Saturday, January 8, 2011

Travel Journals and Travel Writing

US-101 Southbound
 Alice in Wonderland. Gulliver's Travels. Lord of the Rings. These books all contain journeys, but not one of the characters carries a prominent travel journal. Each character is in the moment and we are in the moment with him or her. Occasionally in a book, a traveling fictional character writes a letter which gives us new information about the character's thoughts and feelings and adds to our understanding, but a letter is not a book. The fictional character does not keep a document of the journey even though we might in his or her circumstances.

In non-fictional travel writing, however, the goal of the writing is not just to create a document, but to provide an account of a real journey told through a sequence of stories. Human interest might cause us to read someone's diary that lists places visited, food eaten, and prices paid, but it does not sustain our interest for long. We hunger for the story. Pico Iyer is one of my favorite travel writers. His story could be imaginary (it isn't) and still it would hold my attention through the details he chooses, his use of language, and the stories he tells about the people he meets. He tells how he becomes involved with them and what he must do to continue the relationships. These facts grab me. He, like other travel writers, may indeed refer to his travel journal to tell a story and he may describe that physical book/journal in the published account.


I only have two dedicated travel journals that are ongoing, although I've made a couple particularly for extended family vacations. One is a handmade, Coptic bound book that I draw in when I'm in an airport or on an airplane, the other is a storebought watercolor paper journal I use to document camping trips. Since the spine is visible on the Coptic one, I wrapped strips of old maps around the signatures before I bound them. Sometimes I collect papers like tickets and receipts from my trips to make into an artist's book when I return home. Photos of some of these are in Making Handmade Books (pages 28, 69, 185). I devoted Chapter 7 in Expressive Handmade Books to "Sorting Through The Big Box: Handling Memorabilia." Betsy Davids has made great combination travel journals and artist's books with stories and dreams (MHB, 18; EHB, 145; Unique Handmade Books, 43-45).

Before you take a trip, think about if and how you might want to capture it. Will it be a personal memory jog just for you? A work of art? A series of stories? I'm fond of looking for a story in every day (some are better than others, but usually one exists). I didn't collect any ephemera on this last trip, and I didn't keep a journal, but I did write down one story for you.

An old and dear friend and I decided to meet one evening and go out to tea, preferably somewhere other than Starbucks. We hadn't seen each other for more than a year. It was about 7:50pm and we drove by a Peet's that was open. After we bought our tea (she got peppermint, I got Xiao's Blend, which smelled like apple cider but wasn't), the barrista informed us that they would be closing in nine minutes. Somewhat outraged, we sat down for a few moments but could not drink the tea, which seemed to be still boiling. Our request for ice cubes was granted, but we were shooed out nine minutes later. We sat in her car facing a brick wall that told us the rules of parking in the lot. We loitered there until I couldn't stand it anymore and made my friend start up the car. For the next hour or so she drove leisurely around Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. We passed her old residences, I pointed out buildings that weren't there the last time I visited. We actually had a fun time sightseeing at night, not something we had planned. A little while after she dropped me off I got a text from her that said (and here I can refer to it since it is still in my phone), "Note to self, Starbucks @ 26th/Wilshire was filled with people relaxing as I passed at 9:30. Next time." We had tried so hard to avoid Starbucks, but there it was, outshining Peet's into the night.

I-5 Northbound, 4400 feet at Tejon Pass


For your own stories, create a journal in advance, if you like. Book structures that lie flat and make good travel journals may be found in Making Handmade Bookson the following pages: Coptic (174-181); Crossed-Structure (150); Woven Codex (163); Secret Belgian Binding (159); Multiple Signature onto a Ribbon (153); Bundled Stitch (169); and Accordion with Pockets (112), to name a few.

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