Friday, August 23, 2019

Travel Journal and In-Transit Bag

Travel journals I've used during the past couple decades.

A travel journal has been an integral part of each major trip I’ve taken during the past couple of decades. I’ve used a variety of sizes and formats depending on the duration of the trip and other factors. Their contents haven’t changed much over the years: The focus is still primarily on writing supplemented by ephemera, photos and, in recent years, sketches.

For several years I enjoyed using a pocket-size Rhodia notebook. Its sturdy faux leather hardcover is rugged enough for daily abuse (I tend to be rougher on notebooks when I travel compared to daily-carry at home), and its smooth, fountain-pen-friendly paper is a joy to use with any implement. The pocket inside the back cover stores ephemera.

For the Netherlands, I went back to a trusty Rhodia.
Last year when I went to Portugal, I tried a Field Notes Signature notebook instead. Although I questioned whether the paper cover would hold up well (it did, and very well, in fact), the larger page size appealed to me. While I did enjoy having more space for larger ticket stubs and other ephemera, ultimately the Signature was too small in a different way: not enough pages. I ran out the last few days of the trip and had to supplement with the backs of receipts that I taped into the back afterwards. For my trip to the Netherlands this year, I switched back to a Rhodia.

Since I always have my primary A5-size sketchbook with me, I don’t sketch much in the travel journal, but it does serve a few specific sketching needs:

  • While in transit, I don’t like to pull my full daily-carry Rickshaw bag out of my under-seat backpack (which also contains other travel essentials). The travel journal, though, is easily accessible in my small in-transit bag (for lack of a better term; more on that later), along with a few drawing implements. When I’m on the light rail train or waiting at the airport, for example, it’s an easy grab.

    Dude on the light rail train.
  •  I like making quick sketches of our beverages while we wait for our meals. (I rarely sketch my food, however; photos document that.) The pocket-size Rhodia is discreet and handy when I don’t have much space on the table.

  • Sometimes the little notebook is what I happen to have at hand – literally. Walking through the botanical garden in Amsterdam, I suddenly spotted a heron – “Adam,” the symposium mascot – and sketching one had been a personal goal for the trip. Afraid that Adam would fly off if I delayed, I quickly sketched in the journal with the ballpoint I had been writing with. (It turned out that Adam was in no hurry, so I had plenty of time to make a more leisurely sketch later.)

Beverages documented . . .
. . . and Adam sketched at last!

Writing takes up the bulk of the pages. In addition to making observations and reflections while traveling, I start making notes in the travel journal as soon as I’ve committed to take the trip. For example, I note the price of our airfare, addresses and dates of accommodations, currency exchange rate, tips from Rick Steves, and attractions we might want to see. (I also keep the same information in OneNote, so it’s available on my phone, too, but I can’t tell you how many times it has been easier to simply flip open my notebook to find a bit of information instead of tapping on my phone in the middle of a busy sidewalk, hoping for a strong signal. Hooray for analog!) For a complicated itinerary with multiple cities, I also include a small map and calendar.

I also start a glossary of simple phrases I want to be able to say in the language of the country I’m visiting and names of foods I want to try (or avoid). After listening to the words on a language app, I jot pronunciation guides so that I have a chance of being understood. As I learn new words during the trip, I jot them down.

Years later when I thumb through my travel journals, things I’ve glued in are among the most fun to look at again – ticket stubs, Sprocket-printed photos, a bit of a napkin with a café logo. Each item evokes a time and place and gives me an opportunity to relive it.

Bus ticket stub

A handy place for a sticker and related note.

In the evenings in our hotel room, I review the photos I've taken
that day and print just a few of the most memorable moments.

 In addition to a travel journal, the second essential element to my overall travel kit is what I call my in-transit bag. For several years I used a mini-size Rickshaw Zero Messenger Bag – a smaller version of my daily-carry Rickshaw – in a classy-looking herringbone fabric. The last time Rickshaw had a sale, I sprang for a second mini bag, this time in a bright red waterproof fabric, that I took to Holland. It doesn’t look much smaller than the daily-carry purple bag from the front, but from the side, you can see that it has a much slimmer profile.
Purple daily-carry in the "small" size; waterproof red in the "mini" size.

The photo below shows everything I typically carry in it (not shown: phone and passport). Note the purple pen case that holds four implements. It’s a Rickshaw Clover Pen Sleeve. Like the Tran Portfolio case I use for colored pencils, the sleeve keeps my few pens and pencils upright and easy to find. This bag is used during transit only; once I reach my destination, its contents go back into my daily-carry. 

Creature comforts and entertainment for the long flight.

Before I buckle up, I grab my Kindle and this bag, and I’m good to go. With these essentials by my side throughout the flight or ride, I rarely need to rummage through my carry-on backpack or roller bag. Accessibility is especially handy if whoever is sitting next to me is asleep or my seat-back tray is down. (Remember that time you were about to start eating dinner, and the infant behind you started howling – but your ear plugs were in your bag tucked away under your seat-back tray? Yeah – me, too.)


  1. Where do you get a small Rhodia in colors with blank pages? The link your blog post about it of 2014 doesn't have any in stock and even so, are all lined paper.

    Jet pens has the A5 Rhodiarama in colors but dot grid. The smaller size are all lined paper.

    1. I stocked up several years ago using that link, so maybe they are no longer being made with blank pages! :-( I haven't shopped for them recently at all. I did a quick search just now and saw only one on Amazon, so apparently they are still out there, but not as easy to find.

    2. Found a place:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...