoughts on “Journaling our way around the world (a post by Michael!)”
Really great to see you guest post, Michael! Our two children are committed stationery fans – my good genes, ha – so I will look up the recommendations, thank you.
Great post, Michael! Brilliant ideas for journaling while traveling. I’m inspired to do something similar for my girls even if it’s just documenting their weekend adventures (for now) 🙂 Thank you and all the best to you and Courtney on the exciting news of baby Adamo!
This is fascinating and so inspiring. I was hoping that you would describe the journals your kids have been working on. What a great educational tool, and an amazing keepsake for them to remember your time of travel. I really like your use of maps throughout. Did you draw the outline of the countries you were in? Or did your kids do that?
I’m a big fan of journaling (although I don’t do it regularly!) and my kids are too. One of their favorite gifts to give and receive is an empty notebook and some new fancy pencils or pens. In fact we are giving such a gift to a friend today! Recently we took a week-long camping trip with extended family, and my mother-in-law drew a map of where we were and a portrait of my daughter in my daughter’s journal. This led to her grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins adding their own maps and portraits of her to the journal over the week. The portraits were all so different – funny and sweet. It was better than any souvenir we could’ve bought, and a cherished keepsake of that trip for sure. 🙂 Best wishes on your adventures!
What a fantastic post about journals. Something small I did see was Quin’s plane ticket; I didn’t realise his long name was Quentin! I have wondered what the middle names of the older kids were, seeing as they all have such unique first names!
It’s been great reading to you, Michael! Thank you for this cool post.
I’m only 23 and childless but I follow Courtney since Marlow’s birth and have always felt inspired by her – and now you. I think that even for those parents who are not in such a journey but traveling occasionally, it might be interesting to keep a journal. Also, a good way to keep kids entertained in restaurants, planes, etc.
By the way, can’t wait to know where you’re settling now!!
All the best to the 6.5 of you! 😉
I love the idea of this. When we were in Spain last year I got my eldest (then 6y) to keep a daily record of what we did, what he ate, and what the weather was like. This was mostly in picture form. Now that we’ve just bought a camper and will be travelling more I like the idea of him having a proper journal that he can fill in on each trip. Also he’s growing up bilingual in France it will be a great way of him keeping up with his English reading and writing. I love the idea of maps and stickers and photo booths!
Hi Michael! Thank you so much for all these amazing tips. You have reassured me with all those hazy ideas in my head. We left London 2 weeks ago for a 10 months trip around the world with our 3 children aged 10, 9 and 5. We have been lingering around Spain and France, as I really wanted to attend my mother’s 75th birthday and Spain was the kids chosen country. Home schooling is such a challenge and we really need to find the right way to do it. All 3 kids are so different. Tomorrow the adventure begins as we are flying to Rio and at the end of next week we will be heading to Trancoso. Your blog has been such inspiration and great help to prepare ourselves. We are super grateful!!! All the best to you and your gorgeous family!
Leuchtturm notebooks are my absolute favorite, and I’ve been getting everyone hooked. They’re the best notebooks for whatever your needs are–so glad that they meet the kids’ and adults’ needs alike!
Thank you so much for such a great post. I will try your tips with my two boys over our Christmas holiday travels.
Brilliant post, thank you Michael! Such great ideas and tips for keeping a journal. It’s so great to see how much children can learn from their experiences and the environment and all without a computer/electronic device! As the children get older I’m sure the journals will prove to be treasured keepsakes of all their memories and experiences too.
You’d love Choosing Keeping on Columbia Road – sells the blackwing pencils, the notebooks and the best metal sharpeners!
We keep scrapbooks for our big holidays and over the summer holidays. We collect tickets and postcards and leaflets and write what we’ve been doing.
My favourite journal was the one I kept during the 2 years I lived in California aged 6-8. My mum sometimes had to nag me to write it every day but it made the most amazing record of that stage!
Nice post + pictures, but in principle, nothing new. When I was younger, I did the same, but did not think it was a big thing.
Great insights, nice to see it all in one space! I really enjoyed looking at all the journal pages and scrap booking on ig, so this is fantastic. Thank you.
This is such an inspiration – amazing how colorful drawings, a few photos and mementos can bring words to life!
Great blog post. We’ve been going with an 8 and 5 year old for 11 weeks now and it’s been amazing. Home schooling is a challenge but you are right, giving them creative things to do seem to work better. I also thought the 8 year old would like to keep a diary every day or few days but she prefers to do a blog every few weeks which seems to work well and yes learning facts about the place she we are also seem to work well. What a fabulous learning experience for us all though!
FYI: stubbypencilstudio.com sells the blackwing pencils and eraser refills
So nice! What kind of color pencils did your kids use? The link doesn’t work.