I originally wrote this article for the June 2006 Wide World Books & Maps Newsletter. If you click on any of the book links at the bottom of the article, you will find yourself at Wide World's site where you can purchase the books. -Terrell
Better Write It Down
I know you all are getting ready for your summer trips. We’ve been talking to customers who’ve got some amazing things planned: motorcycling across America, renting a house in Tuscany, sailing along the coast of Turkey with six women who recently turned fifty. I’ve just got one request. Please write it down. Keeping a journal of your trip is a gift to yourself. It preserves your memories, records details you may want to look up later, reminds you of what you were thinking at a particular moment in your life. It can also be a gift to future generations. On a recent trip to Dallas, I found a little book on my mother’s shelf I had never noticed before. It turned out to be my great-grandmother’s diary from a trip she took to Europe and Constantinople in 1915. Being rather a grand dame, she had copies printed for friends and family and one fortunately found its way to my mother’s library and now to mine. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be able to read the thoughts of this woman who shares my name—she was a Terrell too—and who I never had a chance to meet.
Ready to write? Great, I thought you would be. Now let’s talk a little about what makes a good journal, the kind your grandkids will really want to read. Here are a few pointers I’ve picked up from reading great-grandmother’s diary.
Journals aren’t just for grownups, you know. Getting your kids to write while traveling might be tough but what a gift it can be to their adult selves. On this same trip to Dallas, I also recovered the diary that my eleven-year-old father kept (at my grandmother’s insistence) during his family’s 1928 cruise around the world. The handwriting is terrible—he did grow up to be a doctor after all—and the spelling is atrocious, but the memories of exploring the Parthenon, seeing the newly discovered King Tut’s coffin, visiting temples in Colombo and Rangoon, and climbing volcanoes in Hawaii are amazing and precious. Make it a fun project by adding photographs, souvenir tidbits and drawings. My dad’s diary includes a photograph of the captain of the ship, a map showing the route they sailed and a piece of python skin from the petting zoo in Singapore where he had his picture taken holding a lion cub. Too cool.
A note on the electronic age. Many travelers these days rely on modern media to record their thoughts. Nadia documented her travels in India last winter with a series of vivid and enthralling emails sent to friends and family. Ron’s walk across Spain on the Camino de Santiago last spring is recorded on the blog he and friend Ryan kept with photos and entries uploaded almost daily and space for friends to post comments. These are, of course, terrific ways to keep a journal but by their very nature, fleeting and impermanent. I encourage you to make hard copies of your electronic diaries. The blog space will disappear, the computer files may crash, and who knows what kind of media our computers will be able to read in 2095. If you want your great-granddaughter to be thrilled by the discovery of your travel diary, you’d better write it down.