Travel Journaling: The 10 Best Tips

Hard to believe, but summer is right around the corner, which means it’s almost travel season, which means great opportunities for travel journaling. If you’re going to be on the road, we’ve got lots of ideas for creating great journal pages, easy ways to make your own journals, supply recommendations, and ideas for where to find inspiration. Best of all, these tips work if you’re going to Paris, or to the park down the street. Adventures can happen anywhere, and they’re always great fodder for travel journaling.

 1. Supply and demand: Everyone has favorite art supplies, but not all materials are suited for life on the road. What you take with you for travel journaling depends on a number of factors, such as budget, available space, travel logistics, and weather conditions. You can’t go wrong with basics like drawing pencils, an eraser, permanent pens, watercolor pencils, water brushes, and markers. Optional but useful are washi tape, glue stick, a blending stump, and scissors. Can’t take scissors? Pack a 6″ metal ruler, which can be used for tearing paper. If you like drawing buildings and landscapes, a viewfinder comes in handy to check perspective and angles. You can easily make your own from lightweight chipboard. Test your supplies at a cafe or park before you go, see how they work, and tweak as needed.

Art supplies for travel journaling
The supplies you take for travel journaling will depend on a number of factors–but you can’t go wrong with basics like drawing pencils and permanent pens.

In the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, we asked some mixed-media artists what supplies they take on trips, and the answers were as varied as the artists themselves. Among Pam Carriker’s must-haves are a Stabilo All pencil, a set of Conté a Paris Match Box crayons, and a water brush. In Joanne Sharpe’s bag you’ll find a black Platinum Carbon Fountain Desk Pen, assorted colored pencils (the colors depend on the travel destination), a Moleskine Watercolor Notebook, and a pan watercolor set. And Rogene Mañas packs her paper clay kit with Creative Paperclay, plastic sheeting, a water cup, and sculpting tools.

2. Be prepared: When traveling, not all art has to be created on the fly. Gina Lee Kim likes to do some prep by painting a few blank pages in her journal with watercolor. This ultimately saves her time. As she writes in the article “A Travel Journal Adventure” in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, “I can immediately start to ‘smash’ or build up pages with journaling, washi tape, tiny photographs, collage papers collected along the way, and tip-ins.”

Her tip-in technique is worth trying; in the article, Gina shows how to paint on a Grafix Dura-Lar transparency and add it to a page with washi tape, creating incredible depth and interest.

Tipped-in painted transparencies in a travel journal
Bring some excitement to your journals with tipped-in painted transparencies. (Art by Gina Lee Kim, photo by Sharon White Photography)

3. Open the door: Gina’s creative approach to her travel journal got me thinking—how else can travel journal pages be more dynamic? A recent excursion in Boston looking for interesting doors to photograph was the catalyst for a fun page. I decided to turn a door into a door, cutting open the photo to reveal a scene underneath. I printed a door photo to fit on the page, then cut apart the doors with an X-Acto knife. The open area was traced onto the page and cut out. I painted the page with acrylic paint, then stamped over it and brushed on a little gold gouache. When everything was dry the door was glued to the page, and a photo was adhered to the page underneath. This is how the doors look closed:

Travel journal featuring an interactive door
Photos and drawings of doors and windows provide infinite possibilities for travel journals.

And here they are open. Think of the great pages you can create by cutting windows in various shapes, cutting multiple windows, and playing with transparent and translucent materials.

Open door technique in a travel journal
Windows and doors can reveal portraits, scenery, or favorite objects.

3. Map it: Maps are an essential part of travel, and they’re also great inspiration for travel journal pages. Jacqueline Newbold loves incorporating hand-drawn maps in her watercolor travel journals, finding them an easy way to add a creative touch. In the March/April 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, she shows how to draw simple icons and line drawings of trip landmarks like buildings, statues, and landscapes. Use brightly colored paint pens on black gesso—everything will pop, making the page come to life.

Hand-drawn map
Hand-drawn maps don’t have to be accurate; just fill in with landmarks from your travels. (Art by Jacqueline Newbold, photo by Sharon White Photography)

Annie O’Brien Gonzales used a Google aerial map of Venice, Italy, as a starting point for a mixed-media painting. In the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, she traced a printed version of the map, then used acrylic paint and glazing medium to render buildings, roads, and greenery, creating a stunning piece that’s a fantastic abstract interpretation of her travel adventures.

Aerial map as inspiration for a mixed-media painting
An actual aerial map of a favorite area can serve as inspiration for an abstract painting. (Art by Annie O’Brien Gonzales, photo by Sharon White Photography)

4. Book it: Binding your own travel journal is easy, even for newbie book artists. The blog post “Make Your Own Travel Journal” explains step-by-step how to create a travel journal similar to the popular expandable travel journals. Two small notebooks are sewn into the cover, and with the use of elastics, more notebooks can easily be added. Making your own journal allows you to customize the size, style, and include any type of paper you like to use. Create one notebook with watercolor paper, another with graph paper—or mix them up. You can also easily add pockets and other features.

Handmade notebook for travel journaling
Making your own expandable travel notebook is easy, and it can be customized.

No-sew bindings can also be made quickly. Connect postcards edge-to-edge with washi tape, athletic tape, or decorative duct tape for a quick accordion book. Indira Govindan shows how to make a simple slot-and-tab book in the article “No-Sew, No-Glue Book” in the Winter 2015 issue of Pages magazine. This is another book that can be made on the fly. Although pages must be uniform in size, a variety of paper can be used, and the binding requires no sewing.

Slot and tab book
Make books on your journey that require no sewing. (Art by Indira Govindan, photo by Sharon White Photography)

5. Repurpose with a purpose: Postcards aren’t just great for sending to family and friends—they make perfect travel journal book covers, too. This blog post shows you how easy it is to turn postcards into covers of small sewn books, and the stitching is a variation on a simple longstitch binding.

Handmade travel journals with postcard covers
Postcards make great covers for travel journals, and they’re inexpensive. Glue two together for an even sturdier cover.

The best feature of this book is the pages, which can be made from ephemera picked up on your travels: brochures, maps, shopping bags, food and clothing packaging and labels, etc. The pages don’t all have to be the same size, adding an element of surprise and making the book visually exciting. Try creating cutouts and foldouts for even more interest.

Ephemera pages from a travel journal
An element of surprise is great for travel journaling, so create pages out of ephemera you collect on your trip.

6. A sticky situation: Make your own page embellishments with plain white stickers from the office supply store. I started with a sheet of 1″ round stickers, to which I added color from pink, turquoise, and yellow ink pads, using a Ranger Mini Ink Blending Tool. I then stamped text in yellow, and stamped a small travel-themed icon in the middle of each sticker using a black permanent inkpad (I used the Hero Arts My Travels stamp set). Tuck several sheets into your supply stash and use them for all styles of travel journaling.

Mixed-media sticker sheets for travel journaling
Plain round stickers become page embellishments with stamps and ink.

7. On the fast track: So many new sights, sounds, and smells surround us when we travel that sometimes it’s challenging to capture it all in a journal. In her book Artist’s Sketchbook: Exercises and Techniques for Sketching on the Spot, author Cathy Nichols has some great advice for drawing in restaurants, cafés and wineries. If you’re intimidated by drawing in public, sitting at a corner booth or a table off to the side will make you less conspicuous. Cathy adds that you may be surprised by some of the sketching opportunities in various types of eateries. Colorful food trucks, quirky restaurant décor, and fellow diners all make great subjects. Food, of course, is always fun to capture in a journal. She recommends jotting down a quick pen or pencil sketch and filling in color later, so your meal doesn’t get cold.

8. Boxed in: With a lot to take in during a trip, creating a cohesive journal page or spread can be difficult. Make things easier by creating frames on your page ahead of time, so you can draw items, scenes, or pop in a photo or ephemera. Here, I drew boxes and a circle with pencil, and left room for a title and date.

Drawn frames for travel journaling
Not sure how to compose a travel journal page? Use a variety of frames for photos and drawings.

I filled in some of the spaces with pencil sketches and watercolor, then added a label for the date and a title. This type of layout allows you to fill in areas anytime, and to keep adding elements whenever ideas come to mind. Leave the spaces in between the frames blank, or add paint, more sketches, or doodles.

Travel journal page with watercolor and photos
Photos, drawings, and watercolor help complete the page. Don’t forget to leave room for a title!

9. Another dimension: Have you ever thought about how to use travel journaling to capture things you can’t see? Carol Hendrickson had an ingenious idea for relating the feel of a bumpy van ride, and she shared it in the article “Visual Fieldnotes” in the Winter 2015 issue of Pages magazine. She drew a line on a page in her journal during the ride, and the pen recorded how smooth or bumpy the road was along the way, almost like a seismometer. She added pen and watercolor sketches to the spread, making for a fascinating way to tell a story.

Documenting a van ride in a travel journal
Think about ways to record various aspects of your journey, like a bumpy ride. (Art by Carol Hendrickson, photo by Sharon White Photography)

10. Inspired to create: Take inspiration from talented artists who also love travel journaling. I get a lot of ideas and insights from artwork I see posted on Pinterest and Instagram. Here are a few artists I follow on Instagram whose travel journals always serve as great motivation: Jose Naranja (@jose_naranja), Samantha Dion Baker (@sdionbakerdesign) Evon (@lollalane), and Abbey Sy (@abbeysy). I believe that sharing artwork makes for a better world, so be sure to put yours out there so we can be inspired by your creativity too!

July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Discover great techniques for travel journaling and more in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.
Travel Journal video with Erin Zamrzla
Learn how to make your own travel journal from scratch in the video Travel Journal with Erin Zamrzla.
Artist's Sketchbook by Cathy Johnson
Get techniques for recording your life with mixed media in Artist’s Sketchbook by Cathy Johnson.


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques

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