Can We Make Travel Journaling Cool for Kids?

by  Paul Eisenberg | Sep 12, 2012
Kids in Paris
Kids in Paris / travnikovstudio/iStock

American journalist Burton Rascoe said that "a writer is working when he's staring out of the window.” It’s a sentiment that resonates with the chronic procrastinator in me, but I also like how the quote neatly pays tribute to the practice of keeping a travel journal.

By keeping a journal, I mean the act of recording thoughts into a diary during a trip, not keeping barely-used diaries in a junk drawer, which is where many of my kids’ travel journals end up. The kids start off strong, filling the initial pages during the beginning of the trip, but, inevitably, other pursuits come along to distract them.

One possible solution that I revisit every few years is whether making the journal itself more interesting will help the writing process along.

Last year I discovered a children’s travel journal, cryptically called The Children’s Travel Journal ($19.95), an inviting spiral-bound diary crafted by Ann Banks. Unlike many diaries for kids that are so busy and over-templated that they resemble the joyless workbooks that they really are, this journal finds a balance, leaving room for random thoughts while encouraging the writer to report such things as favorite sites and restaurants discovered during the trip.

For a long time, I thought Moleskine notebooks were a bit pretentious and also set the bar too high for ordinary travel diarists, being as they were the notebooks of choice for Hemingway, Picasso, and Van Gogh. I changed my tune once I bought one, however, as the books are studiously durable and have that nifty back-cover pocket for storing mementos, two reasons why the Moleskine LEGO Large Plain Notebook ($21.95) is good for traveling families.

At its best, LEGO should inspire kids to build things from scratch, rather than trying to follow the insanely confusing instructions found in many LEGO kits. And the minimal LEGO branding in this notebook encourages the former; except for a red toy brick built into the cover and some stickers, this book is a mercifully simple canvas of 240 blank pages.

A travel journal can inspire without being store-bought, of course. A couple years ago, Traveling Mom blogger Jennifer Close wrote about making a travel journal from scratch for her kids prior to a car trip. In the journal, she bound together coloring pages from the websites of her kids favorite TV shows and characters, as well as puzzles, a map on which she marked the cities where the family would be stopping, and blank pages.

If you can’t manage to buy or construct a travel diary that holds your child’s attention, you might consider an idea recommended by travel writer and mother of three Eileen Ogintz, who says “make sure the kids write lots of postcards to themselves. They'll have a ready-made travel journal of all their adventures when they get home.”

And if getting your child to write out postcards seems like too much of a chore, you might adapt Ogintz’s approach by suggesting to your child that she use her ever-present phone to write periodic emails to herself, which could be just the twist needed to make her record her trip thoughts (even if they include such phrases as "My parents are lame...").

Virtual journaling naturally opens the door to one more option – allowing your kids to use social media platforms to chronicle their vacation. While I’m not a fan of sharing trip details in real time (especially when the whole family is away from home), it’s hard not to champion social media if it inspires kids to share their photos and videos, as well as written posts (even if they’re little more than photo captions) after the trip.

Still, as virtual journaling gets ever more interactive and sophisticated, I remain hopeful that wiser minds than mine will figure out ways to make pen-on-paper journaling cool for kids.

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