Journals a fading write of passage

Do you remember the feeling of a well-loved journal? Flicking through the used pages that no longer stick together from the ink, heavy with sentiment. Holding the rest of the book in your hand, the tight wad of empty pages a physical symbol of the potential adventures to come, a story yet to be written.

Never did a journal seem more appropriate than when you travelled, setting off on a trip with that empty book just added to the sense of exploration that was bound to unfold. How could this journey not be memorable? Only the most important of stories are recorded in a book, and you have a book!

Even though I now travel more than ever, it's been a long time since I've written a proper journal about my journeys. Picture: Supplied

Even though I now travel more than ever, it's been a long time since I've written a proper journal about my journeys. Picture: Supplied

But travel was also a perfect part of your life to record for the future. Discovering new lands and meeting new people, the realities of long bus trips, or the feeling of seeing one of the world's wonders for the first time. It was a record of your ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris in the morning, and your wallet being pick-pocketed on the metro in the afternoon. The highs and the lows.

I say all of this in past tense because it seems that travel journals have suffered the same fate as guidebooks and travel agents. You so rarely see them these days. They have been consigned to the realms of nostalgia, perhaps somewhere on a shelf with the long-form travel books by professional writers, another memory that seems so uncommon these days.

I have never kept a standard diary (something I always regret, although I'm not convinced I would ever have had the commitment) but I did write travel journals when I was younger. My backpacking trips when I was in my twenties would normally be for at least a month or two, and it felt cathartic to put those experiences onto paper. But, even though I now travel more than ever, it's been a long time since I've written a proper journal about my journeys.

Technology means every moment can be captured with a photo on your phone, a post on Facebook or a text message. Picture: Alamy

Technology means every moment can be captured with a photo on your phone, a post on Facebook or a text message. Picture: Alamy

It doesn't take too much detective work to find out why things have changed. Spoiler alert: It's technology.

In part, it's because you don't have as much spare time when you're on the road. A quiet night in a hotel room or a train ride between cities is no longer a boring waste of a few hours where writing in a journal can fill the time. Instead, our natural reaction these days is to read the news online, chat with a friend back home, or watch a television show that we've downloaded.

But, more importantly, it's because there's just no longer a need to carry a notebook with you to keep a record of your trip. First it was blogs that took the place of traditional journals, allowing you to write down your thoughts online, easy to share and saved online so you couldn't lose it. And as technology improved, it all became even more convenient.

Every moment can be easily captured with a photo on your phone, a post on Facebook, a text message to a family member. These days I can follow my friends' travel adventures in close to real-time on Instagram stories.

Why have travel journals become passé? Spoiler alert: It's technology. Picture: Alamy

Why have travel journals become passé? Spoiler alert: It's technology. Picture: Alamy

Perhaps this is all good. Perhaps technology has actually improved the way we capture and share our travel memories. I still think fondly about my travel journals that I once wrote with the intention of reading when I was older, or passing down through the generations. But, honestly, I couldn't even tell you where they are now. I haven't picked them up in years (if ever).

The thing is, though, a journal didn't just remind you where you went and what you saw. It was also a record of how you felt. It was where you could write the things you didn't want to say to anyone else - how you were feeling homesick, how uncomfortable some new situations made you feel, how your travelling companion was getting on your nerves.

A journal was where you could write the things you didn't want to say to anyone else.

A photo on your phone doesn't do those emotions justice. It's just too two-dimensional to truly capture the experience of travel.

And it often gets even worse when we then post that photo on social media with a caption. It's natural to paint a rosy picture, to make a trip seem better by playing up the positives and leaving out the negatives. Some of the things people post are just downright false.

And this is what I think we've lost, why it's such a shame that so few people write travel journals these days. Photos are taken and words written for someone else to see. There's no longer any honest introspection, no opportunity for reflection - and that's what always seemed to come when you sat down for a quiet moment with a pen and that special pile of paper.

Yes, we're more likely to look at that phone photo in the future than a notebook, more likely to share it with family and friends. But what about the loss of the full and honest personal narrative? I'm not sure the sacrifice is worth it.

Michael Turtle is a journalist who has been travelling the world full-time for eight years. Follow his travel adventures at timetravelturtle.com

This story Journals a fading write of passage first appeared on The Canberra Times.