Thoughts on Documenting Your Travels (i.e. How To Not Be Like Me)

Chiang Mai Monks Smoking

Chiang Mai, Thailand

The problem with having too much fun is that you don’t get any photos of it. – Random Girl from Naga House in Kampot, Cambodia

Three months ago, I bought a little green notebook, a roll of tape, and a pack of colored pencils. “I’m going to keep track of my travels via this notebook – my artistically-minded boyfriend and I shall sketch and jot down and pour our memories into this notebook, and it will hold everything that this trip means to us.”

Three months later, this notebook is more or less empty.

Which is, to be honest, to be expected, but still kind of a let-down. Every time I embark on one of these trips, I always have these elaborate plans for blogs and notebooks and volunteering stints and “mind expanding exercises,” and always in the last weeks of said trips, I kick myself for not documenting my journeys better (example 1: this blog). Particularly after hearing this phenomenal podcast from This American Life about a man who walks from Philadelphia to the West Coast, recording memories and interviews from the people he met along the way, I felt like this trip was – in many ways – a wasted opportunity. (To hear the full story of Andrew Forsthoefel, click here.)

So future and fellow travelers, please do yourself a favor: keep a log of your adventures! Whether it be through photos, words, scrapbooks or T-shirts, Instagram or tattoos, remember that this is an experience many people never have – the vivid memories you keep and share will inspire a new generation of travelers, which is especially necessary in the sedentary United States.

Chiang Mai Obama Cab

Chiang Mai, Thailand

But if thinking of different ways to immortalize your debauchery is difficult, don’t worry. Below are a few suggestions on ways to keep track of all the crazy shit you did on your travels, especially when Sangsom buckets and Chang towers make it difficult to remember why you’re wearing someone else’s clothes and are covered in glow paint (not that this has happened to me… but Full Moon is in nine days!).

1. Blog. Blog. And blog some more.

Considering how much time we as a generation spend on Facebook, blogging requires practically no time at all and can combine photos, videos, links, and words to paint an extremely vivid picture of one’s journeys. When done right (again, not like this blog), it can transport a reader from their mundane realities to someone else’s exciting adventure, which sometimes is all it takes to inspire someone to break out of their daily monotony and explore the world.

If I had been more vigilant with this blog, I would have published a regular weekly recap, as well as shorter grab-bag posts with random observations, things I’ve learnt, and words and places people should know when visiting a particular location. I would have updated everyone as to how I traveled between cities, which companies or bus lines I used, and how much everything cost. I would have posted some more philosophical blogs about what the meaning of life is, as I’m not closer to finding out but think I might be onto something.

2. Keep a bullet-pointed journal.

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a long post, and because of the way my brain works, none of my posts are ever shorter than “long.” In those times, having a journal or a planner can come in handy, as:

  • Smelly flower!
  • Tall guy
  • Distractions
  • Hammock on the water
  • Fireshow in water!!
  • Private DJ
  • Beautiful sunset!! In WATER!!
  • Hookah rain party

..tends to make much more sense to oneself than an audience of confused and possibly lost readers. But in a notebook, these things can trigger blog posts later, plus they serve as a good way to see where your money went (if you’re like me: you write down your expenses meticulously then turn around and lose nearly 2,000 baht and your credit card… and don’t notice for ten days).

Koh Tao Caterpillar

Koh Tao, Thailand

3. Start a small “scrapbook.”

OK, so my “scrapbook” is really just a cute little Fab India notebook with soft, beautiful, handmade paper pages. My objective was to illustrate the major events of the day, as well as include bullet points for the inside jokes that didn’t require explanation. I also thought that taping in receipts and stickers and flyers would provide a nice visual of how things actually looked, rather than how my clumsy reenactment remembered them.

As I said earlier though, the scrapbook has not really taken off, though I plan to return to it soon. Instead, I’ve taken to a new model. The new and improved scrapbook (which begins in the middle of the book, as I’ve reserved x number of pages for recap) will include an exciting number of features:

  • Picture summaries of the day
  • Quotes and comments
  • Observations
  • Words learnt
  • Money spent, and on what
  • Profiles of people I meet: a self-portrait, name, age, origin, and comments on where their favorite place in Asia is, where their favorite place in the world is, what they think the key to happiness is, what they think the meaning of life is, and what advice they’d give to their 23-year-old selves (really, watch that podcast).
Luang Prabang Off the Waterfall

Luang Prabang, Laos

4. Tumblr

If you use discretion, your Tumblr can actually serve as a resource, rather than a mess of photos and links and nonsense that defines 90% of the Tumblrverse (and my own, admittedly). Posting one photo a day of where you are (particularly for those with iPhones, those bastardly beautiful pocket cameras…) can keep people updated as to where you’ve gone, what you’ve done, and what you’d recommend seeing. It’s low stress, and requires only a moderately strong internet connection. After coming to Southeast Asia, I definitely have more respect for the internet – even in places where squat toilets are still dominant (also something that’s shifting towards the Western notion), there’s free wifi in waiting rooms and in almost every hostel.

5. Mass Emails

Like blogs, mass emails have their appeal, and to any of us with foreign family, we understand it’s one of the best ways to keep people connected all over the world. Mass emails are less public than blogs and can include adorable asides that are completely inappropriate for a blog (though again, such rules do not apply to me, as I’ve chosen to make this blog oddly personal). The downside with emails is that they do tend to take a lot of time to write, but your family and friends’ expectations inevitably lead to the creation of a time-capsule of stories to share.

With all that said, I should probably start blogging more often. So get used to seeing many of these kinds of blogs, as I figure out what I’m doing on my life and slowly transition from balmy island life to nitty gritty London fog! (Oh, by the way, I think I’m going to London at the end of the month. Updates will come soon!)