10 Ways to Pimp Your Journal for Less Than $5

by Bonnie Caton Nov 22, 2008

There’s something about a physical journal—putting ink to paper—that’s more intimate than a blog.

AFTER ALL, YOUR journal travels with you. When you get soaked in that surprise downpour… it does too.

And it’ll be there a year later when you’re working your new job, aching for a travel fix. You’ll pull out your old journal and there you’ll be—the you you’ve come to miss—staring back at you.

So gussy it up a little. Here’s how:

1. Collages

Armed with nothing but a cheap glue stick, you can make collage pages in your travel journal by ripping images out of glossy brochures you find in hostels, tour offices, airports, bus depots, and train stations.

Things to use: tour brochures, post cards, photos, fliers, maps, shopping bags, postage stamps, beer labels, magazine pages, and anything else you can get your hands on for free.

Idea: Each time you get to a new country, leave a blank page in your journal where you can make a country-themed collage to mark the beginning of that section.

2. Fold-out maps

Mark where you’re going and where you’ve been on a map and glue the back of it into your journal. This is a great journaling tool for travel writers. If you need to reference something later, it’s right there in the maps you glued into your journal.

3. Quote pages

One fun thing to do with your journal is keep a running quotes page, where you write down funny things your travel companions say, foreign language phrases, or things you hear around you.

Another thing you can do is write large, travel-wise quotes in the front of your journal, so you’ll always see them when you open it.

4. Pop-up destinations

This one takes a little more work, but if you have time to spare on the bus or in your hostel, the end result is worth the extra effort.

Using images from brochures, magazines, sketches, photos, post cards, or whatever else you find on the road, create pop-up pages in your journal for a 3-D image of where you’ve been.

5. Stolen story illustrations

Making prints of your trip photos can be expensive, time-consuming, or even be impossible, depending on where you’re traveling. So find a few brochures with photos of the places you’ve been and rip images out to illustrate your journal. Finding good images can help inspire you to keep writing, too.

6. Sketches

Each time you meet someone new, you ask him to make a sketch of himself or something you did together.

Or, pick only one theme and sketch it everywhere you go. Like different means of transportation, for example… a tuk-tuk in Bangkok, a grass canoe on Lake Titicaca, a camel in the Sahara…

7. Rubbings

If you’re still not sure about your art skills, you can forgo the sketching altogether and make rubbings of objects instead. Just hold a page of your journal against a sculpted tile, a plaque, a relief, or anything else you’d like to capture, and lightly rub the page with a pencil or crayon.

Be sure not to make rubbings at ancient temples like Angkor Wat, where the rule is always look but don’t touch.

8. Found objects

Glue into your journal all of the things you’d otherwise lose, like foreign candy wrappers, tickets, receipts, currency, things written in different languages, beer and wine labels, wrappers with misspelled English words on them, things your friends write on a napkin, and everything in between.

If it means something to you, include it and write a story about it. You might forget you glued it in there and surprise yourself with it later.

I’ve got shells hanging off the outside of my journal, collected from beaches in Mexico, Ecuador, and Thailand.

9. Stamps/stickers

Passport stamps in your journal make a nice transition from one place to another, though some border guards might not be too thrilled about the idea. But you’ll likely find stickers and other kinds of stamps to embellish your journal pages, too.

10. Tie one on

If you’ve got a spiral-bound journal, you can tie things to the binding with ribbons or thread. Mine is leather-bound, so I tie things to the inside thread binding. I have a feather from Crucita, Ecuador hanging in one page, and a flower from Cambodia on another.

One year after returning from a trip around the world, I think back on the things I saw and did and they feel unreal. But when I flip through my journal and see and touch remnants of the trip glued into its pages, the memories are clearer. And that helps jumpstart plans for the next trip.


Check out another Notebook post, 10 Reasons To Keep A Journal or Travel Blog. Not blogging yet? Join the Matador community and start your online travel journal today!


Of course, you can use any old blank notebook to keep your journal in. But there are some tempting products on the market if you’d like something a little fancier.

Lonely Planet puts out a specialized journal complete with time zone wheel and glossy travel photos, while the always-popular Moleskine also offers a notebook designed especially for travelers.

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