Saturday, August 11, 2018

Portugal Travel Journal: Field Notes Signature

My Portugal travel journal in a Field Notes Signature

Although I’ll probably continue to mention my trip to Portugal occasionally (I won’t stop thinking about my experiences in that beautiful country for a long time), my last blog post as a trip follow-up is related to my travel journal.

The last time I talked about it was in 2014 shortly after I had returned from Brazil. For several years, I had happily used a pocket-size Rhodia Rhodiarama notebook for that role. The size and format are compact enough to slip easily into my bag and write in on tiny café tables and train or plane tray tables. It has 192 pages (96 sheets), which is more than ample for a duration of two to three weeks, which is typical for our international trips. Most important, it has paper that can be used for both writing (with any implement, including fountain pen) and sketching (as long as the medium is not too wet).

Although I was still satisfied with the Rhodia, I decided to try something new as my travel journal for Portugal: an unruled Field Notes Signature (which I reviewed when it first came out). The page format is slightly larger than a Rhodia, giving me more space for sketches, the softcover profile is less bulky than the Rhodia’s hardcover, and overall the book feels lighter. The paper is not quite as friendly to fountain pens as the Rhodia is, but on the other hand, the light tooth is friendlier to graphite and colored pencils. It can take a light wash just like the Rhodia. The only drawback I foresaw was that the Signature contains only 72 pages (36 sheets), which I thought might be insufficient to cover 18 days of travel. But with a larger page size, perhaps it would be a wash? It was worth a try.
I left the cover blank when I left for the trip, hoping that I would find an appropriate sticker by the end of my travels. Indeed, my symposium goodie bag contained stickers!

A few things I always do to prep my travel journal long before the trip begins is to glue a calendar with itinerary to the inside front cover and a map on the first page showing the cities I’m visiting. As soon as I commit to a trip, I use the first several pages to make notes from my research about things I want to see and do. Starting from the back (where it’s handy for quick reference), I use a few pages to write vocabulary words and pronunciation cues I learn as I’m researching.
Calendar and map at the front

The bulk of the book contains observations and musings about my experiences. But because I’m in the habit of using a pocket notebook for general memos during my more mundane life at home, I use the travel journal for that role, too. I wrote messy reminders to myself right alongside pontifications of the day and notations of steps Greg registered on his Fitbit (18,111 in Lisbon one day; 19,932 the next!) I glued in ticket stubs, receipts and other ephemera. And at the end of each day, I looked through the photos I took and picked out just one or two favorites to print out on my Sprocket portable printer (the printer paper is self-adhesive, so it’s about as handy as it could be).
A photo printed on my Sprocket

Since I do most of my sketching in my usual hand-stitched sketchbook signatures that I’ll later bind together, I didn’t make too many sketches in my travel journal. But again, just like in my ordinary life when I sometimes sketch in a daily-carry Field Notes, I occasionally reached for the Signature instead of my full-size sketchbook. It was especially handy when I had only a few minutes for a sketch, or I was in transit and my full sketch kit was in my backpack (when that’s the case, my travel journal always stays at my side in my mini-size Rickshaw Zero messenger that I carry during transit only).
Peacock sketched at Castelo de S. Jorge right next to a list of restaurant options we were researching.

The Signature held up very well to daily wear and tear and constant pulling in and out of my bag. My only minor complaint is that I did, indeed, run out of pages at the end of the trip. My final observations and a couple of sketches were done on the backs of receipts and a train ticket (which I later taped in). I enjoyed doing that, though; writing and drawing on ephemera gives the book a certain grittiness that’s part of every trip, no matter how well-planned.

The Signature is a winner. Wherever I go next, a Signature is coming with me.

I adhere ticket stubs and receipts with Tombow Mono tape glue, which is pricey but very handy and neat.

When I ran out of pages toward the end, I started sketching on ticket stubs and receipts.

On the last page are vocabulary words I started jotting long before the trip began. On the inside back cover, I taped in the
ephemera I wrote and sketched on when I ran out of pages.


  1. You brought a printer with you for journaling!? Even though it's a pocket-sized printer, it's still impressive how dedicated you are!

    1. Yes! It's a throwback to the days before I started sketching, and I wanted a way to put visual elements into my journal. Now, of course, I sketch like a madwoman the entire time, ;-) so I have plenty of visual elements. But it's still fun to be able to print small photos on the spot (instead of waiting until I get home, when I've lost the momentum).

  2. Great idea for a written journal and sketches too.


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