Before my first solo trip to Europe in 2012, I researched some ways on how I might memorialize it. Photos were a given but I wanted something a little more.
In my search, and in speaking with people, I stumbled across an idea of sending postcards to myself while I travelled. I also came across the idea of sketchnoting. Since I have an affinity for the written word paired with beautiful visuals, I decided to explore these ideas further as it would capture moments of my trip and the places I visited in a unique way. (If you're unfamiliar with Sketchnotes, I highly recommend Mike Rohde's book. He does a great job helping you get into your right brain for taking notes and shows some beautiful examples.)
With that in mind, I purchased a leather journal that was specifically for the purpose of travel and made a plan to sketch in it and pick up a postcard whenever I arrived in a new city or museum.
Throughout my trip, when I found myself with some down time, I'd sketch, write, or do both. I'd write about what I did that day, what the weather was doing, how I was feeling, or what I had planned. I'd sketch whatever I felt inspired by like the name of the city I was in, maybe some cool light or sign I saw hanging off of a building, my food...
There was (and is) something about sketching and writing that feels very organic and old world to me. It forces you to move a little slower. You have to interpret your surroundings and think about what you're doing. Much different than a quick snap of a photo. Photos are great (and I took a lot of those too) but seeing my adventures in written form, made it more tangible and a bit more memorable. I believe it's because how one sketches or how one writes, captures the essence of an experience in a way that is authentically YOU.
Now that I have these things as keepsakes, I go back to them and remember, more clearly, what happened that day or what I was thinking when I drew something. It's an additional layer to the photos and ticket stubs I collected.
So how do you plan for something like this for your next trip?
I knew I'd be alone for 3 weeks so it was a little easier to find time to sketch and write. However, I still set a goal of purchasing postcards whenever I saw them. I also made a goal of sketching or writing when I sat and had a coffee. Or sat in a park to take it easy. Or when I was in my pj's relaxing in my room for the night. It varied day by day but committing some time, even 10 minutes a day to this, will ensure you get a few pages filled and a couple of postcards sent.
The biggest goal, of course, is to enjoy yourself, relax, and have fun.
You can wait to purchase a journal and writing tools for when you arrive at your destination. This would make another nice momento from the trip but it's an additional task.
You can also purchase those things ahead of time and start sketching or writing at the airport, on the plane, and prep those pages for the days ahead.
I chose a journal that I knew I'd love to write in everyday and one that would last. High quality pens also prevents smudging and fading over time. It also helps you enjoy what you're sketching and writing when you're excited about your tools.
I never left my hotel room without my travel journal, camera, and pens in tow. Every time I stopped to take a break, have a coffee, or something to eat, the journal would come out and I would start sketching. Or the postcards would come out and I would start writing.
Carve out time
Travelling is always a little crazy so sketching and writing may not be a possibility during the day. When you get back to your room, you can use some of that quiet time to unwind and review the day you had in your journal or on your postcards.
As you can see from the sketches from my journal, I didn't spend a ton of time trying to make it look amazing. I would love to have the skill and patience for that; Especially on the go. If that was my style though, then it would make sense for me to do so. However, I'm more of a quick-sketch person and I fill in the details later, if I want to. If your style is something different, then go with that. The key is to keep it authentically YOU!
Keep an eye out
While you may not mail them all, pick up postcards that appeal to you or when you visit somewhere you really want to remember. Also keep a watch for corner stores or post offices that can sell you stamps and grab a few to last you a couple of days.
The best postcards I've ever received aren't just about what my friends are up to and what they're seeing but how they're feeling. It helps you resonate with what they might be experiencing. Maybe it rained all day and they're upset they couldn't do or see something. Maybe they've had a self-discovery that made them think a little differently.
This is how I approached my own postcards. Since these postcards are for you, you have the freedom to let loose as much or a little as you'd like. If you're writing on one from a particular museum, write about that museum. Or maybe you accidentally mailed a postcard without postage (which I definitely did), write about that. Or if you found yourself "lost" for an hour but were always a block away from your hotel room (which happened to me), write about that. This will help you remember those moments even more and even look back on a time that my have been challenging or extremely happy, which only adds to it.
Mail something each day
If you give yourself a goal of mailing a postcard each day or even every 2nd day, you'll have most of your trip summarized in the form of postcards. When you return, you'll also have postcards trickling in for the next week or two which only adds to the fun.