How to Travel Journal like a Map-Maker

Why do you treasure your travel journals?

Pile of travel journalsFor their marvelous memories, of course!

Memories of faraway places…
exotic locations…
often never to be repeated

So, how do you capture your adventures?
By words?

Pages and pages of descriptive writing?

hand written pages in a travel journal

By sketches?

Whimsical lines and blobs of colour expressing an essence?

Image: sketchbook travel journal

By scrapbooking?

Collating ephemera?

travel scrapbok ephemera

Traveller’s Treasure Trove

By photographs?

Snap happy?

market france


I love my travelling tales –

But over the years I’ve struggled how best to record them in a way that doesn’t feel like homework – either at the time OR later!

I don’t know about you, but the reality is…

I’m not an author.
In fact I generally find walls of solid text quite daunting and uninviting.
And when delving into my own unedited first drafts, I have to be honest, I find their wordy roughness hard going.

I’m not an artist.
I’d love to be able to emulate sketchbook journallers who with their evocative splodges convey a spontaneity.
But my efforts, to me – fall disappointingly flat.

I’m not a scrap-booker.
I admire craftspeople who pedantically collect, collate, arrange and stick, to create heirlooms for future generations –
But somehow that day to sit down and start sorting, mysteriously never happens.

I’m not a photo-album collator
I take 1,000’s of photos to capture the beauty I see but must confess that most of them still languish on their SD cards –
The size of the job required to cull through each of the 20 different angles I took of each subject as the light changed is too daunting and so they get left for ‘one day’.

But, I am a map-maker!
And I’m going to share with you how to travel journal like a map-maker and… 

create story-map travel journal pages like below,

which are quick, easy and…fun 🙂

Image: Travel Journal storyboard story map

Maps are made up of:

  • a variety of line types
  • a few words (mainly names) and
  • some symbols, which with their need to be easily recognizable are often a simple doodle.

In other words, they’re not complex realistic drawings that require time and observation –
They’re representations that are drawn from how your mind’s eye sees or perceives them.
If you look at the symbols I used in the above story-map, the square block houses are represented by the kind of house we as children in kindergarten would draw –

kindergarten drawing of family

copyright Asa

So if you held a pencil in kindergarten and drew symbolic renditions from memory of your family and home, you already possess the skill required to create a story-map too!

Have you ever created a mind-map?
Where you start with a central theme from which thoughts and ideas branch out across the page forming a map that links the concept together?
This is essentially the secret of a story map.
You’re laying out and linking the events of your day by positioning the words, the lines and the pictorial symbols so their spacial relationship on your journal page reveals the tale.

“Maps are our most primeval narrative instruments.
…some of the best stories I’ve ever read were maps.”

Frank Jacobs, Strange Maps.

As a cartographer I’m forever amazed how a single sheet map can convey so much information succinctly, comprehensibly and have such visual appeal.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words –

How ever many words is a story-map worth?

They say a picture is worth a 1000 words, How many words is a story map worth

How To Guides

There are 100’s of How To Guides available on-line and at the library that will improve your travel writing, teach you how to draw, develop your skills to create beautiful scrapbook journals, and take better travel photographs.

But I’d like to share with you some tools, tips and tricks from my quirky cartographic viewpoint.

A Map-Maker’s Guide to Create Your Own Story Map Travel Journal

will introduce you to line type varieties (dots, dashes, squiggles), show you how to create the feeling of movement with arrows and how to make simple pictorial symbols to help you recall your travelling tales in a way that will put a smile on your face (not only at the time), but in years to come when that moment for nostalgia strikes.

Story map travel journal

My Story Map of the Rim Walk at Kings Canyon in central Australia

To create story maps of your travels…

  • you don’t have to be a writer
  • you don’t have to be an artist
  • nor a crafts-person

You just need to
like the idea of creating something a little bit different
and have enough of an adventurous spirit to give them a go 🙂

In the next post I’ll start at the beginning with some line types ~
Here are a few to get you thinking about the possibilities!

Line types for drawing

Now, what do you think these line types represent?

Can’t wait to find out?
Here’s the link to the next post in the series:

How to Make the Most of Line Types to Express Your Travels in a Story Map

And if you don’t want to miss the answers, enter your email below and I’ll give you a cooeee when it’s published


34 thoughts on “How to Travel Journal like a Map-Maker

  1. What a wonderful idea! I can’t wait to see the following posts. I think I’ll have to give the Map travel journal a try, it looks like such an interesting and succinct way to portray my travels!

    As for the lines… I’m guessing that’s a train track in the middle, and maybe a walking trail near the top but I’m stumped on the rest!

    • Story Maps are certainly one of the quickest and most expressive ways I’ve found for recording a trip.
      And without a doubt the most fun to re-visit down the track.

      Talking of which… Yes, they’re train tracks in the middle and the one above it is a footpath – being a single broken line its conveying a less solid impact on the landscape 🙂
      More on that in the next post!

    • Thrilled this post is opening your eyes to a new way of seeing… and then doing…
      I think you’re going to love then, what I have coming up even more 😉

    • It certainly is possible Annabel –
      As the level of drawing is that, which we acquired in kindergarten, happily no one is excluded!
      I’ll follow your journey with me, with interest 🙂

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    • I’m going to start off with illustrating line types in the first post, then go onto creating different styled arrows to convey movement –
      Happy you’re coming along for the ride Neva 🙂

  3. Thanks for the step-by-step. I love your maps, your style/drawings/colors, etc., When the day comes that I have the time (i.e. no longer an innkeeper) I’m going to play with this as I think it would be great fun and fuel my creative sides. As you know I’m a scrap booker, but I think it’s time to branch out a bit and try something new.

    • With your eye Patti you’d have no trouble picking this up at all –
      The thing about story maps is that they’re quick enough to do each evening without it being a burden when you’re on the road –
      Hope you’ll tag along so you have these tips and tricks up your sleeve ready for your travels in your next off-season 🙂

    • Diagrams – even boring pie charts and bar graphs – are used as they can convey so much ‘diagrammaticality’ LOL
      Story maps have the same capability – and even if the drawing is ‘rubbish’ they’re way more fun to look back over than pages of poorly written prose! 😉

  4. I am definitely snap happy and a scrapbooker. I do LOVE these story maps. They would be such a wonderful addition to my photos in my scrapbooks. I just hope my map looks halfway as good as yours does 🙂

    • This is the first in a series I’m doing breaking down the elements and skills required to produce story-maps –
      The next post will show a variety of line types that can be used, and then arrows for showing movement, as well as direction!
      Hope you’ll come along for the ride and, more importantly, give them a go 🙂

  5. Very cool, Linda! I look forward to learning from you as we work our way forward with the map making. I can draw lines (like the railway tracks) but I think in terms of words and photos for the most part. Maps are a challenge for me at the best of times, but I’m willing to learn. Cheers!

    • I love that you’ve offered yourself up as willing to learn!
      The laying out of the page is a lot like a mind map (which I’ll go into in a few posts hence) after I’ve laid out the ground work of using a variety of line types, arrows and symbols 🙂

  6. My sister writes the notes and I am mostly the photographer when we travel and then I write the posts. But my sister has long-unused artistic talent and I’d love to see her try something like this. I can see how these are a really fun way to remember and relive a trip – very creative. Thanks for the idea!

    • They’re fun because they don’t take too much time out of your trip to create, are done at the time (no culling of images “one day”), and it’s a blast seeing each day summarised visually on a single sheet – No flicking through pages of text to find the bit you’re after 🙂

  7. I didn’t remember that you’re a cartographer. I am a map-o-phile. Did you ever read Ken Jenning’s book, “Maphead”. I think you’d enjoy it. But, I digress. I’ve recently started Zentangling and finding that I quite enjoy having a new creative outlet. I’ll be following along and who knows? maybe I’ll fool myself and create a map journal.

    • Interesting to hear you are a map-o-phile Suzanne – and yes, I have read Maphead!
      With your love of zentangle lines I’m sure you’ll be a natural at story mapping!

  8. Nonsense you are not an artist. These recordings are wonderful! I’m so happy to have discovered your blog. We have a similar sensibility and I can’t wait to explore and read more. I’ve left mush of my artwork behind for a while, and you’ve inspired me to think about getting my journals more decorative again!

    • Thrilled to hear this post has maybe prompted you to re-visit the idea of creating a few doodles in your journal to express your travelling experiences.
      I guess my point with story maps is, because the symbols used are akin to what we produce in kindergarten no artistic skills are required 😉

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