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Journaling on the Road

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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

I never was a big journal-writer.

As a teen, I tried. I really did. Teens were supposed to spill their angst into the trusty pages of their journals. But I just didn't care to record what I viewed as the entirely mundane details of my day-to-day life, and I wasn't introspective enough as a kid to see the point in working out my ideas on the page.

But then, after I graduated university, I started to travel on my own (without my parents), and suddenly, I became a journal-keeper. In this case, it was a journal of my "adventures," as I suddenly saw them---finally, something worth writing about.

My first foray into travel writing ended rather infelicitously---my journal was stolen (along with nine rolls of film of Paris, Madrid, Seville, and the Alhambra) in Barcelona. Demoralized, I picked up a fresh new journal to begin again, but my entries were perfunctory lists of what I had done at each stop along my journey.

Without realizing it, I'd grown attached to the detailed minutiae that I'd recorded in the lost journal. I realized that although it probably would never be thrilling reading to others, it was a creative investment on my part, and I had enjoyed trying to capture my impressions on paper.

I continued travelling during my summers when I became a teacher. My travelling companion was usually a friend who was also an English teacher, and more often than not, we found ourselves a pub or another quiet spot at the end of each day to spend a good hour or so recording what we'd done, what we'd seen, what we'd said. The process included frequent reading aloud of passages we especially liked, particularly ones that made us share a good laugh.

These days, when I'm not on the road, I enjoy skimming back over my journals. They're not the most poetic pieces in the world, but some of the phrases and images are evocative enough to remind me of the experiences they describe, and a choice few I'm actually quite proud of.

On this current trip, I'm once again keeping a journal. But these days, my journalling is a combination of my writing in a book, and of blogging my experiences here and on my own personal blog for my friends and family to follow along. I first used this kind of hybrid journalling about four years ago, eventually printing the online blog to paste into my handwritten journal.

Similarly, students' journals can be this kind of combination of private and public, and indeed, the interactivity of blogging has made journalling exciting to many young people who, like me, might not have felt their impressions were worth recording, let alone sharing. Even I feel pretty validated when people leave comments on my blogs, so I can imagine how a student might feel if she spots some helpful comments from her peers.

What students often need is an occasion to journal. Asking them to write a few impressions of a holiday break can be one such opportunity, whether it involves describing a single location visited on a trip or an evening spent at a family reunion. Stress to the students that journal entries such as these are always first-draft efforts, subject to rereading, feedback, and revision if they're going to be used for more formal pieces later on.

I've also been inspired by reading some travel writing, and it's worthwhile to have students read some too. They might enjoy Michael Palin's stories of his journeys around the world, for example. There are plenty of documentaries that are video equivalents of journals, too: on the flight to England we watched a couple hosted by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly and English actor Stephen Fry. Such travel docs are relatively simple to emulate using a simple digital camera with video capability and a video editing program like iMovie. (As we've been travelling, we've been posting short videos to our blog, too, with written commentary.)

Years from now, I'll leaf through my journals with pleasure and nostalgia. None of those words are likely ever to be published, but the prospect of reading them after the adventure keeps me writing nonetheless, and even if the audience is only the future me, it's still an audience that I have to consider when choosing my words.