The importance of documenting your experiences in life with a journal

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ January 30th, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » How to guides ....
Photograph of Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Bhaktapur Durbar Square Nepal - what was it like to travel Nepal then compared to now, or should we even care? Would a persons journal matter?

The lost of art of writing for yourself

I’ve just finished writing my winter Everest Base Camp trek for a series starting later in the week here. During the trek I hand wrote into a little notebook. I’ve gone through quite a few notebooks over the past decade. Keeping a journal has helped from planning to daily diaries that’s been both a chore and a resource in writing everything down.

Upon transferring my Everest trek journal over to here I realized how much I’ve changed in writing things down.

A long time ago when no one was reading here I simply transcribed everything from my hand written personal journals to online. Even now that itself has changed as a lot of these handwritten notes are now coming from my smart phone rather than a handwritten journal.

Have I simply been evolving my process in documenting my journey, or just taking an easy route out?

Trekking away from regular electricity and in an environment that smartphones don’t like brought back the old journal format again. And, I’m glad it did!

Why it’s important to document things

I think this goes without saying. I like to document things. And, if anything I tend to go overboard, but, I like it so why not? What’s more, I get to keep records of many things. Emotions, places, people, things, events, facts, figures and a combination of all these things.

More importantly a good journal links all of these things together at a certain time period in history. Something that stands the test of time if you’ve written it out well.

A journal is a manly term for a personal diary

I remember going through a phase of negativity once. Looking back at some journals it was clear to see this coming through. At the time writing things down was a way of self-expression. One that came through no matter the subject matter.

Many causal readers just saw a negative post. Regular readers saw the decline in positiveness and started asking why?

Because it’s a journal, and not a happy-go-lucky blog. Things come in ebbs and flows. Much like they do in life.

With a journey like this, documenting it all is vital. It not only helps me looking back for things I’ve done, experiences, and the results both physical and emotionally. But, it also helps others.

It’s interesting to see how recording all this has evolved too.

My evolution of keeping a travel journal

  • Over a decade ago I would save magazines, books, and online bookmarks in preparation for my journey.
  • When I started this journey I kept a hand-written diary of my feelings.
  • I tried to write things online in the form of emails to myself.
  • This soon transformed into a handwritten log of accurate data on places and times.

    Photograph of The Longest Way Home Book

    Documenting one's own history in the world

  • I then began a photo chronicle of my journey, using photographs to document my journey.
  • My first private blog came about and I rapidly wrote down a weeks events based on my handwritten notes.
  • Soon I began to transcribe older journals and newer ones directly to a blog.
  • My handwritten journal morphed back into a series of one liners of facts, emotions and places.
  • Slowly my handwritten journal got overtaken by a smart phone diary recording live maps and instant emotions. My camera taking a visual documentation of the same. These are all transferred here or to offline typed journals.

Failing to recall things not written down

Today, I am recovering from a few days of strep throat/flu. I haven’t mentioned it here, because quite honestly it’s a non-event. Everyone gets a little sick every now and then be it a cold, sore throat, or even cuts and scrapes. I wonder though if I did record how many colds I’ve had over the past 7 years would it mean anything?

Would it be advantageous to anyone else if I documented it? Would it reveal anything  more? Maybe so, maybe not.

I do make little notes of the small things. But nothing in great detail. It’s only years later looking back that I nearly always think:

“Why didn’t I write that down?”

The reason is simple, you can’t record absolutely everything in your life down. It’s also a chore if you don’t like it.

I think the answer here is to find a medium you like to record things on. Whether its Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or even a blog. Just remember to date it, otherwise it becomes a lost jumble.

It also shows you how things, places, and people  change over time.

Going deeper: things were better in my day

Many people will talk about how things were better “back in the day”. But how? Likewise in travel when people mention things are not the same as they once were. But again, how?

Today with our multiple sources of communication we should be recording what we, as people, witness in the world around us.

Some examples I’ve personally come across would include travels in Afghanistan.

Did you know that in the 1960’s/70’s Afghanistan was one of the most popular travel destinations in the world and on one of the hippie trails? Yes, peace & love reigned supreme in Afghanistan!

Today if you do a search for travel in Afghanistan you get nothing but “war tours”, or “safe places to visit in the war zone”.

How much was documented about the beauty of traveling in Afghanistan before the modern wars? And would it not be interesting to read about it now? I think it would. It might even bring a few people to sense and help return it to its former nirvana.

I traveled through Pakistan in 2007 during emergency rule. I documented it. Today someone could have a very different experience there. Likewise during the Maoist revolution in Nepal, or when the monarchy was removed from power. All elements in history that are interesting to read and compare to our own travels today. Maybe …

Today’s online world of writing for now

One of the saddest things I came across recently was a person saying “They wrote that last year! It’s out of date!” It’s human nature to always want the latest and freshest information. What’s more is that I too want to know the latest bus times, and border/visa information in the realm of travel.

But, what seems to take a back seat, even for me, are people chronicling experiences from a period in time and not just facts and their own emotions.

Yet when I want a good read, it’s not the dates and facts I want, it’s the chronicling. The journey, the emotion and the events that took place then.

Maybe this is why books/novels will still over online content in terms of good immersion reading.

Finally, to make your mark on your world

When recording things in your like think about it as being a modern-day chronicler. When you are old and people ask what you did in life or where you went, just point them to where you wrote things at the time:

  • Great to show grand-kids you weren’t always stuck in a chair!
  • Your own memories get revived as you look through the past
  • An interesting way for others to compare the past with the present
  • It’s your legacy of footprints on earth, nothings ever too small to impress or help someone out there
I can’t help but recall a butcher who said his life was not interesting enough to write down. Maybe not the day-to-day of it, but the reasons behind why it wasn’t interesting might just spark the key of life.

Upcoming travel journals on the Everest trek

Fortress in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan

Unless you document it, maybe no one will ever know of the tribal fortresses that dot the North West Frontier province of Pakistan. Looking back, I'm glad I did.

As you will see in the first few posts in my upcoming Everest Base Camp posts I began writing in the “how to style”? How to get to the base camp etc. Then as I reread them I noticed how I slipped back into my live journal format.

I kept mentioning how being so sick over the past year was causing me to fail on the trek. Unless you subscribe here you won’t get the back-story on that.  Maybe it won’t make sense without subscribing. But … I actually, really, prefer reading it this way than the factual how to guide approach I use at the start.

I enjoyed it so much I stopped the Day1-3 style posts. And started doing Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 part 1. I tried to record as much as possible.


Because when I look back I want to remember everything on that once in a lifetime trek.

It might not be to everyone’s taste. But then again, whose journey is this?

Documenting your life

Not everyone needs to keep a super accurate blog, or even diary. But if I’ve learned anything over the past seven years of recording this journey it is that I wish I’d kept more notes. And, I’m sure if I had, I’d probably then be wishing I’d kept even more details!

That’s me. Maybe you have a better memory and can recall everything on the spot. I can’t, so I document it here, with photographs and in my offline journals.

Hopefully you’ll see what I mean over the next few weeks of the Everest Base Camp Trek travel journals.

Meanwhile I sit here wondering … how to’s or journals? or both?

How best to chronicle all aspects of a journey or for that matter a person’s life?

Coming Soon:

How to prepare for a trek in Nepal 

Liked this post?

Never miss a post!

Enter your email address:


26 Great responses to The importance of documenting your experiences in life with a journal

  1. Kristina says:

    This is exactly why I kept up my blog for my shorter trips after my RTW trip ended. I can’t tell you how many times I have referred back to it when trying to remember a detail or story from the past 13 years.
    I admit my writing style for the blog has changed in the past couple of years from the day by day detail to posts which are more grouped by subject, but I think the day by day format has its place. I would do the same if I were to do another trek or perhaps an African safari.
    I look forward to reading the account of your Everest trek, day by day. :-)

    • It’s the details that count! Those are the little things I always miss out on. Thinking I’d remember them. I remember the images, but sometimes those great quotes for fluttering away into time.

      Everest … Lot’s of posts but will spread them out not to overwhelm inboxes :)

  2. i love writing and documenting. that said, most of my writing now goes into blog posts. when i want to remember, i check there. isn’t it crazy?!

    • Mzuri says:

      I don’t think that’s crazy at all. For one, your blog is a journal with a searchable memory!

      Two, it’s a cool way to look at what I was doing one year ago “today,” two years ago “today,” etc.

      Finally, I like how vividly the memory comes back to me when I re-read an entry, especially if I’ve included enough “color commentary” details.

  3. Anna's World says:

    I’ve always kept a diary. I don’t write everyday, but only when I feel like it. I’m not sure if anyone will ever want to read it though. But it feels good to write things out sometimes.

  4. Adrian says:

    Sharing my thoughts on this, I’ve kept an intermittent paper journal for the last ten or fifteen years, some is for myself, some is for public consumption. Sometimes its a travel journal, more often its just day to day minutiae, it might be of interest in the future, it might not, but if I don’t jot it down it will be gone and I know that I sometimes wish I’d written things down about other times past in my life.

    Despite all the technological tools and toys I’ve still found that jotting it down on paper is the least intrusive way of quickly recording the information, I then tend to transcribe at my leisure into typed up notes — really simple text files, one page per day. I sometimes think that the cheap A6 paper notebooks I use to write in will outlast the online copies. The online copies are far easier to search and read though.

    • Yes I agree, if you don’t note some things down, they get lost in the sands of time.

      I agree about the difference between the pleasure of writing on paper, but the efficiency of online searching through them. I imagine we’re about 3-5 years away from something which might hit upon a happy medium.

      Meanwhile I too will continue with paper notes, no battery drainage there.

  5. Michael says:

    “Journal is a manly term for personal diary”. Reminds of the time I didn’t eat quiche because a book was titled “Real men don’t eat quiche.” Anyway, I also prefer jotting down with pen on paper what I want to remember of a trip. As to what I felt during the trip, if things went wrong, I’d remember how I felt. It’s usually the trips that went smoothly that I’d find hard to recall years later. And smart phones to jot anything down? I can’t even use an old mobile phone properly.

    • Didn’t James Bond once make Quiche in a movie? :)

      Like I mentioned above I think we’re still 3-5 years away from anything that can come close to replacing paper notes.

      My major issue is battery, and reliability. If the phone/table breaks, or gets stolen I’ve lost all. Yes there’s the internet, but world isn’t that physically connected when you travel.

      A notebook on other hand is less likely to be stolen, can survive drops and even some water. It might be blurry, but it’s still there!

  6. Shannon says:

    Well thought out post and I have a couple points I’d like to make:

    1. Yes I want the latest info, not last year’s or 5 years ago for that matter if I am doing research on a particular destination blogs are great for this whether or not journaling is involved.

    2. I could care less if it was written 100 years ago if I’m reading for the learning/pleasure of knowing about one’s travels or life’s adventures what have you.

    So you see there is a time for both current and outdated content; I am content with both, but I need both not one or the other.

    Now.. there are times where I wished I would have written it down, I don’t know why I didn’t or didn’t care to or didn’t know how to heck I still don’t care to write anything down it hurts my hands and after awhile I can’t even read my own handwriting! But I want to record it somehow, no I don’t want to record my voice or a video of me either but I don’t mind typing if its on a PC or laptop. Its a bit hard to take notes on a phone its a bit more cumbersome than a tablet (somewhat easier).

    Now if I could just get a tablet to convert my handwriting to text I’d have a +1 bonus incentive to do it this way; unfortunately not everywhere I go is going to have all the electricity in the world so I DO have a notebook as a backup.

    I need to devise a plan on the best way to record my thoughts, ideas, my experiences, etc and one way so far is to photograph it all but I still need some words to go with it.

    I look forward to your next few posts, hopefully I will get enough out of it before I leave by the end of February.

    • Hi Shannon,

      I agree with you fully. There’s a separation between factual reading and pleasure reading.

      Though I write a lot of facts down here, I transcribe them over to my travel section for “just the facts”. It seems to work for me as a reference/documentations and recording tool. Time consuming, but at least once it’s up, it’s up.

      I do think we are about 3-5 years away from a good replacement of paper note books. As in something that’s easier to manage, super long battery life, and backups.

      Though I record a lot on my phone, it’s only when I have internet. I used voice type and manual type. I tried recording my voice, but never listen back as I have to type it all out again.

      When there’s no internet, I use notes. And Photographs, being sure to keep the dates on them, and write down the location.

      I hope the next few posts won’t be too overwhelming. There’s about a month of them. But like I said, I just want to have the trek documented out well.

      • Shannon says:

        I should have pointed out that with the advance of GPS capable phones/cameras you won’t even have to write down your locations anymore.

        So far I have found 3 (although there are more than 3 now) P&S cameras capable of geolocation, I have the Cybershot HX100V and another travel blogger has the Cybershot HX9V and of course I got my mom a Panasonic Lumix which has it now too just think we’re getting closer to the melting pot where writing digitally with long term batteries will be possible in the 3-5 year span as you said.

        This post was a bit long, but in fair enough detail I would still look forward to your next ones.

  7. Giovanna says:

    Since my Mother(94)has dramatically lost her memory since about one year-we have to remind her the facts and possibly,sentiments,emotions,of her life-I too want to write a journal or diary,not only of trips or travels, only for myself; the problem is,if memory is the essence of oneself,will have details of one’s past the same importance,or relief?When you were sick,you shared with us more details of your own doubts and fears,apart analysis records etc;it’s your”job”,you freely chose it,and we readers are glad of it,well not for the origin of it,sickness and pain,but becouse you tought it was also important.But a private diary is also meaningful or is a waste of time? When I read many “status changes”on Facebook,I really doubt it is worthwhile!

    • You bring up many good points Giovanna. I think a journal is only as good as someone wants it to be. For example if you want to keep a record of medication or a diet and if something works or not, it can help.

      But if one is just cataloging an event for no other reasons than to record it, I think it loses it’s purpose unless it’s for something that can help others. Bus routes, places to eat etc.

      Is a private diary a waste of time? I think it’s relative to the person writing it. Again if you are sick, and take notes about what makes you better, then you can possibly trace things and join them together to find a solution.

      But, unless you want to read about your own life, or someday plan to pass on a personal diary to someone, then there is little purpose to a private diary. Except that is if writing things down, and letting them out helps you deal with things. A bad job, relationship are usually two examples whereupon writing out what you feel, if only to yourself, and often help in dealing with a situation.

      As for FaceBook or even Twitter … I think these are more public notions of interest. Social networks for sharing with others. Publicly making statements that others react too can be addictive, and feed a sense of purpose. To record things … hmmm. Much to a lesser extent.

  8. hayadeen says:

    ..i will start writing my own journal after this.Thank you for this ‘reminder, Dave.

    by the way, the printed journal u have up there is thicker than my Oxford dictionary sir.. ;)

  9. John Dwyer says:

    Lovely piece about the importance of journals…sorry, diaries :-) When I set off on my overland trip from China to India, a friend gave me a leather-bound journal. There was something about the silky feel of the cover that demanded I record only the best of my experiences into it. I’m glad I did as I often pick it up now and read a random section. I laugh at how much I’ve changed and still amazed at the people I met. Priceless.

  10. Cristine says:

    I do keep a diary and write intermittently (merely because I am often lazy), but I often wish I’d have recorded more stuff! This year, I promised myself I would record things as often as I can and so far I have been keeping this promise but it’s only been a month in the year so I hope to keep it up. To help me with this, I not only bring a notebook with me as often as I can, but I also started using phone apps to record some notes. At least, whenever I need to record something, or an inspiration strikes me, I can readily note it down.

    • I think that’s a good idea you have their Cristine. I often found it a struggle to write everything down. Hence I’ve lately taken to pulling out my phone and quickly writing something down. Evernote is a nice app for that as it backs things up once you’re online too.

  11. Lauren K says:

    Great post Dave. Everything you said was spot on for me. As I gear up for my next big trip here in March, I’m already thinking how I will document this trip. Also, I’m greatly looking forward to your EBC posts. Heading to Nepal to do the same in May. Feel better.

    • Thanks. Get yourself one of those nice small bound notebooks to record the important things! It makes a nice keepsake too. Electricity is pretty bad here (in the off season), so charging electronics is often a problem.

      I hope the EBC posts will be interesting for you, there’s a lot of them. Might be overkill, but at least it’s all recorded :)

  12. That’s so funny, i was just reading your post too. The journal movment for me has sadly taken a sharp nose dive since the introduction of my iPod Touch. Before that I was a moleskin carrier and loved them. I’d scribble notes or paste pics in them and that was my way of journalling. I don’t think I was ever the emotional diary type of person. When I see photos or objects, even scribbles, i get a pretty tangible recollection of things. It’s really facts that I forget.

    I’ve often thought about how to revive the moleskin but it becomes one more thing to carry; I miss the tangibility of it all.

  13. Mahara says:


    I’ve written quite a few trip reports about our 34 month – 46 country journey. I’ve just been reviewing them over the past couple of days. First of all, what a pleasure to reread in detail. The names of places tend to blur for me after a few years, but there they are. I have a visual memory. Also, it has made me more appreciative of our personal journey

    I’ve got a box full of notes from some places I never did write about – India and Jordan, for example, and now I am sorry because it will never capture the mood quite as well as I would have at the time. I tended to write on buses, etc. and that did keep me up to date.

    I also write my personal goals, struggles and achievements down, but don’t keep that in intertwined with my travel stuff.