Keeping a Travel Journal in a Digital Age

marco polo journals

I travel with a journal. In 2016 I travel with an actual physical paper journal and an assortment of pens with which to populate it with. Why do I do this? Well because, I love to scribble down my thought and keep a little hand written record of what was going on in my head at a particular time and in a particular place. Sometimes I just write single words, a short phrase, a collection of words I like the look of and often these grow into sentences and sometimes they even blossom into full blown articles…  

During my 8 years on the road, I spent countless hours and passed many miles staring out from bus windows with only my own reflection and my little journal for the company. Come to think of it, my journal has been my one and only constant companion throughout my travels. I have filled numerous volumes which I believe (and hope!), are still packed into a cardboard box somewhere in my parent’s house ready to be published as “The Complete Collected Journal’s of Will Hatton” should I perish in a Nepali landslide or outbreak of tropical cholera!

marco polo journal

My little battered and torn leaf journal acts as my diary, confessional, to-do list and telephone directory. Without it, I would be lost.

I am following a great tradition here and the travelogues of great, classic adventurers such as Marco Polo and Casanova have now firmly established themselves as best-selling classics of world literature and they continue to inspire entire generations of aspiring travellers to hit the road.

In this age of super technology and digital media though, the humble paper journal may seem a little archaic or obsolete even. These days a traveller can upload his or her every thought the moment it occurs to them via Twitter, to-do lists can be built into reminders and a traveller can re-trace their geographical journey via their phones GPS system (it knows where you’ve been even if you don’t….).

marco polo journal

Journals are great for long bus rides.

So why keep a journal in a digital age?

Well firstly, I know for a fact that many of you out there agree that there is just something special and irreplaceable about the feel of an actual book. I am certainly not a technophobe, my map’s, music collection, photographs and movie collection are all now stored and played digitally but when it comes to books of any kind I just find the physical artefact endearing. Indeed, Kindle makers have acknowledged this and have designed soft-screen, paper bound versions of their models in an attempt to recreate the “feel” of a book entice away the masses of readers still opting for paper tomes. When it comes to my journal, I find that the sound of the pen scratching and the vibrations coursing up from the page into my hand make the process of writing somehow more intuitive and conductive to creativity.

This is about more than just mere nostalgia and romanticism, though, there is also an actual practical reason why travellers should keep a journal in a digital age.

Firstly, in the West (that term grows more and more devoid of meaning for me with each passing day…) we are used to full phone network and 4G coverage, power points to charge devices are abundant and of course, we have the correct social setting in which to use these devices.

Out there in backpackistan, however, this is not the case. As soon as you step off the well worn, safety net of the tourist trails you will encounter complete signal failure’s, no internet for miles, power cuts and places that don’t even have any electricity to cut in the first place. I have spent enough long, cold nights in the mountains shacked up with no power except my battery powered head torch to testify to this. At these times, when the digital hum stops, you are forced to reflect and be with your thoughts and at these times be grateful you have a little journal with which to record and shape these thoughts with.

marco polo journal

No Wi-Fi here.

In other countries, there are plenty of places where it is just plain unwise to advertise your hi-tech devices, for example, if somebody in Venezuela gives you their phone number in the street you are better off writing it down rather than whipping out your iPhone where it can be seen and cased up by any passing bandito.

When it comes to buying a journal, this is a very personal matter. You will need one with a decent, durable cover that will protect it from the day to day trials of travel. It will need to be big enough to record all of the wonderful things going on in your head but small and light enough to carry in your day pack. I use the “My Way” range from Marco Polo journals and love their durability and cool cover designs. Above all though, the important thing is that it just needs to suit you and feel right for you; like choosing a jacket, bicycle or guitar. For me, I need a journal I can get into my coat pocket… Right now, I have about six different notebooks on me. 

Well guys, it’s time for me to put down my laptop and get some ink on my fingers. I hope you guys will do the same… Journalling on the road is simply the best way to stay on top of your emotions, your thoughts, your memories and experiences.

Until next time, happy scribbling!


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