Writing and the Brain: Making the most of your travel journal

Travel journals are such a great tool! Especially when you get a chance to go look back on them.
Travel journals are such a great tool! Especially when you get a chance to go look back on them.

What is it about writing—the physical act of pen to paper—that seems to have this eternal, romanticized life? With technology perpetually on the rise, this seemingly old-fashioned event has yet to decline. Maybe it’s because studies show that physically writing helps with memory by bringing the information you’re working with to the literal forefront of the brain which helps you pay closer attention to what you’re writing.

On top of that, listening combined with writing assists the brain in filtering out less relevant information and as you continue to add neurologically stimulating layers (ie. creative writing, storytelling, etc) and interactive ploys, your brain catches on even faster and naturally remembers the “important” stuff. Studies also show that writing, as far as our brains are concerned, might as well be doing—by writing, we can easily trick our brains into “rehearsing” or even experiencing…how crazy it that?

To recap:

1) Writing things down helps us to remember! If you’re not a “writer-downer”, look into becoming one, ASAP. (You’ll thank me later)

2) The brain is a powerhouse of sensory magic. Check out this infograph to learn some more about writing and the brain!

So, now that you know all of those fun facts about writing and the brain, how can you put it all to use on your next trip? First, if you don’t have a journal do yourself a favor and go get yourself one. Finding the right journal can be quite a journey in and of itself. Personally, I gravitate towards Moleskine or moleskine-like journals—simple, plain, and not distracting. I’m also a huge fan of the leather bound journals with handmade paper (excuse me while I swoon over this one)—how could you not feel like you just stepped out of a scene from Lord of The Rings, rustic and old fashioned as you wander down cobblestone streets with that journal under your arm?!

Other people, however really enjoy a “fun” type of journal—maybe even a journal specifically designed for travel—complete with sections to enter dates, times, activities, places, food etc. specific to your travels ( take a gander at this quirky one ). Take into account the specifics when deciding on a journal: Ruled lines? Blank sketchbook? Graph paper? Serrated, easy to rip out pages? Colors? Spiral binding? Ahhh, the possibilities are endless—making it easy to find or even create the perfect journal.

Once you have your journal picked out, try to integrate journaling into your daily routine before your trip starts. It may seem weird at first, as anything does when first introducing it to a consistent schedule, but stick with it for a while and try to get used to it. That way, once your trip comes along, journaling will be part of your routine.

Write about your day, what/who you saw, how you’re feeling, what you ate, songs you listened to, et cetera, et cetera—it is all up to you! Writing has a wonderful meditative effect—use this as some alone time throughout your day and on your trip.

While traveling, use your journal in your downtime. Then, after you’re more settled at your destination(s), you could even try to work writing into your daily schedule again.

Write when you feel like it, write when you don’t feel like it, tell stories (your brain will thank you later when you are re-reading and re-living­ those memories!), make lists and observations, write when you’re sad or missing someone, write on trains, trams, subways, planes, boats, in parks, in pubs, in clubs, on the top of the Eiffel Tower, under the Charles Bridge, in the apple of The London Eye, at the base of a pyramid—the list goes on and on.

This little nugget of alone time is crucial for your trip—to reflect and think and get thoughts and feelings out of that culture shocked, jet-lagged brain of yours.

The point is: write about your experiences and explorations because as unforgettable as those moments may seem, you may want to revisit them someday. Ted Conover puts it beautifully:

“…what I’m getting at is like the distinction between tourist and a traveler. The tourist experience is superficial and glancing. The traveler develops a deeper connection with her surroundings. She is more invested in them — the traveler stays longer, makes her own plans, chooses her own destination, and usually travels alone: solo travel and solo participation, although the most difficult emotionally, seem the most likely to produce a good story.”

I challenge you to be a traveler, not simply a tourist. Notice things—be aware, attentive and make connections with your surroundings. Go somewhere by yourself and see how it affects you, become a “writer-downer”, listen—become a traveler and you will find yourself reliving your adventures daily.

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