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, double-ended coloured pencils. The colours were great and their dual purpose meant less to carry. Other than that, some washi tape and a great 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. Find a good metal one.