Designing a creative travel journal, part 1

1-4 memento travel journal

I am doing an online course at the moment, via the website. It’s called Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society, and is being given by Karl T. Ulrich of  the University of Pennsylvania.

Each student was asked to identify several “gaps” in personal life that seemed to cry out for some sort of design solution, and then pick one to work on for the 8-week course. We’re just about to start the third week, but I’ve already had to produce three schematic drawings, one physical prototype, and gather data via research and interviews to come up with 30+ user needs for my ‘product’! So yes, very busy, when you throw in the day job and real life! But I love the opportunity that the course gives me to work within the realm of my skills, yet provides new tools with which to expand that realm.

I decided to make some sort of journal/repository for creative travelers…an object I’d very much like for myself, but parts of which I thought might be incorporated into the hand-bound journals I sell in my shop, as well.
Travel journals need to be so much more than books with pages for writing. A traveler needs a place for important information, checklists and itineraries; needs somewhere to keep photographs, stamps and postcards, and a place for small objects like charms, seashells, pressed leaves, bottle caps, or “those bracelets from discos when you hook up with a guy,” as one of my interviewed users suggested.  There’s more than writing to be done on the pages, too—there’s sketching and art-making to take into account. Maps and travel routes. Quick access to useful foreign language phrases. Addresses and numbers of the people you meet, the shops where you found the best bargains (you think you’ll remember, but you won’t…write it down, or keep their business card!), and so on.

I’ve looked at a few commercially produced travel journals on the market…Moleskine’s Passions and City Notebooks, Nomad, Clairefontaine and Habana journals…

prototype 1.4 scaled03

Prototype 1.1 was pretty simple…after all, we hadn’t been taught anything yet in the first week! Ulrich just wanted to see what we’d come up with, initially. I used cardboard, brown paper, old magazine pages and duct tape to make a modified Limp Binding book, with pockets (mail envelopes) inside the covers, a pocket on the back of the book (for a set of aquarelle pencils or watercolours), and besides standard pages, stitched in an accordion book, some pockets with mylar ‘windows’ for photographs, and a small pamphlet-stitched notebook that can be pulled out and used separately from the main book.
prototype 1.4 scaled04

I had a hundred ideas for making the journal ever-more-fabulous as I stitched up this prototype…but anyone who’s been to uni learns NEVER to pour all of their brilliant ideas into the first prototype…what’ll you do for the rest of the 8-week course?
prototype 1.4 scaled06

Don’t go giving those professors the idea that you’re some kind of wunderkind, or they’ll expect you to build an iPad from scratch for the next prototype! Keep pace with the syllabus, pretend to make slow but steady progress under your professor’s gentle guidance—that idyllic, fairytale model of learning, so beloved of experts in education—and help create a warm and fuzzy feeling in the academe by reinforcing stereotypes of “The Mind: How It Works”. ;)
prototype 1.4 scaled07

Truth is (at least for me) that prototypes become obsolete long before I’ve finished them because while I’m waiting for things like glue to dry, my mind has raced ahead to assemble, use, disassemble, and improve the next three or four versions of the thing. You’ll often find me, coffee cup and cigarette in hands, staring into space, and you’ll think I’m spacing out, but what I’m really doing is building something, one step at a time, in my mind. Most of my design solutions are manufactured and tested in the lab behind my eyes. It’s cheap and saves time.

I’ve already put together a list of 30+ user needs for my proposed “ultimate travel journal”, but if you are the sort of person who keeps a creative journal while traveling, I’d love to hear your own ideas of what such a journal would have to include to make it your favorite. Just wondering whether I’ve overlooked anything. I’ll show you my own list of 30+ User Needs tomorrow…

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140 thoughts on “Designing a creative travel journal, part 1

  1. I would love it if you could post a new picture of your new prototypes and show the proccess as you go along! :D I’m thinking of starting a small business and would like some delightful input of how I should organize everything and what are some necessary components. Thank you so much ! Love the prototype, super useful!

    1. Thanks, Kelly! This was a project I did for a course, now over, and I have moved on to other things…What I’ve posted about it is all there is, because I’m not planning on doing all that work again, I won’t be needing one for myself anytime soon, I have too many empty jornals waiting to be used :) But I’m no genius, and if I could come up with ideas for the components of a travel journal, I’m sure you could think up even better ideas of your own ;) Good luck!

  2. I think you should go back to the idea of the fastener to the belt. I left my travel journal from three weeks in the UK in the airplane seat pocket and I’m still crying about it.

    1. I commiserate with you over the loss of your travel journal! However, I find the “attached to a belt” idea just a bit army, bulky, inelegant. :( Truth is no one ever looks good in a bum bag. How could I encourage that?

  3. Extraordinary! – I stumbled on your site via “Freshly Pressed” – It’s just amazing what people write about and present to the world. WordPress (and blogging) has really opened up self online publishing. I’m new to this myself but with a purpose to publicize my books but find I am using it to write about the literary world in general because it is so easy. I have a website too (not done by me though) … so if you like thrillers ??!?!

  4. I, too, just love the design you have accomplished so far. My husbands job requires that he travel all over the country. Now that our kids are “grown and gone”, I travel with him. He keeps telling me that I should be writing about our travels. I think he’s right. I don’t have much to help me remember about past travels – we’ve been doing this for 8 years now. I do have some pictures but some of them aren’t dated. This will change NOW. lol My biggest concern with something like, though, is how many will I have to make to catch up and keep up? Or perhaps I could combine trips and bundle some of the older stuff. Keep up the good work!

    1. Your personal memories don’t have to follow anyone’s rules but the ones you want, yourself. There’s no point adhering to a ‘strict’ process if you don’t enjoy it! FIgure out what works best for you…if you revisit certain countries or cities, how about a journal for just that country/city? If you tend to do certain activities a lot, say shop at overseas bazaars, then maybe a journal just about bazaars, their people, and what you saw/bought, from all the places you visit. There are a myriad ways of organizing raw data (i.e. sensations, activities, interests, topics) just find the one that you’re most likely to pursue because you get something out of it, personally. Thank you for the comment!

      1. Thank you. What a vast array of ideas you have. I like the idea of different books for different topics. That way, one could “add to” each one as the moments come along.

        Great ideas. Thank you so much.

  5. I love this so much! I am exactly that kind of person you describe, keeping anything and everything! I haven’t gone through all the comments, so maybe somebody already suggested this, but:

    1. I would love to have all my travel journeys together, telling the story of me seeing the world. So if the travel journey could be designed as/ later be turned into a hanging file so all the different travel journeys would nicely hang next to each other that would be fab! Or maybe a huge box (like a book trilogy box – you know what I mean?) would work as well.

    2. I would love it if the book’s back could be designed so that the traveller can give it a title (India 2010 or Me traveling New Zealand)!

    3. Also I like to collect recipes, so you could have a “kitchen” section where useful vocabulary and recipes can be written down and maybe (if thats not too crazy) have some sealable bags in which foreign/new/unknown herbs/ingredients can be kept.

    4. Also a waterproof space for USB-Sticks/SD-Cards could be useful :)

    If you ever need someone to give the journal a trial run, let me know! Keep up the good work! :)

    1. Wow, great list, thanks for taking the time to tell me what you’d like. Only comment is really, small bags of herbs in your journal, do you want to go through airports with that? LOL ;)
      As for the rest of your requests, your wish is my command…consider them done *tinkle-tink-brring!* in the happy world of design concepts! A la peanut butter SANDWICHES! *kazaam!*

  6. I’ve got a small sketchbook with receipts, clippings and odds and ends glued in, a few postcards loose at the back, and a shoe-box full of maps and brochures ( and some good intentions), as mementos of my “trip of a lifetime” last year. I took a big multi-pocket pencil case with pens, brushes, watercolours etc. Your journal looks like a lot of fun to put together ( and use, presumably)!

    1. Fun to put together, unquestinably…to use? I’m not so sure. I fear there may be so much in it that it becomes unwieldy. But it’s just a concept, and you can put anything into concepts! What’s more fun is doing the course, itself, and learning to look at the design problem from different angles. Thanks so much for dropping me a line!

      1. I’ve tried my hand at crafting here and there.. I’m yet to develop a confidence that enables me to tackle such elaborate projects such as this one alone. I will definitely seek out help from one of my more crafty friends. And no problem! I always appreciate a good-quality post. It’s invigorating :)

  7. I am also taking this class (rethinking a gym bag) – it has been a lot of work thus far, but also a lot of fun. Your travel journal concept here is wonderful – I carry a notebook on trips and am always sticking cards, maps, etc., into it, which promptly fall out at some point. Enjoy the rest of the class and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    1. Yay! Hi, Yvonne! Yeah, its been so much fun! And I’m enjoying the techniques to breaking an idea down into manageable bits, at the moment. So glad we can stop doing chairs, now, though. Thanks for visiting! Share a link to your gym bag, if you do a post? Good luck with week 4!

  8. Currently living in Vietnam for 8 months (from Canada) and that is exactly the kind of thing I wish I could have bought before coming..
    It would also be cool if there was a way to bind or attach those travel journals together for longer trips if you can fill more than one (or just expandable bindings with the ability to add/remove pages?).
    Currently I pretty much use a box. Every week or so I collect all the journal pages I’ve written and dump all the business cards and collected stuff from my purse and put it all in.. Not very efficient.

    1. The box is not a bad idea, better than not collecting at all, and so long as you date entries, it may be a really fun experience going through it all again, when you get home, to sort into an album or something. Thanks for visiting!

    1. You and me, both! I would love for it to be fantastic, but with a busy work sched and only a week for each bunch of assignments, I will probably end up rushing the Alpha model, and cutting corners. Thanks for the comment!

  9. This is really cool. A very nice idea and an inspiration for someone like myself who loves a bit of arts and crafts. I wanted to make something similar for my next physical adventure and this has acted as great inspiration. If you haven’t seen the film ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ id recommend it. The young lad in it makes an ‘expedition’ journal which has some really clever and cool looking items in.

    Good luck with your course!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, and I hope you do give making one for yourself a try…so much better than buying something, even if it does look less polished. I think I have the book somewhere, but don’t remember the expedition journal much so maybe I didn’t finsih reading it. Hrm. *scurries off to find this book in her library*

  10. I like your idea. I always prefer looking at a book vs digital gallery.

    Back in 1994 (pre-blogs/digital photo era), I was a design student and created a prototype of a personalized travel guide and journal. I just uploaded a few pics to my Flickr site … Thought you might be interested in checking it out:

    1994 Grad Project / Design a Personalized Travel Guide

    1. Hey, VERY COOL, Geoff! Thanks for sharing! I think BLURB or one of the other book POD services might be a good starting point for a personalised travel journal…only the binding doesn’t allow for weird insertions like fold-outs and pockets. But it’s amazing what is possible, these days. Cheers for dropping a line here!

  11. I once traveled to Paris and Belgium with a camera, some acrylic paints, gesso, a blank 18″ x 24″ canvas board, pen and ink, pencil and pencil sharpener stuffed somewhere in my luggage. I still have the some of the photos and artwork. If I were to do this again, I would have to take into account traveling post 9/11. The blade in a pencil sharpener, how much gesso, ink or other mediums you can board with, etc. I must have had some sort of container for water, but maybe I used a coffee cup. Your journal sounds like a combination appointment book/photo album/sketchbook/watercolor set, Somehow i see it as a set of two books, an art journal and a trip organizer. For your watercolor/pencils pocket you can make a flap that closes with magnets.

    1. Really, the blade in a pencil sharpener? LOL I doubt it’ll raise an eyebrow, though definitely an Xacto knife would be out of the question. I travel with large embroidery needles in my bra, right alongside the underwire. :) So I can embroider postcards while I travel. Much of the stuff can be bought cheaply, anyway, so I guess it’s better to buy it when you get there, and give it to some bewildered homelss person when you leave? ;)

      1. That’s funny — as long as you don’t poke yourself, but embroidered postcards are so worth it. I couldn’t find a pencil sharpener on my way out and had an x-acto knife with me when I was evacuated in Hurricane Sandy. It fell on the floor when I was rummaging through my bag at a triage center. Either no one saw it or they pretended not to see it. I just stuffed it back in my bag.

  12. I’ve been thinking of just creating my own planner for 2013 and customize it the way I want to or how it’d suit my lifestyle. This post just pushed me to get supplies and do what I need to do!

    1. That’s such a great idea, and I confess that I was intending to do the same, because I went shopping for a 2013 planner last week, and didn’t find one that I wanted. Would love to see what you come up with! Will you blog about it? Shoot me a link to the post if you do, please!

    1. Then you’re in the perfect position to make your own…it’s a pretty cool ‘super power’, don’t you sometimes think? ;) I can’t wait till we make the Alpha product in this class. My god, it’ll be a monster!

  13. Hey, I am doing the same course! You have done a great job of week 1 !
    Neat work and good annotations…am sure this will evolve into a great product with Karl’s help of course!

      1. Me too! Especially Karl’s lectures! He makes them so interesting..and Guess What! This week’s (third) evaluation I got your ten journal concepts and drawings…gave full marks but also commented that it should not become too heavy, bulky…still got to do three prototypes! Tomorrow is the last day. Mine is a clutter solution….some sort of organized storage. All the best…keep in touch.. ( it had to be you or may be some one else doing a travel journal…looked like your sketches.

        1. Too funny! They’re probably mine, though I did ten new ones, because I realized that I was spending time designing bags rather than journals. Had to rethink my problem, and do it all over again. Back on track, now, with 10 concepts for the books themselves, and not a bunch of crazy packs for arctic explorers! Thanks for full marks!

          1. Last day,,,still have not done matrix or proto types…hectic week! Will start now…hope I do not have to finally make a huge cup board for last assignment!

          2. LOL I think you are allowed to revise everything from week to week? It doesn’t make sense to abandon a better idea just because you said you’d do something else. I certainly am not going to sabotage myself by making the “writer’s apron”…something so fugly would reverberate through the rest of my life! ;)

          3. Finally managed to submit it…at least did not have to do prototype thanks to thanksgiving! I travel a lot so something that you are designing will be a good idea but will be good if it is compact ! When do you get time to write a blog too !!

          4. The blog part is easy, as long as I am doing something interesting with the other parts of my life…then it’s just a matter of taking a few photos and talking about what I’m going through.
            The hard part is to be constantly doing something interesting and substantial in real space, where time and effort are really consumed. Any wonder I don’t have a social life, kids, or a television? ;) And I only apply for jobs that allow me to work part of the week; at the moment, Sat-Tues. are my days off. And I don’t sleep much (I’ll sleep when I’m dead). Loving the little everyday life poems on your blog!

          5. Sorry for replying late! Wish there were 48 hrs to a day!
            You write very well hence even mundane things will be interesting to read from your point of view! In these electronic media days do people still buy your fabulous journals and diaries? Would be interesting to know who are your buyers? And you really do to own a T.V?

          6. No, I sell journals very rarely. People admire them, but in the end tell me, “But what would I write in it?” I tell them I can’t supply that part. :) These days, teaching bookbinding makes more sense. Economically, that is. But I can’t not make them, so I do. There are still literate people in the world who enjoy writing, who can spell, and who simply love the way ink looks on paper, the tactile beauty of a pen. 7 billion people in the world, I can’t be unique, hey? LOL And I have found the third world to be more receptive to my journals…there are still places on earth where the people who can afford the technology are a small minority. Being S.E.Asian myself, I bind books with most countries of the world in mind, and not just the first-world West.
            I wasn’t raised on a lot of TV, it was strictly monitored…my mom was a hands-on parent, a child psychologist and teacher to boot. My brother and I were “forced” to read books, finger paint, play outdoors, climb mango trees, exhaust ourselves in the pool, or on the streets with bicycles and friends. ;) We loved it, of course. It simply doesn’t interest me.

          7. I simply love your creativity…my daughter has a similar style of painting as yours and she super liked them! If Karl sees your blog he will insist you join UPEN ! All the best to you in your journey …..

    1. It’s a bit like one of the tasks of Hercules. You can’t design an ultimate anything for other people, though you might satisfy some of the more common needs. Making one for yourself will always be better than buying something. Still, it’s a fun class, and for as long as it’s just concepts and dreams, I can make it as fancy as I like!

    1. Thanks for the thumbs up! I am thinking of producing the final journal as an e-book (so you can make your own)…it would probably be more realistic than trying to sell the actual journal, everybody wants something else! You can’t please everyone, but your own might be closer to the things you really do want.

  14. Wow! I really, really love this! Right now, I have a manilla envelope stuffed with trinkets from my last trip to Europe. A journal like this would be the perfect alternative!

  15. As a child, I had a similar book about being outside. There were pockets where paper acorns and bugs lived. An area where you could draw or place stickers of things you found. A map and fold out binoculars (like 3D glasses) also were included. It was a fun book!

    1. You’re onto something, children’s books are so much more exciting, I might look to them for inspiration. I had one with a pop-up paper record player, a periscope, and a camera obscura!

  16. Thats awesome, Ive made my own travel journal, but it’s no way near as cool as that one, I love the colours too :)

  17. I am leaving the USA on December 8th for seven days in Belize and have had just this sort of thing on my mind for a while now. I want to document my trip not only for my own pleasure, but to share through my blog here. You present some interesting points and ideas to contemplate. Good luck finishing your class.

  18. The color theme of teal and yellows is really appealing, sounds like a fun project I could take on myself! It’s got clean lines and is very organized for a ‘made it myself’ journal.

    1. Thank you! I am a bookbinder, after all. The teal and yellow was incidental (I had a roll of yellow duct tape, and only one sheet of construction card) but yes, I too appreciated that this tape and cardboard prototype would possess a certain shabby chic. Thanks for visiting!

  19. I LOVE what you’re doing. I’m an artist/writer/traveler who has never found just the right journal, travel or otherwise. I’m never satisfied. This looks like a fun project and a product I would purchase. Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

    1. Thank you, that’ll be $999.00, please…(joking) If only I could make it a real product! I can make it, for myself, but the I don’t think the project would be realistic for mass production. I am thinking of maybe publishing an e-book, instead, of how to make one for yourself? For a much more reasonable $7.50 or something…

  20. I love this idea well done! Especially for a note taking travel freak like me, It’s a slightly odd suggestion and I know maybe a little odd but how about a small light attachment for when travelling in the darker hours? Amazing idea though x

    1. Since it exists just as a concept, yes, why not? Lights, a small fan, world peace, and a zip-lock bag for curry, as suggested by another reader. LOL At this rate the journal will cost more than an iPad…so the sad reality of life is that people would probably be better off getting an iPad. :)

      1. No way! I would rather have one than an I-pad. It’s more personal, You are right there has to be a line somewhere. At least you have a million ideas now to choose from If you wanted any additions :)

  21. Looks like a fun project! I would be happy just buying a photo album for my zillions of pictures, but I can see where it would be great to have a place to put the brochures, ticket stubs, etc…
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  22. Wow Nat your on to something! sounds like an incredibly awesome class to get your hands dirty with. I’m so off orbit at the moment, sick baby all week last week, a kind of limbo rock tango half-asleep half-awake and you can just shrug it off for a second before your back at it again doing the puppet. whatever that means right? yeah. I miss you. show the next prototypes ok?

  23. Can’t wait to see this when it is done. Has anyone suggested a calendar yet? Sometimes it helps to check-in to the big picture just before your next spontaneous small picture distraction takes you off the grid and away from schedules and weather windows.

    1. Thanks, Hanna! I hope some enterprising Chinese manufacturer acts quickly to satisfy the need! I do not think I will be producing this one, myself. I am terrible at repeating the same design over and over again, I get so bored so quickly.

    1. *shrugs* I was planning on a zippered pocket for brushes and pencils, but I wasn’t about to stitch a zipper onto my paper prototype! How would YOU stop the pens from falling out? ;)

    1. LOL made out of cardboard and masking tape? ;) I’m just designing for uni…no idea if the idea will ever become a reality…I’m putting so many ideas into this journal, it will be impossible to produce!

  24. Great concept. I have a small handbook travel sketchbook, and the last time I took it with me on a trip, not only did I fill up a lot of pages with general sketching, but I also filled up the clear back-cover envelope with local business cards, phone numbers, receipts, etc. You can also make this into a loose-leaf bound book, similar to the Filofax, where people can buy replacement pages (think hole-punched sheets of watercolor paper) and be able to customize their travel journals.

    1. It’s a great idea, Jason, and I’ve certainly considered the Filofax format, though I hate the way the holes in the pages tend to tear out if they get used too much, and sticking those little doughnut reinforcements on every hole would drive me nuts! A more posh, high end solution (why not? I’m just designing! ;) )would be to allow the buyer to design and upload custom pages via a web application, which get printed up by the, er, company…before binding. A fabulous idea, no? It will end up costing nearly what your airplane tickets did… LOL

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