Study abroad experiences stretch college students’ horizons; mission trips help church teens see a world different from their own. We expect young people to learn from travel, but do we anticipate the same from ourselves when we travel?
We often say, “Yes,” but fail to do what it takes to make it happen. We may be a tourist, pilgrim, or adventurer. It doesn’t matter. Anyone can let travel be their teacher by setting an intention before leaving, paying attention to that intention, and seizing surprises along the way. When we capture our experiences in a journal, we can reflect on the insights gained. That’s where the learning takes place.
The only things that interest me are people and ideas. I love going on trips that shock me, where everything I believe in my religion, my politics, my social outlook is immediately challenged with diametrically different viewpoints. (Arthur Frommer)
A frequent objection is one misses travel experiences, while journaling. Early morning or late evening can offer quiet time to write. Or you can convert hours of transportation to useful writing. Using simple methods that don’t take much time is another answer.
Themes for your travel
A purposeful method of journaling is to choose a theme for the trip. You might select to focus on architecture, then create questions that go beyond the obvious.
- What are traditional and contemporary construction methods and materials used? Why these?
- What topographic, geological, or historical factors affected building structure design?
- How are/were homes different from ours and for what reasons?
These inquiries set in motion intentional travel that culminates in paying attention more closely while roaming the world. We experience the trip more deeply, and as a result, discover richer insights.
Choose from simple journaling techniques
- Categorize differences between the culture you’re visiting and your own
- Write about the most influential part of your day; recall one significant conversation, historical fact, or memorable event – not everything
- Create a “3D” table: Date, Destination, Discovery (what you learned in twenty-five words or less)
- Identify the 3E’s of daily travel: Event, Emotion, and what to Explore next
- Each day draft a short poem about something particular or a haiku (a 17-syllable poem)
- Ask others travelers to record memorable moments from their day in your journal
- List new foreign vocabulary words and their meaning
- Describe trees and plants, birds or animals new to you
Try artistic approaches. Collect items like tickets, coffee sleeves, or maps to paste into your journal—like a collage. Sketch a scene, a historical building, or unique road sign. Ask children you meet along the way draw or color in your journal. Create a mind map of the day’s activities.
People, who journal, choose supplies to fit their personality and the circumstances of their trip. Do you prefer a ballpoint or gel pen, colored markers or pencils? Do you like a sketchpad, a spiral bound notebook with lines and a pretty cover, or a classic leather-bound journal? Will you be at the beach or in a rain forest? Waterproof paper and pencils are available; otherwise, a Ziploc bag will protect your supplies.
Mindful, intentional journal writing allows travel to serve as guide, mentor, and teacher.