*The following is a guest post from Rachel Marias, an Education Policy PhD student and close personal friend of rukristin. This summer Rachel and her partner went on a two-week European excursion on the back of their friend’s wedding in the French Alps. Today, Rachel is sharing with us her European travel journal, and the steps she took to complete it.
Note-taking versus Journaling: How I Documented My Road-trip through France and Barcelona
Once a year, my partner and I go on a big trip, like road tripping from Detroit to New York to see baseball stadiums or backpacking through Eastern Europe. Recently our trips revolve around friends getting married. One year we flew to Alaska to celebrate a marriage in Anchorage and hike in Denali. This year my friend was getting married in her hometown of Talloires, France, a small town in the French Alps on the Swiss border. Much too big of a trip for a weekend trip, this quickly became our vacation for the year.
My partner and I quickly developed a game plan for the overall trip. We would begin in Paris (this was my first trip to France, we could not miss Paris), drive to Talloires, drive through Rhone-Alps, Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, and then take a train to Barcelona. 15 days plus 2 travel days.
My partner does not believe in vacations. He likes trips. He likes to run around cities and explore for a few days before moving to the next city. It is lots of fun, and we see a lot. But it is exhausting. This can make documenting the trip tricky. Taking pictures is easy because I walk around with my camera in hand. Documenting how we got to different places, what they were like and the impressions they left can be more difficult.
Every trip I try to stay on top of journaling, and every trip I fail miserably. The first couple days of the trip (the number of days varies from two to five) I am a journaling machine. If we go to museums I take notes of everything we see. At the end of the day when we are usually too tired to explore nightlife, I write about everything we did that day. My partner is always shocked that I need help remembering everything we do in a given day.
My only defense is that we tend to cover about 15 miles of site seeing (on foot) per day in large cities. There is a whole lot to see in 15 miles. After the days where I am organized and journal every night, I lose steam. My journaling devolves into lists of where we were and where we ate. At museums, I only note the art pieces that stood out to me.
The only part of documenting trips that I am consistent about it taking pictures and collecting artifacts.
My partner and I navigate with paper maps when we travel abroad, so that is always an easy starting point. I then keep receipts, ticket stubs, train tickets, brochures, and business cards. If it can fit in my wallet or purse, I’m taking it home. This usually means I bring home way more artifacts than I could ever use in a scrapbook, but they also help me fill in the gaps in my journal when I can’t remember something.
Journaling on this trip was no different than previous trips. The first few days in Paris I was very good about writing at the end of each day. And then I missed one day so I was one day behind on writing. And then two days behind. Before I knew it I wasn’t writing at all in the evenings. Instead, my partner and I were out exploring or enjoying the sunset and a bottle of wine with our AirBnB host. I know I will eventually make lists rather than journal, so I try to pack a small notepad or field notebook. Anything small that I can keep in my purse so as we walk through cities I can note where we went, where we ate, and what we saw. I keep these notes separate from the journal so I don’t waste pages on lists that are messy and at times almost illegible. I was able to get some writing done one day in Talloires during a rainstorm, but the majority of the writing would have to wait until the end of the trip.
Serious writing began at the end of the trip. On my cross-Atlantic flight I had my journal and my field notebook on my little tray. From my notes I could write out what each day was like in detail. When I write in journals I like to write on one side of the paper so the backside can be used for artifacts. My total of 15 hours of flying was not enough so I spent a couple of evenings back home finishing. After hours of writing, I can appreciate waiting to journal because those hours were better spent enjoying the different cities on this trip. When I think about it, I should entirely give up on journaling while traveling just for the amount of time that could be spent exploring. I am sure I think this after every trip and promptly forget.
This trip provided a new challenge to me.
I used to write my travel journals in traditional, black, Moleskin notebooks. They were great. I never worried about running out of room. If I screwed up I could cut that page out. But it didn’t make sense to spend $20 on a notebook to only use about half of it. In an effort to save money and kill fewer trees I opted for a 3 pack of 64-page recycled paper notebooks (still Moleskin, I’m pretty brand loyal). I used the first notebook for the Alaska trip and it worked out perfectly. But that trip was 5 days shorter than this Europe trip. And most of the Alaska trip was spent in nature rather than traveling from city to city. It was eating PB&Js I made in the trailer park with my pocketknife versus 3 course meals (screw dessert, I’m all about that cheese course!). I ran into a space issue. I made it to the end of the notebook and I still had to write about a few days. But good news, I still had the last notebook from the 3 pack. I wrote the rest of the trip in the third notebook and figured I would find a way to add those pages.
The solution to my page problem: an x-acto knife and washi tape.
I cut the extra pages out of the third notebook as close to the seam as possible. I was worried about accidentally cutting the seam in a way that the whole notebook would fall apart, but I learned I am not that skilled with a knife to do that. By cutting close to the seam, I gave myself a margin to work with when adding the page to the journal. I taped the extra pages into the seam and then onto the pack of the previous page. Because of the washi tape it looked a lot more polished than I anticipated.
After all the writing was done, and I filled in the blank spaces where I couldn’t remember something, I add the artifacts. In previous journals I taped in tickets and business cards, but anything big enough to have a fold was just tucked in at the right page. With my newfound confidence in page manipulation, I decided to add in some brochures as pages. With the same washi tape as the extra journal pages, I added brochures in a way that they could still be opened and all sides of the pages could be read.
All of the extra pages made the journal pretty bulky, but this way I’m not worried about losing artifacts like my other journals.