It’s a small book, very unimpressive with a black faux leather cover and my initials stamped in gold which had long been chipped away. The initials had changed anyway since the book predated my darling husband by at least 10 years. I came across the book tucked away in a Rubbermaid container in the back of my closet. I was in the throes of a major purge of all unnecessary things in my life. It was a gray and dreary day and the rain was pelting the window in my room. I had exhausted all the options of things to do in other parts of the house and I could no longer avoid the dreaded closet. Shoes from the past three decades were strewn about. Doug often wondered aloud why some of them were still around as he had not once seen me wear them in our 12 years of marriage. But I have an inexplicable attachment to my shoes so while the plan was to make a step towards a more minimalist and less materialistic life, the shoes were simply reorganized and put away so that one did not have to negotiate a minefield of stilettos while looking for a pair of socks.
Box by box and drawer by drawer I moved through with the efficiency and ruthlessness of a four star general. I filled garbage bags with clothes for donation to the local Goodwill Store and I became brutally unsentimental as I chucked old birthday cards, mix tapes, letters from the past and a stack of programs from various events and awards ceremonies.
Then I found the journal from my very first trip to Italy. Oh my God, was I ever naïve! My lack of knowledge about Italy and the Italians made me cringe. My lack of adventure culinarily speaking and my struggle with the language jumped off the pages and I barely recognized the person I was then. Since then I have immersed myself in the Italian culture and have made it my mission to understand and know its people, history, art and food. And though some of my observations were truly cringeworthy, my instant love for the country and my desire to know it better came through.
In this digital age, a journal seems almost obsolete. Memory keeping happens on Instagram and Facebook. But pictures do not capture your inner thoughts. Am image frozen in time leaves out a lot of detail.
I encourage you to grab a notebook before you head off on your next trip. It doesn’t have to be fancy and its best that it is very portable so you can carry it everywhere. A sidewalk café makes a perfect place to write down observations. Entries need not be long but they should be genuine and authentic. If you get stuck, here are some ideas to get you going. They may seem strange now, but the reflections and first impressions of a place are so vivid in the moment that capturing them is essential. When you go back and read them some day in your future life, you will be completely transported.
1. Describe a meal in detail – each course, the atmosphere, the wine, etc. This is not elitist. I am not talking about 2 star Michelin meals. I mean the pizza joint or the sandwich shop – anything! Eating and drinking are essential aspects of culture.
2. Describe anything that is out of the ordinary to you - -this will be different for each person and that is what makes it so special.
3. Sketch out a person you encounter in full detail.
4. Write questions to yourself – be it about history, customs or modern day life. You may have the answers before the trip is over but if not, what a great opportunity for post trip research.
5. Make a journal entry based on a photo you take. After you take a picture that you particularly like, fill in the moment with details of what was going on around you when you took it – the sites, the smells, the sounds. What was it about this subject that inspired you to snap the photo? Obviously you will not do this with every picture you take, but some moments just lend themselves to further description
I hope you do consider bringing an old fashioned journal on your next trip – you will be amazed at how it will enhance your experience. Have you ever kept a travel journal? Have you gone back and looked at it? Let me know in the comments below.