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Three Things The Canadian Arctic Taught Me About Keeping a Travel Journal

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Three Things The Canadian Arctic Taught Me About Keeping a Travel Journal


A few years ago, I was fortunate to be part of a crew of 12 adventurers who paddled the Mackenzie River. For the month of July, we paddled 1500km through some of Canada’s most spectacular scenery - and the whole way that Arctic landscape tested our metal. 


Loading our gear into 26' voyageur canoes at Fort Providence at the west end of Great Slave Lake.

I kept the first page of my Journal to use as a 'title page' - something to try and set the tone of what was to come in the pages ahead.

We loaded up our 26’ voyageur canoes in Fort Providence at the west end of Great Slave Lake. I do have to tell you that, as I stood on the boat launch in that tiny village, I looked out over a river that was kilometres wide and it was daunting. I recall, very clearly, thinking quietly to myself….’My God, Wayne, what have you gotten yourself into.’ 

     Certainly, I’d been on longer wilderness canoe trips - longer in terms of both time and distance. The prospect here before me, however, was something different. Daunting but exciting at the same time - but there was far less back-up for us if anything went wrong.

Camping along the banks of the Mackenzie River near an old rive camp called Old Chicago. 


 I'm a Geographer by training, so I can't resist putting a sketch map into the pages of my Journals.

For a month, the 12 of us (in 3 big canoes) ran into every kind of weather, endured forest fires burning down to the water’s edge, and set up camps with the very real prospect of bears rolling through our camp looking for trouble. 

     Through this whole adventure I was able to keep a Travel Journal that records my epic adventure in that beautiful Canadian wilderness. Though I’ve been keeping Travel Journals for years, this northern trip embedded a few of the lessons that have stuck with me even more clearly - and let me lay them out for you here. I hope they will help you record your adventures and your vacations - from your hike along the Camino de Santiago and up the trails to Manchu Picchu, to your warm winter vacation in Hawaii or the beaches of Zihuatanejo, Mexico.


Number One

I want to give you permission to write in Point-form.

     Most advise, I think you’ll find, revolves around a wider false expectation that you need to craft all sorts of narrative in your Journal. The Travel Journal Police will tell you that you must write long paragraphs filed with descriptive passages and poignant observations. Don’t be convinced you have to go this route - especially when you’re just starting out.

     It can be intimidating to think about writing these kinds of long narrative entries, so my advise is to stick with the Point-form to start. That said, if you’re comfortable with the narrative…then go for it to be sure.

Whether you make your entries in point-form or as a more narrative style is not important....what IS important is to write something down. Make a record of who you are!

     If you stick to the Point-form to start, try to write 2-4 sentences under each point. As you work to describe the event you’ve just attended or the people you’ve just met, you will find that you probably capture the essence of that event or person. 

     Finally, if in the future you want to write longer narrative pieces about those travels, your point-form entries will give you all the basic information you need.

Number Two

If you want the best record of your travels, my own long personal experience is that you’ll want to try and write (and/or sketch) something every day. In lots of aspects of your personal life, you’ll know the value of being consistent. The same is true with your Travel Journal

     Generally, I think you’ll find one of two times will suit you best. If I am on one of my longer distance wilderness canoe or hiking trips, I’ll do my journal entries in the evening in my tent. For those of you who paddle or hike or cycle, you’ll know how busy the mornings can be as you pack up and sort out the coming day. The evening, however, offers a little quiet peace.

Sitting in one of our mosquito tents while camping in the muskeg of the Mackenzie River delta.

Another small sketch map in my Journal - this time at our campsite on the Traviant River where a black bear was loitering around.

Alternately, if I am on a more relaxing warm winter vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii perhaps, I find that my Journal entries are easiest in the morning. I generally get up fairly early….so I’ll put on a coffee and sit and write and sketch on my own and I find that pretty rewarding. 


Number Three

This can take a bit of discipline - but try to give yourself the generosity to ‘pause’ in your day to take in your surroundings. There is something fulfillingly unique about just stopping to look around you.

     When you do take that pause, run through a checklist of your 5 senses. What are you seeing in the stunning vista before you? What are you hearing in that local market? What scents are drifting through the air? What is your 6th sense telling you too?

     If you give yourself permission to take that pause, you will find that it helps you make more meaningful Journal entries. The pause will accentuate your observational skills - and that is always a good thing.

     There is lots you can do with a Travel Journal, and keeping these three lessons in mind on your own personal travel agenda will help you immensely. Give it a try and let me know your thoughts - I’d love to hear what you think. Don’t hesitate to DM me if you have questions about starting your own Travel Journal.

The month-long journey left everyone with epic memories of adventure and hard work and cameraderie.


There isn't a 'wrong' way to keep a Travel Journal, and I hope what you read here will get you started.

This is all you need to remember:

  1. Write in point-form when you’re starting out
  2. Select when is best for you to write – morning or evening
  3. Allow yourself the PAUSE

     There are also lots more Tips and Tricks in my Facebook Group called  - Travel Journal 101. Please join in, and have a great time on your next travel adventure. 

Finally, please feel free to DM me if you have questions about getting started on your own Travel Journal. 

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