In a world with no shortage of Instagram-worthy photos of people jumping off of cliffs or riding elephants on holiday, putting memories into writing seems far less exciting. Catchy photos get more “likes” than essays, which tend to be overlooked by everyone other than our mothers. However, if your goal is to truly document your reactions, feelings, and thoughts about a new place, nothing beats putting pen to paper.
Tiny Notebooks and Solo Travel
The tiny notebook is the perfect travel companion. It is inconspicuous, lightweight, and most importantly, private. In it I have recorded “politically incorrect” observations without worrying about being criticized by internet trolls. If I find out later that my observations are naive or altogether wrong, I can edit my thoughts and not worry about them being repeated.
Why Not Just Take a Picture?
While traveling in China, my tiny notebook is where I recorded the meals that I ate, the names of unfamiliar foods, and how I really felt about people jockeying to take pictures with “a real live Black person.” Day by day I’ve jotted down seemingly insignificant details — the names of streets crossed, how much a taxi cost, how long it took to walk the entire Forbidden City, which pool was my favorite at the hot springs spa, who I wish was sitting next to me as I watched that beautiful sunset. Today those notes trigger my memories in a way that the photos simply can’t.
Scrap-booking for the Rest of Us
Pairing a tiny notebook with glue or tape makes it easy to scrap-book on the go. Open mine from 2002 and you’ll find a ticket stub from Rent, my first Broadway play. It holds phone numbers of people I’ve met, reflections on my first time crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, notes about what adventure I wanted to experience next.
Tiny Notebooks and New Ideas
Travel inspires creativity. And it is nearly impossible for a photograph to document the new ideas that surface when experiencing a place for the first time. Jotting those ideas down in a tiny notebook is your insurance. As long as you don’t lose it, you can always go back and re visit everything you thought you forgot — that great business idea, the name of a local artist that your bartender recommended, tips for future travelers, or maybe even why you will never step foot in that place again.
If you don’t carry a tiny notebook when you travel, get one. Twenty years from now, you’ll be glad that you did.