Thursday, June 26, 2008


I’m almost too embarrassed to post this as a project, it’s so simple. It is, however, a pretty handy idea in my opinion – a certain unnamed person might even refer to it as a “good thing” – so here it is, for your use/enlightenment/momentary diversion:

If you happen to be anything like me you find yourself, on any “special” trip – first time to NYC or another major US city, certainly any overseas travel – saving little paper items like ticket stubs and concert programs. If you happen to be a lot like me, you return home and promptly – or worse, eventually – stuff your fond paper memories into a shoebox, dooming them to virtual oblivion. Yes, I know, someday you will unearth your little collection of subway passes and receipts and collage them into a special scrapbook along with all those wonderful photos you took. Hey, maybe you can even go ahead and include a photo of those nice pigs flying past the window. Anyway, the great thing about this little project is that it doesn’t preclude the eventual scrapbooking of your travel detritus – in fact, it will actually help you out with that scrapbooking – as will a space heater to warm up your frozen-over corner of scrapbooking hell.

The truth is, in this digital age, I’m not even sure I want to be making the conventional paper&photo-corners albums anymore. I’m much more interested in someday formatting and self-publishing my best pics into an actual book courtesy of
lulu or somesuch – and rest assured, if I ever do undertake such a project I will be posting about it here. Nevertheless, it’s nice to have a way of keeping the memories associated with your paper travel debris – in particular to remember the names of places where you ate, or whom you saw perform and what they played.

For instance, on a truly wonderful trip to Barcelona last month, I collected two concert programs and several ticket stubs from various museums, etc.. But especially nice were the small business-size cards given out by nearly all the restaurants. These typically have the restaurant name on one side and a map showing its location on the other.

What a great thing to have! Either you could be planning a trip back years later, or have a friend going over there, and know exactly which places to recommend – even showing them precisely how to get there. Trust me, this is a vast improvement over: “If you take one of the streets heading south from the piazza, there should be a little dive-like place about halfway down the street – I think.”

Time for a quick, but important, aside: I’ve never been a diary kind of person, and although I’ve traveled with other people who kept travel journals, I haven’t ever been inspired by the idea. Yet there’s quite a bit of data that’s gotten lost as a result of my anti-journalism attitude. (A perfect example is Barcelona itself: this year’s trip was actually my second to the city; my previous trip dates back to the spring break of my semester in Rome. I have embarrassingly vague memories from that trip, in part perhaps due to it’s having occurred in the pre-digital age when I took far fewer photos than I do now, but keeping a journal certainly would've helped. Of course I have a general impression of a great, scruffy time wandering around the city, which is the most important thing. But it’s downright stupid that I cannot even locate the approximate neighborhood of the hostel where we stayed, or remember all the places we visited.) So, for this trip, I decided to take the journalistic plunge. I stopped and bought a Moleskin the second day there. Yes, the Moleskin company has gotten a bit pretentious, but they really do make a good product.

And it’s actually quite easy to find snippets of time throughout the day to record the goings-on: sitting at dinner or lunch waiting for the meal to arrive – OK, this makes you look like a total tourist, but when your dinner companion has his video camera out, the cause has already been lost – and most particularly breakfast is a great time to catch up with the previous evening’s events (in the case that, like me, you are not much of a one for staying up recording these the same evening). In fact, for someone who had previously shown so little enthusiasm for keeping a journal, I got quite obsessed by it and, as you can well imagine [ahem, so much for the “quick” aside], each day’s entry was more verbose than the one before. I didn’t write a novel, but I think I got down enough to trigger the memories in the future. Particularly fun was recording what we ate and drank at each meal – this will be great to read in the years ahead, but it did require a certain vigilance. Leave it too long and you’ll be amazed what details you forget. So, the point at which we’ve finally arrived is the importance of keeping a travel journal. This is more than a recommendation; it’s an essential principle of life, like brush your teeth each morning and night or look both ways before you cross the street. Obviously, there are trips where this rule may not apply, such as family-oriented visits, or work-related trips. My advice is to err on the side of caution, though, and to keep a notebook handy.

So I returned with not only a sizeable pile of travel detritus, but also my little notebook chockfull of happy Catalonian memories. I would love to someday format a real little book about Barcelona based on the trip, but for now the obvious thing to do was to somehow marry my paper bits with my notebook.

The rest, as you’ve probably guessed, is very straightforward. I sorted through my ticket stubs and restaurant cards, arranging them in approximate chronological order (greatly aided by my journal entries). Then, with double-sided tape, I stuck them into the book immediately following the final journal entry. A small sampling:

Ticket stubs and shopping labels...
For a Spanish guitar concert program, I trimmed excess paper from the edges, then folded the program accordion-style so it can be pulled out and read in its entirety:

And that’s it. Pretty simple. Of course there are various ways you could improve upon this – one problem is that the thickness of all the accumulated cards and ticket stubs keeps the notebook from closing properly. Because my Moleskin has the handy elastic strap to keep it closed, this isn't a real issue for me. However, an obvious solution (provided you’ve got the extra pages – I know I did) is to cut out several pages from the notebook to make room for the thicker paper. Another variation would be to stick in each day’s cards in between each day’s journal entry – although this I don’t like so much, as it turns into a project to keep up with during the trip – you’d have to bring along your tape and allow time to do it each day. And double-sided tape may not be the absolute best adhesive to use; I liked it, though, because there’s no mess as with an Elmers-type glue, you get better adherence than with a glue-stick, and the chances of being able to remove things in the future are improved. If you were a maniac, I suppose you could go for photo-corners, but if you’re that kind of person chances are you’d be putting together a full-blown scrapbook anyway.

And speaking of scrapbooks: how, you ask, will this “actually help you out with that scrapbooking,” as stated above? First of all, obviously, by keeping these items handily in one known place. Secondly, preserving the correct sequence of your various events. Each item should be able to be removed – carefully – from the notebook at a later date. Even if they don’t easily peel away from the tape, you can always cut out the notebook paper and trim to fit your ticket stub or what-have-you. But even if these things never make it into a scrapbook, you’re left with a nice, minimalist little travel book – a mini “story of your trip” – fun to show off to others or to reawaken your fond memories of far-flung places.

Lesson learned: Keeping a travel journal is not only surprisingly easy but incredibly gratifying. Start doing it.



"Obviously, there are trips where this rule may not apply, such as family-oriented visits"

Yeah, because you definitely don't want to remember too much about time spent with family. Come to think of it, leaving a comment on a family member's blog is also a way of creating a permanent record of a family interaction. In fact, forget I even wrote this . . .

Christie said...

Now that was a speedy reply! Wow, that "major writing project" must've taken less time than anticipated.

OK, point taken; but you know what I mean. "And then Freddo opened his present. It was a video game. He was really excited. Then it was Cletus's turn. He was really thrilled to get a new Webkinz..." scintillating stuff, really. Not of course to trivialize family get-togethers, but what's memorable about them depends less on what you ate and what specific activities you did. It's about the people (getting a little sappy now), and hopefully we're able to remember them without writing anything down.

But also, you have to draw a line somewhere about what to record and what not to; otherwise at a certain point you're just keeping a daily diary, and that gets old (no one will ever go back and read it all unless you become famous), and anyway can be hard to sustain. But that shouldn't keep you from occasionally picking certain trips to chronicle. In my opinion.


Maybe my "major writing project" is posting snarky comments on your blog. Of course, it would probably be better to preserve these snarky comments in a Moleskine. Speaking of which, maybe for your birthday, we could do a Moleskine cake. The cocoa color would work well, and you could use fondant for the elastic.

Christie said...

That's genius about the cocoa powder, but I'm greatly disappointed in your unimaginative resorting to fondant for the elastic - are we never to be free from this sickly-sweet culinary cure-all?

Anyway, I had assumed your "major writing project" was centered around chronicling your daily familial experience, that being so important to you ...