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Going Places: Bring memories into focus by keeping a travel journal.


I recently ran across a travel journal that I kept from a trip we took in 1992. I always jot down where I am and what I’m doing when I travel, but I wasn’t sure until recently the value of documenting the memories.

If you’ve never kept a travel journal, I urge you to give it a try. Not only will it bring a certain kind of clarity to what you’re processing while you travel, but you’ll also have a way to return again and again to the adventure you experienced and to your thoughts, impressions and details that might otherwise be long forgotten.

I prefer a hardcover journal, but any small notebook that won’t take up much room in your purse or backpack will do. Have a reliable pen on hand. If it’s at all possible, set aside time to write just before you go to bed or first thing when you wake up. Don’t rely on a computer journal. You may need to jot down things you want to expand on later.

If you’re writing at night, take a moment to reflect on what you did that day. If you’re too tired to say much, at least create a list of specific activities or places you went. Morning writing has the advantage of your being rested and having a few minutes to think about what you’ve seen and done.

Either time works. Determine what suits you.

For the sake of a sample, here’s an entry from the 1992 road trip to England that my husband and I took to celebrate our anniversary. We rented a car and drove on the left-hand side of the road more than 1,000 miles during the two weeks we were there.

My job was to navigate and to remind him to “keep to the left.” At the end of our journey when we were about to turn in the car, I issued one more “keep to the left” reminder.

After hearing the same phrase ad nauseam, he was quick to add, “We’re on a one-way street. You don’t ever need to say those words me again.”

Saturday, August 8, 1992, 8:30 a.m.

Lindeth Howe, Lake Windemere

We woke up to another beautiful, clear day and took a quick walk around the grounds before our “full English breakfast.” They never seem to vary: eggs, mushrooms, pork and beans, and toast. We came back from our walk and looked in on the restaurant. One section was on the enclosed porch. It overlooked the lake, and we were fortunate that our “assigned table” (they seem designate where you sit by room number) was placed where the view was wonderful. After breakfast, we packed and headed south without much of an idea of a final destination for the day.

We found the M6 and discovered that Blackpool Seaport was only ten miles off the highway. The guidebook began the description with, “There’s really nothing quite like Blackpool anywhere else in England.” What an understatement. Blackpool reminds me of Kingston, Jamaica. I’m glad I visited, but I don’t ever need to go back there again.

The ocean was the same color as the gray sky, so it was barely discernible. It was too cold to swim, and the tide pools made it impossible to walk to the water’s edge.

The famous Blackpool boardwalk was something right out of a Las Vegas nightmare. They had millions of strings of lights and bizarre decorations crisscrossing the boardwalk, which itself was a collection of tacky stores with street hawkers trying to get visitors to pay one pound for crazy side-shows. We passed on the rare chance to see a half spider/half man individual. For the same price, you could also see a shark in a tank.

The only good part of Blackpool was that one of the shops specialized in computerized family histories. If your name was on their list, they could print it for you on attractively decorated parchment. Of course, I made a purchase.

After an hour and a half of Blackpool, we decided we’d had enough. Shrewsbury is where we ended up after an uneventful highway drive of about three hours. Since we didn’t book ahead of time, we sought out the local tourist bureau. The man there told us about “Cromwell’s Hotel.” When we arrived, we saw that the sign “Wine Bar and Accommodations.” We paid 38 L for the night.

We are here now. The room is about the size of my closet. I can hear voices of revelers downstairs. The building is from the Tudor period, with exposed oak beams to prove it. The bathroom is down the hall. Sleep is calling me. Tomorrow we’ll explore Shrewsbury. I heard there’s a book sale at the school that both Sir Philip Sidney and Darwin attended. Can’t wait.

All these years later, I’m reminded that I was much more a free spirit back then than I am now. I’d never venture out without pre-arranged lodging reservations, a cell phone and internet – none of which we had at the time.

I’d forgotten about the tiny room in Shrewsbury and Blackpool’s garish lights and side-shows. My journal brings the trip back into focus.

May your own travel journal be as full of rich memories.


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