The Serendipity of Travel & Where Serendipity Began – Sri Lanka

Serendipity and Travel go hand in hand

When I wrote a post a few years ago asking

What does Travel Mean to You?

I said:

“I love travel’s unexpected delights and the Serendipity of it” :)

Just as it’s inevitable that we encounter new places, new food and new people on our travels – It’s inevitable that we also encounter unexpected delights that cross our paths no matter how well structured our itinerary may be!
And when it comes down to it -

It’s the serendipity that makes the trip.
It’s the serendipitous encounters that are the most memorable.

But do you know where this wonderful word – Serendipity - originates?

Serendip is the Persian and Urdu name of Sri Lanka.
In 1557 ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’ was a fairytale published in Venice by Michele Tramezzino.

Three Princes

Nearly two hundred years later the prolific letter writer Horace Walpole (son of the first British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole) put pen to paper where he declared he’d made a heraldic discovery “of that kind which I call Serendipity”.
So, on 28th January 1754 the word ‘serendipity’ entered the English language for the very first time.

He explained that he’d derived the term from the fairytale as:

The Three Princes of Serendip
“were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”


It was not till the early 1900′s that the word ‘serendipity’ gained acceptance and could be found in dictionaries -

  • By 1958 the term ‘serendipity’ was found in print just 135 times -
  • Between 1958 and 2000 it was used in 57 book titles
  • In the 1990′s it appeared in newspapers 13,000 times
  • And by 2001 appeared on 636,000 Internet pages.
  • Today, when I put ‘serendipity’ into a search engine I got over 6 million references!

I think one can safely say that serendipity is now a part of our common everyday language!

Sri Lanka map named Sarandib

Map by Muhammad al-Idrisi, 1154 (facing south) showing Sri Lanka named Sarandib – Detail from The Tabula Rogeriana


I love John Barth’s use of the term in his book The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1991):

“You don’t reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings serendipitously.”


What serendipitous encounters have you enjoyed on your travels?
Do share in the comments below :)

If you don’t want to miss any of my blog posts simply enter your email below and I’ll give you a cooeee when it’s published ;)

The Laid Back Travel Journal Layout – How to Story-Map Your Day

This post forms part of my series How to Travel Journal Like a Mapmaker

In the previous three posts about creating story-maps I’ve covered:

  • How to Make the Most of Line Types to Express Your Travels
  • How to Create the Illusion of Movement with Arrows
  • And the Use of Pictogram Symbols  for pictorially communicating your trips

Now, how to pull it all together in a travel journal layout..

Where exactly on the page do you start?

Travel Journal Layout 

Now, I could say – Start anywhere. As really anywhere or anyway will work just fine -

But, I know from experience it can feel quite daunting staring down at a big blank journal and like a rabbit caught in the headlights – the white of the page freezes you.

You really don’t know where to begin!

There are a variety of ways to tackle this, but as the most important thing is quite simply to start somewhere, lets look at just three methods to get the ball rolling:-

  1. Start in the middle and work out.
  2. Start at the top and like reading a book work across and snake back
  3. Or if you travelled during the day, replicate the compass directions you took and position yourself on the page as per a map.

Now, grab a scrap of paper and as you read each of these three examples expanded upon below, give each method a go by story-mapping what you did – say, one day last week.

1. Mind Map the Day

Just like creating a mind map, start in the centre of the page and name the place where you woke up!
Branching out, use each of the four corners for a segment of the day - morning, midday, afternoon & evening and record the highlight that happened at that time.

If you can’t see the 20 second video slide show click here

Below is a fixed image of the five stages I’m suggesting – although if more events happened you can always add in more!

Mind Mapping the Day

To give the above template some life, below is a simple example of what I did last Friday, when I went up to the city to meet up with a friend and then went to the Gallery of Modern Art!

Mind mapping the day into a story map

2. Snake Your Way Through the Day

Snaking your way through the day can be a good way to create a story map where you either don’t want to feature a central pivot point or, where you start the day in one place and after a variety of experiences you end up somewhere else by nightfall.

Snaking the way through a day to create a story map


Adding arrows between each experience will connect your pictogram symbols and/or written notes so the day will visually flow from start to finish and your story will be mapped before you’ve even realized what happened!

3. Mapping the Day into a Story-Map

I love incorporating a rough geographic layout into my story-maps.
Particularly if the day has involved some travelling.

This does not mean to say they’re accurate renditions that are to scale in any shape or form – they’re more of a mud-map! But if for example I headed north I’d lay out the events of the day starting at the bottom of the page and heading northwards to the top!

If you can’t see the 30second video click here

For the basic background layout information I pick up local tourist brochures en route, which nearly always have a simplified location map incorporated in them -
Using these as a template I copy where the main features of the region we’re visiting should sit on the page.

I start off by lightly pencilling these features in -
On this travel journal layout, we had had a fairly uneventful drive of about 100 km (60 miles) to get to the Cahills Crossing area on the edge of Arnhem land in Kakadu National Park where we spent the day exploring. I therefore focussed the story map on that section of the day adding a line of text along the bottom of the road as it came onto the page (bottom left) giving the details of where we had come from.

Showing how to create a story map

Lightly pencil first, solidify with ink, add some coloured dots and arrows, and to link some written details – incorporate a number system

I use pencil initially so I can erase it if my sense of scale is so way off I find myself going off the edge of the page before I’ve fitted in all that I want to include – and need to start again!
Once I’m happy with the rough layout, I go over it solidifying the lines with pen.

I talked about varying the line types in a previous post -
In this story map I used:

  • solid double lines for the roads – I don’t worry about keeping the double lines exactly parallel as I feel their varying width adds a sense of movement.
  • dotted lines in red to show the route we took – which I put inside the roads.
  • dashed lines for sections we walked.

I used red arrows alongside the road to show the direction we travelled and to indicate the order in which we visited the sites.

And incorporated some pictogram symbols to show:

  • where we set up camp (a little tent @ 1)
  • walked through a lost city like rock formation (rocks @ 2) 
  • stopped off at Cahills Crossing (crocodile @ 3)
  • walked through some rainforest (palm tree @ 4)
  • stopped at the Border Store (house symbol @ 5) and
  • had lunch (plate of Thai vegetables)
  • climbed triumphantly (stick man @ 6) to the top of Ubirr rock -

Story Map from my travel journal when at Kakadu, Australia

Because there was more detail that I wanted to record than would fit in the cramped space on the map I used a number system -
By adding numerals to the actual location on the story map, I was able to then create a numerical list down the side writing alongside them the relevant extra information I didn’t want to forget.


So, did you try laying out a story map of a day (or two) from last week?

How did you go?

Was it easier or harder than you thought?

Or, are you still feeling flummoxed?
What is holding you back?

I’d love your feedback in the comments below :)


I love the word ‘serendipity’ and was fascinated to discover it originates from the Persian name for Sri Lanka – Serendip…

Want to know more? Then enter your email below and I’ll give you a cooeee when it’s published ;)

And then we’ll take a look into the travel journal of Jacqueline Bouvier – later to become Jackie Kennedy Onassis – when she travelled to Europe with her younger sister back in 1951 – ‘One Special Summer’.


Do You Realize How Often You Already Use Pictogram Symbols?

This post is part of my series How to Travel Journal Like a Mapmaker
Here, I illustrate my hand drawn sheets of pictogram symbols.

Seeing the World in Symbols

Pictograms are the type of symbol we see frequently on our travels and without even thinking what their meaning is, we comprehend them no matter what language we speak.

Toilet symbols are pictographs

Along with the International Code of Signage, pictograms (or pictographs) achieve another layer of meaning -
Pictograms inserted on a triangular shaped sign warns us that there’s a hazard ahead; whereas circular signs are instructional, and tell us something is prohibited.

Toilet Use Malaysia


Your regular topographic map is awash with symbols -

Some symbols require a key to decode (such as sub-classes of churches with or without a spire) but where space permits, pictograms are preferred for their ease of comprehension.
Pictogram symbol for a camping caravan park

And from the story-mappers point of view – pictograms are magnificent as being minimalistically simple… they require minimalistic artistic skills to produce!

To get your pictogram symbol juices flowing I’ve hand-drawn a few sheets to show you some examples…


Pictogram Symbols for the Landscape

Pictograph Symbols to represent landscape

Add a few hills to your story-map and you’re immediately in a landscape!

Changing the solid line for a dotted line turns grassy hills into sand dunes ;)
(We talked about line types here)

Add a fence and a couple of fluffy clouds on 4 pins and you have sheep in the fields.

Pointy hills make mountains.

Pointy hills with a zigzag line below the summits adds a snow line.

The house symbol can specifically mean someone’s house – But often I use it as a symbol for a place I’ve come from, or am going to.

Urban landscapes are easy rectangles and with a few lines or squares across their front, they appear to have windows.

Showing the urban landscape with a symbol

The bottom example gives more a sense of being right in the heart of a city as by curving the sides of the buildings out the impression is you’re standing right at their base looking up!

I used that technique in this little story map of going from Brisbane to Byron. ;)


Putting the pictogram principals illustrated above into practice -

Below is a portion of a story-map from central Australia showing a desert landscape – I added the notation about the ‘wind whistles through the desert oaks’ as anyone who’s heard that sound whistling through their spiny branches would close their eyes and sigh remembering the wondrous feeling of being out in the desert, miles from anywhere :)

Pictogram symbols to represent a desert landscape


Pictogram Symbols to Represent Vegetation on Your Story-Map

Symbols to convey vegetation on a story-map

The pictogram I use for trees is the type we all used to draw as kids -

A fluffy cloud like canopy on a stalk.

Intersperse them with spiky stick trees if it’s a woodland that also has some coniferous pines.

Adding a few vertical lines at the base of the tree turns the ground into a grassy meadow -

Add some horizontal dots if it’s stoney and gravelly.

It’s sometime quite surprising how evocative a few squiggles can be to convey scrubby vegetation. Particularly when you don’t really know or remember exactly how it goes… other than it being scrubby and scribbley!


The trick to creating symbols that work visually is to observe and notate the definitive characteristic of the object, or in this case the vegetation you wish to represent -

For example – Pandanus tree leaves grow upwards and then flop over into a fold so their profile is quite spiky.
That would be their defining feature -
By focusing the illustration on that feature means the symbol becomes unmistakable.

Symbolically representing vegetation in a travel journal story-map


Modes of Transportation Pictogram Symbols

Transportation symbols for use on a story-map

No matter what make or model of car I travel in I always use this little symbolic rendition to mean I went by road.

Elongate it and it’s a station wagon/estate

For a 4WD – add a roof rack and a bull bar as these (to me) are a 4WD’s definitive features.

Bus or coach – For some reason those old yellow American school buses always come to mind.
What type comes to mind when you think of a bus?
That’s the sort you should be pictogramming!

When it comes to canoeing – What one feature screams kayaking?
To me it’s paddles -
So by exaggerating that feature (over the otherwise nondescript rectangular/oval I’ve plonked underneath it) will totally tell the story of what we did.


Pictogram Symbols

Now you know pictogram symbols are everywhere keep your eyes open for other simple ways of portraying modes of transportation you may literally see in the street ~

You may now be surprised how often you notice and see pictogram symbols in your everyday world!

Below, are two little sections from a story-map I created -
On the left was us whooshing up the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory of Australia (notice the speed lines coming off the top of the back of the station-wagon roof – longer at the top, shorter at the bottom).
Huge road trains with two and three trailers rolling along behind the cab would come hurtling down towards us -
The image below right is my impression of this apparition – There never felt as though there was the time to count the trailers as they flashed past so I simply left the back of the truck fading off into the distance -

You don’t have to draw things exactly as they are to convey what you want to say!

Pictograms for cars and trucks


Sustenance – Food and Drink Symbols

Food and Drink Symbols for Story-Maps

Remember – the trick to creating a recognizable and believable symbol is to notice the detail -

Show the shape of the glass and you’ll be telling the tale of not just that you had a drink, but that you had a cocktail, or a beer, or a glass of wine – even down to whether it was red or white.

Adding sparkles in the form of dotted lines above a tall glass insinuates bubbles from a beer, or wiggly lines infers steam rising off a hot cup of tea or coffee.

I haven’t talked of colour yet – but as can be seen from the plate at the bottom of my pictogram sheet, adding a little brown, yellow and green turns undistinguishable shapes into a pie with chips and peas!

Food symbols
My little symbolic gesture of coffee and cake, which is an excerpt from a story map when we were at Uluru brings back the memory of the moment far more strongly than the photos I insisted upon taking before devouring it – because guess where those photos are?
Yes, they’re still languishing in the dark of an SD card :(


Stick Figures to Convey People on your Story-Map

Pictograms are extensively used each year at the Olympic games since at such a multi-lingual event it’s critical that everyone can understand and interpret what events are being held where -
And they’re a great example of just what can be conveyed by a simple stick man!

Pictorams are symbols that can be understood no matter what language you spek

Stickmen for illustrating story-maps


While my stickmen aren’t quite as stylish as the Munich 1972 Olympic Games pictograms above, by adding a little expression of some long curly locks or an accoutrement, such as a hat, can make stick figures quite personable!

To create some stick figure movement- Putting arms up-stretched can convey triumph.

Curving the back like a Lowry figure can insinuate a person is feeling a bit down.

Bend a few limbs and you have your person running

Or if you want a bit more body, start off by drawing a carrot – then add the arms, legs and a blob for the head.

This next little section of story-map is from a camping trip -

Stick figures with personality

It illustrates a few of the points I’ve been talking about here – Such as:
Adding a mop of curly hair to differentiate me from my husband, who you’ll notice I scribbled a little black beard on -
By putting flute shaped glasses at the end of our arms (look, no hands!), with the addition of a few dots above for sparkles clarifies the celebrational drink -
The tent is another example of accommodation – The guide ropes and the pegs being exaggerated as their differentiating feature – Plus a few dots on the ground makes you visualize some good camping dirt.

Summary of Pictogram Symbols

I’ll finish with the story-map below where I used a number of symbols to convey our sunset dinner cruise up Nitmiluk Gorge (having driven up from Mataranka earlier in the day)

Story Map Symbols

On the boat that took us up the gorge, the main feature I was aware of were the big open windows so I wanted my symbol to highlight that aspect, so I drew the boat side on (also of course, that seemed the easiest!) and I then put stick men heads in each window with relaxed, laid back, curved bodies.
I particularly wanted to savour the menu so drew a little symbol for each course.
Note: They are not artistic renditions – They are very simplistic pictorial symbols that will jog my memory when I see them and bring the whole experience back to life.

Did you realize how much we rely on pictograms
for even simple tasks like finding the loo?
Or getting to the airport?
Or even attending the right sport at the Olympic Games?

Do leave a comment below and tell me -


We’ve now covered:

In the next post we’ll pull all these elements – lines, arrows and symbols – together and talk about Layout -
Where exactly do you start on the page?
The Laid Back Travel Journal Layout :)

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Pop your email in the box below and I’ll give you a cooeee when it’s published