The ‘Less is More’ Way of Travel Journalling

“No sketches first, no studies, that’s long past:
I do what many dream of, all their lives…

Well, less is more… “

Robert Browning (1812–1889)
from his poem (1855) ‘speaking’ as artist
Andrea del Sarto to his wife Lucrezia

Less is More

I needed to tidy my studio, but where to start?
Why is getting over that initial hurdle so excruciating?

How hard can it be?
That wicked left language side of my brain was working it’s evil, blowing the whole job up into wordy thoughts of enormity to scare me off, when in reality it was a simple case of less is more – Move forward, pick up a piece of paper or a book, and watch the task magically unfurl.

The mess of books and paraphernalia that needed a declutter

Where to start?

Putting my hand out I let it fall upon a black covered travel journal sitting near the top of the pile –
And who couldn’t resist a little peek and maybe a quick flick through?!

What is a Travel Journal to You?

Journals (to me) are a personal thing –
They’re not as a rule for sharing –
They’re a means to privately record what has filled my days – So years later (or when I tidy my studio) I can go – Oh! I’d forgotten all about that –

I love the accessibility of journals – The immediacy of their stories encased between thick black covers waiting to be rediscovered.


Drawing illustration highlights of my day

Stingrays along the waterline – a fine memory

Like this day when the stingrays were feeding along the water’s edge – And I noticed how the original 2 black swans feeding on the sea grass a few days previously, had become 13! Which then made me realise that they’re no longer here, having moved on to greener pastures (?!). But how having them in the Bay for a while was such a wondrous thing.

Capturing Memories Digitally

If you take a photo (‘a’ photo haha), I mean xxxx photos, the onus is squarely on you to do something with them after you’ve pressed that shutter if you are to get any pleasure from them.
All that willy nilly carefree snapping while travelling in a bid to capture those elusive holiday moments creates a frighteningly large pile of numbers on your SD card, and/or your hard-drive that shows you absolutely nothing and tells you even less.
P1070059, P1070060, P1070061….
Until…. you’ve spent hours at some point later down the track (if that ‘later’ ever comes) to pore over them and repeatedly click and delete the rubbish, sort, cull, crop and enhance. rename and file, before they’re fit to see the light of day when finally uploaded and/or print/published.

Capturing memories with photos can doom them to a life imprisoned in the deepest darkest depths of your hard drive.

Illustration of what I saw on my bike ride

The clarity of that day comes back to me in a flash with this little story-map

Which is maybe why I love story-mapping in my travel journals so much!

The ‘Less is More’ Way to Recording Your Travelling Tales

Story-Map travel journals are effortless to ‘read’ –
At a glance the narrative is laid out before you illustrating what you saw, how you did it, where you went, who you met…

And their creation by comparison to other methods of recording travel memories, is relatively effortless too!
When travelling I spend about 15 minutes each evening to ponder, reflect and re-live the events of the day (which in itself helps to commit the experiences to my long term memory) while I do little doodle drawings to record what has taken place –

They’re not photographic, or life like renditions – They’re more like pictograms that represent and portray what I’m remembering in my mind’s eye – symbolically.

Pen and ink line drawing of a travel story map

Each night I ensure I’ve sketched out the highlights of the day – Here’s what I did on a Friday and Saturday when in Tasmania recently.

There’s no pressure to create an artistic sketch –
Scribbly doodles are the go!

And because when I’m on the road I have the tendency to go into overdrive, squashing the max into each day (and each moment) the days can be long, not allowing a lot of time for record keeping –
So it’s only the initial outline of the drawing that I ensure I get done and dusted before my head hits the pillow each night – Anything more is optional.

The pen and ink line drawing now coloured to revel the complete story map

The colouring happens later

The colouring can wait –

It’s only the factual bits that I’m compelled to spend that 15 minutes committing to paper before the day is done because it’s surprising just what can fall between the cracks if I don’t do that before the clock strikes midnight.

The colouring part is super relaxing and a pleasurable pastime that requires no thinking so can be slotted in anytime –
Whether you have a few moments to fill waiting for someone, or something to happen; or you’re having a drink in a cafe and/or socializing with friends – Colouring can be done while chatting – It does not require your full attention (unlike scrolling through posts on your phone 😉 )

‘Less is More’ in both Size & Shape

I’ve tried various configurations of travel journals for doodling my story maps – portrait, landscape, large and small, but I love the concertina or accordion journals that can fold out into a continuous sheet so the pages and the days are all connected –

Story Map drawing

Some days the events spill out over several pages…

They allow ‘time’ to flow and not be confined to fit within the bounds of a single page.
I don’t know about you – But my days are rarely created equal – Some days are huge and need to spill out over three pages with the complexity of their events…

Other days are lazy, and will comfortably curl up in the corner of a page!

Cartoon drawing of what I did on Sunday

Lazy days don’t need so much space


Why ‘Less is More’ is so Effective

I wonder if you realize how much you unwittingly use pictograms in your every day life?

Signage to keep you safe on the roads, to direct you to public conveniences and warn you of dangers – particularly where they need to be comprehended across language barriers –

Minuscule cartoon-like pictograms can say so much.

Drawing showing what I did on a Saturday in pictograms

Encapsulating a Saturday

The way I see it is –

  • Rather than writing pages and pages of words to spell out a first draft describing the intricacies of what you did
  • Spend hours sketching in one spot attempting a life like rendition of a single moment
  • Or staring at a computer screen scrolling, culling and enhancing xxxx photos

As a first port of call for recording your travel memories consider taking a mere 15 minutes to turn your day’s experiences into pictograms and try story mapping your travels
Your story, there and then, will have been recorded for posterity.
For the minimal amount of time and energy involved, the results are massive!

Travel journal extract

Extract from my story-map travel journal when in Canada

“No sketches first, no studies, that’s long past:
I do what many dream of, all their lives,
—Dream? strive to do, and agonize to do,
And fail in doing. I could count twenty such
On twice your fingers, and not leave this town,
Who strive—you don’t know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,—
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter)—so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged.”

Robert Browning

As Robert Browning said - Less is More

What do you think?
Do you agree that less can be more when it comes to travel journalling?
Or is this poppycock?
Do share your views in the comments below and let the discussion begin 🙂

17 thoughts on “The ‘Less is More’ Way of Travel Journalling

    • I love the idea of sketching too and when I do stop for long enough (and persuade my travelling companion to take the time out to stop too!) I’ve always been very happy – not so much with the ‘artistic’ result – but certainly with the memories that they evoke –
      But some trips are a bit speedier – and while I know (and appreciate) that taking the time to be truly in the moment is important – I really love that all the travelling tales (not the select one or two that are sketched) can be recorded so effectively and efficiently as story maps:)

    • Everyone should do something similar LOL 😀
      No matter how bad you think your drawing is (the usual reason against doing something similar) whatever you do will be so intrinsically linked to those magical memories – you’ll only see the memories, not the rubbish drawing hehe!

  1. Oh I just love this! Your sketches are terrific! I love the whimsical aspect, the creativity, the writing interspersed…

    I used to have a sketch book from every country we went to… we always took the time to stop and sketch and you are correct that the memories of the places we sketched are always stronger. Because when sketching one really looks at something in a different way.

    This makes me want to get a new sketchbook and revisit the activity, so thank you.


    • Stopping to sketch is the ultimate when it comes to travel memories – Certainly the most vivid memory I have from Venice was when I sat down on a canal edge, scooped up some canal water and did a little watercolour of some french windows on the opposite side! I mention it in this post here
      But I’m loving creating story maps in the concertina sketchbooks I talk of above as I find them such a great way to visually record all the day’s highlights that is then a pleasure to revisit (which I can’t say about my writing haha!!)
      So pleased this has maybe re-inspired you to get your sketchbook out again 🙂

    • Thanks David – Although simplistic symbolic type drawing is inherent in us all, past school age few of us use it, as alphanumerics become our ‘preferred’ means of communication –
      I’d like to see more people resurrecting this intuitive technique 🙂

  2. Another lovely post filled with wonderful tips. Having just spent our ‘summer of slogging’ in preparation for our new chapter, I was painfully reminded of the thousands of photos I’ve taken and the numerous travel journals I have. Puts them all into perspective when they are boxed up and sitting in a storage unit. . .at least those that didn’t go to the dumpster!

    • What a job you’ve had – and the funny thing is, even after all that sorting and culling when you do go back and open up that storage unit there are likely to be many things (in a few years hence) you’ll look at and say – why on earth did I bother to keep that?!
      I have tossed some ‘boring’ journals I have to admit – but anything with a squiggly doodle in it always captures my heart so I don’t think I could toss any of them… no matter how many I have 🙂
      Looking forward to following your next adventures in Greece!

  3. Wow, you’re so creative with your travel journal. I really like those little maps and the illustrations. It’s such a cool way to create beautiful memories.

    • Nobody has two left hands when it comes to drawing any more than they have two left hands when it comes to writing – Its just that writing is more accepted as the norm so we practice doing that more 😉

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