Ticket Stubs and Train Rides: Five tips for keeping a travel journal during your study abroad
Sabrina, SAI Ambassador, 2019
November 19, 2019

Somewhere along the way, I started slapping stickers onto the cover of my journal. Just another way to make quick memories!.

Your study abroad memories will be some of the best of your life. But whether you study abroad for 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 semesters, time flies when you’re having fun. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the experience and forget about protecting the memories you’re making. What better way to preserve your study abroad than by keeping a journal? Whether you’re already an avid journaler or you’ve never kept a journal in your life, Study Abroad is the perfect time to start. Here are 5 tips on how to journal while you’re abroad.

1. Start Keeping Everything
And I mean EVERYTHING. Ticket stubs. Restaurant receipts. Empty sugar packets. Business cards. City maps. Information brochures. The common man’s trash is the journaler’s treasure. Not only will receipts and ticket stubs help you retrace your steps when you’re trying to remember a trip you took two weeks ago, they’re perfect for filling blank space. You might take a day trip and not want to write about anything you did. But business cards and museum tickets are perfect page markers that help you remember where you went and what you saw without having to actually write about the experience. The simplest scraps of garbage can be the perfect memory joggers. So start stock-piling your trash, you never know what it might help you remember.

An example of common trash that ended up being a great representation of a night spent with friends!

2. Journal Whenever You Can
Most students struggle finding free time to write in their journals. Between classes and travel and time with friends, it can be difficult to justify blocking out an hour in the middle of the day to write in a notebook. Especially when you could be at the beach. But journal time doesn’t have to be wasted time. There are a lot more opportunities for journaling than you might think. Travel is a perfect chance to get some pages done.
Trains and planes and buses are unexciting and you’ll spend hours during your study abroad just sitting around and waiting to arrive. If you’ve got an hour and forty-five minute train ride from Milan to Florence, you’ve got an hour and forty-five minutes to journal. What else is there to do on a train? Even if you only have 20 minutes between your classes, that’s 20 minutes at a cafe to write something down. Journal sessions don’t have to be long and drawn out. Write one page, one sentence, one word. The important part is that you journal when you can and where you can.

3. Don’t Get Caught Up in Making it Perfect
You’re not writing an Oscar-winning film here, people. Nobody else is going to read your travel journal. No one else cares. You don’t need to spend 30 minutes crafting the perfect paragraph about how the sweet scent of fresh bread and hand-poured chocolate wafted through the piazza. Just talk about the fact that Paris smells like dessert. Your journal is for you. The memories you do and do not include are up to you. It’s not about making your journal look and sound perfect, it’s about writing things down before you forget them. The more time you spend trying to make your journal flawless, the less time you’re spending actually preserving your memories.

Instead of getting caught up in making a masterpiece, here are some easy topics to focus on when you journal:
– Where were you? How did you get there? Why were you there? Who were you with?
– What did you see? What did you do? Did you enjoy it?
– Did anything unexpected happen? What made you laugh? What surprised you?
– In ten years, when you think about this experience, what is the most important thing you want to remember?

3. There are No Experiences Unworthy of a Journal Entry
As you go throughout your study abroad, extraordinary things will slowly become ordinary. Walking across the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy might seem amazing to everyone at home, but to you it might just be another leg of your daily walk to class. It can be easy to forget that even the most mundane experiences are worth remembering. When writing in your travel journal, there will be times that you might feel like your entry isn’t actually worth journaling about. Why would I want to write about walking across a bridge that I cross every day? What’s special about that? Well, a lot is special about that. Because when your study abroad ends, the things that were once normal to you will go back to being extraordinary.
I once wrote an entire two page spread about a five minute conversation that I had with a stranger on a bus in Prague. It wasn’t even an interesting conversation. But the interaction struck something in me that made me think, I want to remember this. All of your experiences are worth journaling about. If you want to write a three page entry about buying that one coffee from that one cafe, then do it. Your memories are yours. There’s no experience too small, no adventure unworthy. Your journal is for you and if you feel like something is worth remembering, then it is.

My journal buddy making some memories in a cafe in Greece.

4. Find a Journal Buddy
When I went abroad, I had never journaled before. I had tried, but with little success. I knew that while I was abroad, however, I wanted to dedicate myself to being better at writing things down. So the first thing I did when I got to my host country was find people that were also interested in keeping travel journals. The easiest way to hold yourself accountable for something is to find other people that will hold you accountable.
My journaling friends and I become our own sort of club. We reminded each other to hold on to ticket stubs and cafe receipts. We reminded each other that we had promised ourselves we wouldn’t get behind on our journaling. And we journaled together. In cafes, on beaches, in hostels, in parks. It became our own sort of tradition, that we would sit, pull out our stacks of polaroid photos and common pieces of trash and work on our journals.
The best part about finding people to journal with is having other people that can fill in your blanks. There were plenty of times I completely forgot about what we did last weekend or where we went after leaving the museum in Greece or what the name of that town was. Having people who are equally dedicated to cataloging their memories means that you’ve got friends to remember things for you when you forget. Finding people to journal with is a really easy way to be sure that will journal and that you won’t forget anything when you do.

At the end of the day, your travel journal is entirely yours. Write often, write seldom. It’s up to you what you include and what you don’t. Everyone’s journal style is different and the hardest part can be figuring out what yours is. But once you do, you’ll be glad. When you return home at the end of your study abroad, nothing will mean more to you than being able to hear about your experience from none other than yourself. The photographs, receipts, and hours spent journaling will all be worth it when you can look back on this amazing experience and know that you won’t ever forget it.

Sabrina was a Spring 2019 Florence student from the University of Missouri.

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