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 any-where or any-way 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 Layout

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 travel journal layout

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 Layout

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.

Travel journal layout showing how to snake your 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 Travel Journal Layout

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 the stages of 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 of my day from my travel journal when visiting 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 🙂


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27 thoughts on “The Laid Back Travel Journal Layout – How to Story-Map Your Day

    • You may be pleased to hear, everyone can draw!
      Take a look at Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.
      It’s merely your chattering inner critic of a monkey that’s telling you you can’t Lyndsay 🙂

    • It may be a case of the process being more important than the product!
      By going over the day’s events in the evening is like revising so you’ll remember it way better in the future just from the exercise of doing a story map – which can’t be bad 🙂

    • Re the Paper: I tend to use a journal that has a reasonable paper thickness to it –
      Standard computer paper is about 80gsm – I’d go for about twice that if possible – say 150gsm – It will give you more substance and texture.
      Re the coloured pencils: Yes – I just used standard coloured pencils on that trip as they’re so easy to carry and whip out in a flash 🙂

    • Yes Irene – After developing these pictorial story maps and trying to come up with a descriptive name I did discover that traditional story maps made up just of words are indeed used by authors to formulate their novels to define their characters, create their plot, contemplate the climax and develop a resolution –
      Communication by any means is the key 🙂

    • Hehe!!
      Story maps are just for highlighting my holiday adventures –
      And showing how you can recount and recall your vacation memories…. forever too! 😉

  1. Another great lesson, Linda. I’m looking forward to the day when I can start to put all I’m learning to task. Thanks for sharing all of your insider tips and tricks!

    • I’m sure at the end of your summer season you’ll be planning your next road trip and story maps will be a great way to record the trip… one road at a time! 😉

    • Yes – I fear our chattering monkey brain leads us a merry dance and talks us out of so many things –
      One of the first exercises Betty gets you to do is to turn a line drawing upside down and then you copy it, line by line, still upside down, so you can’t start naming the parts – As a consequence, you actually draw what you see – not what you think you see from memory when you allow your pesky left language brain to stick its nose and start causing a racket by naming things!
      It sounds a little strange that it should work until you try this –
      But you’ll be amazed at what you do if you try it but once 😉

    • Nothing really that fancy is needed Suzanne!
      A biro and a pad of paper would suffice… although true to say one or two coloured pencils does pretty it up a little 😉

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  4. This is EXACTLY what I was looking for! I’ve created travel journals all my life. Some include typed, edited versions of my travel notes. Others are mostly photos. I always include maps, tickets stubs, photos of grandiose landscapes and details of my dinner and the bus trip. But something’s still missing.
    I’m getting ready for my next adventure and thinking about how I’ll present my memories. And your blog showed me what’s missing: my emotional, immediate reaction to the event. Story-mapping lets me capture what’s important to me in a personal way. Your step-by-step hints and examples are fantastic. I can’t draw, but I can sketch and show my journey, the passage of time and the interesting bits. Thank you for your inspiration!

    • So happy you found this post 🙂
      And how exciting to be about to embark on a new adventure –
      This other post I wrote – Less is More – further explores the use of story mapping, and also demonstrates my love for concertina/accordion journals, which could also be of interest!

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