Making Maps for Your Travel Journal

A travel journal is on of the best artifacts you can bring home from a journey. A good travel journal captures all the pictures, drawings, scraps of paper, thoughts and memories of your experience.

I like the idea of writing everyday, but at the end of a long day at work, it’s one of the last things I want to do. A trip away from the office frees me the burnout of the daily grind and gives me the energy to write daily.

just looking forward to an upcoming expedition gets me excited about journaling and I want to start laying down pages. A great place to start is with the map.

Creating Watercolor Memories

Snake Charmer

A picture is worth a thousand words. But… when it comes to creating a travel journal, those pictures can be difficult to capture while travelling. I want journal filled with watercolor sketches and colorful text, describing our adventures in the far corners of the world.

In the past I tried to reserve space amongst the words to print and paste pictures when I got home. Later I purchased a Zink printer and while that’s nice, it doesn’t create great pictures, and it doesn’t give my journal that old-timey explorer’s quality I desire. In general, photographs don’t tell the story I want to tell.

Chinese Sweeper

Anyone can draw from sight. It’s purely a matter of regular practice. Unfortunately, unless you’re naturally talented, there is a great deal of upkeep practice required, or those skills soften. If all you want to do is sketch while you’re travelling, it’s a difficult investment of time.

The other issue is the lack of time while travelling. Karalee and I travel together, and often we’re part of a group excursion or tour. There isn’t really any way I can sit and sketch from the world when everyone else is ready to move on.

The time I have, usually in the evening, when we’ve returned from the day’s events, or in the morning, before we head out, is short and requires me to draw quickly, but you may be surprised to learn – there’s an app for that.

Camera Lucida App

The Camera Lucida App allows me to view the page by looking “through” a picture. The effect of this is that I can see any picture I take projected onto the page of my journal. I can quickly trace a picture onto a page without having to actually draw it. This way I can lay down a quick sketch and claim that space on the page.

Watercolor and text can be added while sitting on a tour bus, or during lunch, as long as the drawing is already down.

Camera Lucida View

I set up my phone on a coffee cup, or a drinking glass and place it over the page so that the picture appears where I want the drawing to appear. A slider at the bottom of the screen allows me to change the opacity of the picture, making it easier to see the picture or the drawing.

The easiest thing to do is block in the big shapes and set up for adding detail. If I have more time, I can zoom in far enough to add tiny details – all the way down to the teeth of a smiling child.

Once the initial forms are blocked in, to whatever level of detail for which I have time, or desire, I clean up the sketch, capturing any details I missed, or removing any that distract from the storytelling.

Balloon Sketch
Balloon Painting

On a cruise, or a group trip we often head out for the day, in a bus or smaller boat, to get to the actual experience. These bus trips are a slog through uninteresting city streets or bland highways, which is a perfect time for watercolors and writing. The Camera Lucida App requires a stable surface, but splashy watercolors are easy to apply holding the book on my lap, or an airplane tray table. When it comes to watercolor journals, less is definitely more. I’m often tempted to fill in the page, but that always backfires on me.

Sphinx Page

Some people might say using an app to draw is cheating, but this isn’t a competition, there is no cheating. The goal is to capture memories in watercolor and create beautiful journals people want to look at. If an app is what you need to

Don’t regret a missed opportunity, but learn from it

We were in Berlin last week. Most of the time, when I’m traveling somewhere, I study as much as a I can and I come away with a list of things I want to see and do. I did t do this with Berlin. We decided to take the hop-on-hop-off bus around town, get a feel for the sites and hop-off on the second lap.
Berlin is so big that the hop-on-hop-off bus takes a couple of hours to make a loop, so we decided to hop off when we saw something interesting. I was a bit uninterested by the sites around Berlin, nothing really appealed to me, but Karalee was interested in Checkpoint Charles, and seeing the wall, so we jumped off there.
Before the stop, I spotted a number of Trabant 601s driving down the rode. The Trabant 601 was East Germany’s answer to the Volkswagen Beetle. They possess a beautiful mid-century, euro styling that I absolutely adore, and an engineering ingenuity that comes from being sequestered from the rest of the modern world.

The entire block around Checkpoint Charlie has grown to be a tourist attraction, with a section of the Berlin Wall and museum, souvenir shops and Trabiworld, a museum dedicated to one of the few remaining symbols of East German culture. In the backlot of the museum they had at least a hundred 601s, painted in every scheme from tiger stripes to giraffe spots, slowly disintegrating into a field. In addition to the museum, there was Trabi Safari, a group driving tour.
I regretted not going into the museum, or taking the driving tour, or doing anything but going into the gift shop. This was the destination I should have known about. There’s very little in Berlin that is more “me” than Trabiworld.

But regret is a waste of time and energy. If I’ve learned anything in life it’s that you can’t turn back the clock. Instead we learn from it.

Don’t go anywhere without doing the research. You don’t need a minute-by-minute itinerary, but a list with a few must-dos, and an accompanying map, will make sure you don’t miss out on the very cool thing you want to see.

Don’t waste time wandering. I’m not saying that wandering is a waste of time, or that you shouldn’t wander to discover new things. But, if you get stuck walking through a bunch of bland office buildings for half an hour because you don’t know where you’re going, then you lost some of your precious time.
Especially on a cruise, you’re probably in a city you will never return to, make the most of that time. Mark your favorites on a map, plot a walking course between them and use that time for discovery.

Don’t let four euros come between you and something you want to see. At Trabiworld I was worried about time and we were both miserable with the sweltering summer heat. I was planning to see the museum, but when I saw that it costed four euros and I would have to run my credit card a second time, I used that as an excuse.
Running a second credit card transaction is a small price to pay for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I won’t let that happen again.

it’s not just a matter of learning these lessons, it’s about applying them in real-time. We need to build that list of must-dos well in advance, take them with us, and in the moment, when all you can think of is how much you have to pee, you have to remind yourself – you’re not coming back to Berlin, go for that ride in a tiny commie car.

The Skyways Hotel

On the way to our Baltic Sea voyage, we flew from Los Angeles to Dallas to London to Copenhagen. But, our flight out of LAX was early, so we stayed at the Skyways Hotel near the airport. On first blush, the place looking a little scary, but this was definitely one book not to be judged by its cover. A charming courtyard, a delicious restaurant and a lovely room make the Skyways Hotel a the perfect place to stay if you’re flying out of LAX at the crack of dawn.

Nathan’s Famous

I love hot dogs. We have dined at white tablecloth restaurants literally all over the world. Despite that, I will drive an hour out of my way if I hear about a place with a great foot long.
Because of that, I was really looking forward to getting a tube steak at Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island. Unfortunately I wasn’t terribly pleased with Nathan’s wieners, or NYC food in general. If I were to claim a city as the Great American Food City, I would have to say Chicago – now, that’s a good hot dog.

Places like Coney Island are like Mecca to me – Niagara Falls, Wisconsin Dells and Coney Island, are dying bits a touristy kitsch that grew organically around natural attractions. This kind of thing is simply impossible in the world today.