I picked up this beauty today to be my travel journal for 2020. Paperblanks journals are always my first choice [they didn’t pay me to say that], and I am very particular.

The selection process for my annual travel journal has become a ritual, and I love it. Choosing has to be done alone and takes time. I probably fondled 20 or more journals in the shop before this one called to me. The bookstore staff may have thought I was nuts, but I don’t care. This is important business.

Why so much effort?

For starters, this journal will grow into my personal companion. It will join my passport and laptop as my most valuable belongings on the road. As a solo traveler, this journal will keep me company while I wait in airports, suffer interminable bus rides, eat numerous meals alone, sit on beaches, and wherever else I find myself with time. It will one day contain my most brilliant thoughts and most human fears. I will write when I am lonely. Later, this little book will be adorned with well wishes shared by extraordinary people I meet from all over the world.

That soft, blue cover will begin to absorb things. Coffee, equatorial sweat, sunscreen, motorbike exhaust, road filth, and monsoon rain. Some of my journals know the taste of blood. Although pristine now, in many months, that cover will tell a story. It will be scarred, scratched, and weathered — like my own skin.

The back pocket will begin to bulge with cards, receipts, ticket stubs, and small scraps accumulated as I wander Asia.

But most importantly, this new journal has a much higher purpose than catching my rants and memories. It is destined to become an artifact. Many years from now, this very book will join the others (one for each year) on the shelf to become my legacy.

Some sunny day, when I’m unable to travel due to age or injury, I will still have this journal. I’ll sit in my garden, smoke a pipe, and feel the soft blue cover that kept me company decades earlier. The notes inside will remind the rusty synapses in my brain where the time, energy, and money of my youth were spent. The friends and loves of the past will reappear. My heart will race again as I relive the glories and adventures recorded on the pages.

As I sit there in that garden, hopefully with a cat nearby, I will smile as this journal helps me remember a life well lived.

That, my friends, is why choosing a travel journal is serious business.

How to Choose the Best Travel Journal

I’ve had to choose travel journals enough now to consider myself a pro. Here are the most important things I look for:

  1. The Brand: I always prioritize Paperblanks journals (they don’t sponsor me in any way). They are a bit pricey, but in this instance, you get what you pay for. My second choice is Flame Tree Notebooks and third is Peter Pauper Press journals.
  2. The Cover: The journal must have a hard cover. I made the mistake of going with a flexible cover for weight reduction one year, and it barely survived the trip.
  3. The Size: A good travel journal will not be too big or too small. Reducing weight is a big concern for me as a backpacker, and paper is heavy. That said, I have made the sad mistake of carrying a journal too small for comfortable writing. Many times I couldn’t be bothered to squeeze important thoughts onto the tiny pages.
  4. Secure: The best journals have a built-in way to keep themselves closed. I alternate between magnetic covers and the stretchy band types. After time, the stretchy bands do, however, become fatigued.
  5. Frills: I make sure my travel journals have a back pocket. This is invaluable for keeping small, sentimental stubs and scraps collected over a trip.
  6. Lined or Blank: I prefer journals with lines, but that’s a personal choice.

I’ve also mastered a system for how to use travel journals in an interesting way (tracking big moves, keeping a list of things to change for the next trip, etc). But that’s a post for another time.

The travel journal Greg Rodgers used in 2019

My travel journal in 2019 being put to use in Cambodia