Tips & Tricks For Your First Travel Journal

Tips & Tricks For Your First Travel Journal
Start with just two pages, and you'll soon be filling entire notebooks, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Colourful, creative, cathartic—travel journals are a great way to memorialise your favourite holidays

Nayanika Mukherjee
July 18 , 2021
07 Min Read

Travel journals are a deeply personal way of commemorating your travels. If you're living on a budget, they're a great way to map out your dream destinations and share your holidaying and design sensibilities with others. If you're a hoarder of pretty stationery and souvenirs, travel journals are also the perfect melting pot to throw them into. Many find the idea of making a travel journal daunting, courtesy the manufactured compulsion these days to post them on social media. It can also be time-consuming. But in the end, you might just end up discovering more about yourself as a traveller. Here's our handy guide to get you started:

Planning & Supplies


Like all great things, your travel journal must begin with a solid idea. The easiest starter theme would be to pick a city or country you loved visiting and build your journal entry around it. The more ambitious could pick an abstract theme, where you find connecting threads in various destinations you’ve visited, or pick one element in a place to represent the whole. Some examples? An ode to solitude in the Himalaya (if you’ve visited many small, quiet hill stations); food as the heart of Kolkata (if you’ve gone on a street food rampage in the City of Joy); the vestiges of history in Mandu and Orchha; or a psychedelic trip through Goa. Note that your journal entry doesn’t have to be about places you’ve already visited—it could also be your bucket list. For example, I’m teaching myself Korean, so I’d love to make a lettering-heavy journal entry where I note down all the phrases I’d like to use when in Busan, with accompanying pictures—for ordering local food, for attending a concert, for treks to famous monuments, for buying street souvenirs, and so on.  

With your theme, also plan the colour scheme and overall vibe, as that will affect how you source materials. Do you want a kitschy, retro look? Or a soothing collage with greens and blues for your time in the Maldives? Or something more moody, best showcased in neutrals and monochrome?

This artist picked a musical theme based on Joni Mitchell's 'Song to a Seagull' album to create one large entry. Any piece of art that inspires you could be the backdrop of your journal. We liked how this artist used butterfly prints, curly text and a mellow colour scheme

Next, think about how you’d like your journal grid to look. Do you want it split over two pages? Will those two be further split into four areas in all? Or would you prefer a single giant creation on one page? Plan realistically, as a bigger canvas demands more time and supplies, and it’s no fun if you feel lost and want to quit midway. The layout should also allow your theme to flow through it without looking too cluttered—if you want to make a pastiche about Indian festivals, it makes sense to have a segmented grid to let the colours and textures have breathing room.

What You’ll Need: A pretty journal of any size, or sheets of handmade paper stitched/stapled together; colouring supplies and brushes (paints/markers/oil pastels); scissors, stapler, tape, and glue; old magazines or flyers, from where you can cut out glossy shapes, pictures and lettering; printouts of maps, stickers, or travel doodles; 3D elements like pieces of ridged cardboard, bubble wrap, block-printing blocks and burlap. 

Major Elements

The visual focus of your journal entry should be a few major design elements that immediately call a viewer’s attention. It could be one giant, intricate drawing, or two to three cutouts placed in different areas, or an element placed on one third of your page (following the rule of thirds in composition) with a smaller, complementary element on the other third. Make sure to leave enough white space between all elements.

A celestial map from the Rumsey Collection, showing Orion, Gemini, Taurus and other constellations. A historic map like this would make for a show-stopping design element, if cut and used well. The art style and historical connection instantly elevate any page.

If you don’t want to use photo cutouts (or are terrible at drawing) for your major element, then try using an old map as a centrepiece. The David Rumsey map collection has over 92,000+ options—from historic, to zany, to record-breaking—with most in the public domain or free for personal use. Vector maps of major cities are also available online, and giant prints of the minimalist ones could even work as backgrounds. Your imagination (and will to research) are the only limit. 

If you’ve got a steady hand, try giant brush lettering as an intentional, in-your-face element, or make a pretty ‘to do’ list on a torn piece of colourful paper.

Smaller Details

Retro travel labels like these are aplenty online. Print and cut out your favourites, or try and make a rough sketch

These are what you fill up the white space between the major elements with. Remember that too much of detail might ruin the flow of your journal, or take away from its soul, so employ these ideas sparingly:

> Paint the rim of a cup with a bright colour, and then impress that on the page. Put something cute inside—it could be a small quote, a bus ticket, or a dried flower. 

> Paint ridged cardboard or bubble wrap, and then stamp them onto the page to get a pattern. You could also do this with carved blocks, or cut a stencil out of paper with your desired shape. It’s a quick (and pretty big) textural addition if you don’t want to think too much, but make sure the textures don’t overlap. 

> Make sea foam, pollen inside a flower, or a starry night with a toothbrush! Paint a darker shade as a base on the paper, and then flick light coloured paint onto it for a dreamy look.

> Small attempts at origami—a fan, a crane, a flower—can really lift a journal entry. They’d go really well with themes around wildlife, creativity or mindfulness. Whatever object you make, make sure it’s not too 3D, or you won’t  be able to shut the journal. 

> Try placing cutouts of small retro luggage tags, or travel doodles. If you’d rather save paper, draw them from reference images online. 

> Small notes, receipts, postcards, stamps, printed photos or other flat souvenirs from your travels complete the look.

A two-page travel journal entry about a trip to San Francisco. Note how a line map is the main design element, accentuated by text, doodles and photo booth images 

Our ideas on how to make a travel journal were sharpened by journal maestro Maryam Ahmad. An Applied Arts student and former animator, we met her at an art journaling workshop titled 'Painted Pages: Art Journaling' at Vajor The Oasis in December 2019. To get in touch with Ahmad, click here

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