Take a Peek Inside Mary’s Watercolour Travel Journal

Travel Journals are generally a private affair between their creator and its pages –

It’s not often one has the opportunity to take a look inside *someone else’s* journal and see how they record their journeys.

I’m so grateful to Mary Morris who’s opened some of her watercolour travel journals, created over the years, to let us take a peek and share the special opportunity her journals give her to “be utterly free and creative” when on the road.

This is part of a series of interviews with travellers who offer inspirational ways of recording travel memories


1. Why keep a travel journal?

I wish I could say it’s as simple as I want to record my experiences, but my travel journals are more than that.
While I rarely keep a diary at home, I always have done so on the road.
Indeed I have 62 travel journals thus far.
I suppose it helps me organize my thoughts.
But mainly I think that my journal is a place where I can be utterly free and creative and that pretty much only happens to me on the road.

Watercolour sketch from a travel journal

White house on the plain – View from the train, Spain

2. What do you include in your travel journal?

I do record what happens, experiences.
It is also the place for reflections that will often find their way into my blog.
I also use it as a kind of sketchbook for my own creative writing (I write novels and short stories as well as travel narratives).
And I include a lot of visuals – collage, memorabilia, watercolors, almost all boarding passes and museum tickets, etc.
It is what I have done for years.
I recently saw an exhibition of the journals of Leonardo da Vinci and it explained how the journals were the place where da Vinci was able to bring together his writing and his drawing. So obviously this is something that creative people have been doing for a very long time.

Watercolour sketch from a travel journal of a Vienna cafe

3. How do you keep your journal?

I’ve sort of answered that above but I pretty much put everything in it.
I also draw and paint.  The quality of the paper is very important to me.  My journals used to be lined, but now they are unlined.

Travel journal pages showing watercolour sketches

An early lined travel journal

I paint watercolors almost exclusively in the journals, rarely on paper.  I honestly can’t explain this, but it’s almost as if I am able to become a child again when I’m on the road and when I’m writing and drawing in my journal.

Travel Journal pages showing watercolour sketches

Cappadoccia – Turkey

One aspect of my journals that seems to interest people a lot when I give talks about my writerly life is that I create a table of contents – a kind of index in the front of every journal.  Because I work on many different creative projects at once, and often will be making notes for half a dozen different projects at a time, on the contents page I put the page numbers where all the notes on a project appear.  For example, I’m working on something that involves tigers so a heading might be: TIGERS, p. 3, 17, 23, 42, etc.  When I get home I stick different colored Post-Its on those pages.  This enables me to find the material I need as I work on different things.

Handwritten travel journal with sketches

4. How often do you update your travel journal?

On the road daily.  At home rarely.
When traveling, I factor journal time into my days.
Some days, especially if I’m traveling with my daughter, we will sit all day and write and draw in them.  We can do this for hours.
And if I’m on my own I can do it all day

Travel journal page written by hand and illustrated with sketches

“It is the starved imagination, not the well-nourished, that is afraid.” EM Forster

5. What is your favourite piece of travel journaling equipment?

Travel Journal Materials p paints and a glue stick



I carry a very small watercolor kit and a small brush. 
Also I travel with a pencil case that includes waterproof pens, pencils, and, most importantly, a fresh glue stick!  Always.




6. Why does this type of travel journaling work for you?

My mind is all over the place all the time.
The journal focuses my thinking and, quite frankly, writing and painting in it is one of my favorite things to do in this life so I guess that in and of itself means it must work for me.

Watercolour sketch in a travel journal by Mary Morris

On the Banks of the Seine, Paris

Mary’s Journal: “There are no first drafts, no work in progress,
no unfinished work, no finished work.
here is no such thing as a mistake.
It is only one step along in the way of creation.
Art is not perfection. It is not a finished product –
It is ALL in the process.” 


Mary Morris

Mary Morris
is a novelist and travel writer who reflects on landscapes and literature and the role that each has played in her life.
Click here: For a list of Mary’s Books
Mary’s Blog: The Writer and the Wanderer
Connect with Mary on Twitter: 
Mary Morris on twitter



Do you keep any form of travel journal?

Contact me if you’d like to share how *you* recount your travel memories –
Allow us to take a peek in *your* ‘journal 🙂


Share a few tips in the comments below


Journey Jottings... highlights your holiday adventures

29 thoughts on “Take a Peek Inside Mary’s Watercolour Travel Journal

    • And I hope you still do Billie!
      It’s an art to retain our child like spontaneity and remain playful.
      As we get older, we become increasingly judgmental, which sadly incapacitates our freedom (enjoyment and fun) to be creative.
      I love this TED talk by Tim Brown: Tales of creativity and play
      If you have a few moments there are some interesting points here!
      As Pablo Picasso said:
      “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

    • Mary’s journals are so beautiful Nikki ~
      I think the way the little paintings are incorporated into the text of the writing as anecdotes to her travelling tales is of course their charm.
      Neither the writing nor the paintings are taking center stage as the star – They totally complement each other to make the whole 🙂

  1. I also only journal when I travel and I just write about what I experienced on a particular day and what I was feeling. I do it so that I won’t forget anything years down the line. I like to reread them years after to give me perspective. Great post!

    • That’s so wonderful to hear Joya –
      And you’re obviously already reaping the benefits of jotting those notes on trips, which are now years ago – as they not only bring back memories but also give you perspective 🙂

  2. I love Mary and her watercolor journal. I first met Mary at a storytelling class in an Italian travel writers conference in Italy and instantly was amazed by her. Thanks so much for this lovely interview!

  3. What a great way to combine two passions. I tend to end up with a bunch of disjointed tiny little pads with my travel notes. I’d love to be organized enough to have everything in one journal—with an index no less.I have an English friend who makes gorgeous books of her travels. She even assembles the actual books herself, sewing the pages in. We’re of on a big trip soon. Maybe if I really try. …….. But, my book will never be as lovely as Mary’s journals.

    • Definitely worth a try Suzanne –
      Any hand recorded jottings made in the place you’re travelling creates a beautiful bridge across time –
      There really is something special about holding in your hand – and touching where the pen touched the paper – a journal that was on that trip with you.

    • No need for lessons Annabel –
      Travellers like you are naturally adventurous – always stepping out into the unknown with no prior practice or knowledge –
      So what’s the difference then to fearlessly flicking a paintbrush or trying a few twirls with a pen?
      Promise I won’t ask you to show us and share 😉

    • Annabel, you don’t need lessons! I’ve never had a lesson. I can’t draw anything! I’ve just tried different things. I love color so I try to use a lot of color. Just get some supplies you like and give it a Try.

      • Your approach is so inspiring Mary –
        I do hope people reading this, and taking a peek inside your journal, will do as you suggest – select a few supplies and go for it! 😀

  4. Wow that is incredible. What an amazing way to keep a travel journal.
    I haven’t been as good about journaling the last few years as I was earlier, but I still have my first and it makes such an interesting read these days long past.
    Things like this inspire me to get back to doing it right.

    • Mary’s travel journals are so wonderfully expressive aren’t they?
      I hope this post does re-inspire you to take up journalling again – particularly since you can appreciate the pleasure they offer, what with your first travel journal offering such interesting insights into your travels past 🙂

  5. What a wonderful way to journal. I cannot draw let alone paint, but I keep trying to get my husband to do this for me…no such luck. Beautiful!

    • I encourage people to at least try a few squiggles to accompany their words –
      When you think of some of Lowry’s figures in his artworks, which were often no more than stick figures, with a simple curving of their backs he’d convey their feeling of being weighed down by life to perfection –
      I defy anyone to say they can’t draw a stick figure!! Yet look at how expressive even those few lines can be 😉

  6. Mary, thanks for ‘opening up’ your travel journals to share with us all. I love your combination of the watercolour painting and writing. I also keep travel journals but my drawing skill is quite low so I stick with writing.

    • Combining artwork with words is so expressive I’ve been planning a series of posts to help people (even those who say their ‘drawing skill is quite low’!) to be able to add a few doodle drawings to their journals –
      Be warned! 😀

  7. A journal like this for me, is really a work of art. The thoughts, the artistry, the design and the layout as random as it may be for the journal maker converts to a veritable feast for the reader. Long may this form of journaling continue. I so wish I was arty enough to do this.

    • I love the freedom that this journal gives Mary –
      Unlike when you are writing a piece for a blog post you have first, second, and third drafts – each trying to create perfection –
      Or when working on an artwork you re-work sections to finish the piece –
      Here, in her journal…
      ”There are no first drafts, no work in progress,
      no unfinished work, no finished work.
      There is no such thing as a mistake.
      It is only one step along in the way of creation.
      Art is not perfection. It is not a finished product –
      It is ALL in the process.”

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