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Pre-Journaling, Post-Journaling, and Re-Journaling

Satisfy your wanderlust by travel journaling at home

By Dave Fox

Travel can be a frustrating passion. Most of us are tied down by finances and life commitments that keep us from traveling more than a couple of weeks each year. There are easier hobbies to pursue. If you play an instrument or sport, if you paint or collect bottle caps, you can satisfy your urges on a weekly basis. But with all due respect to bottle cap collectors, I’d rather be chasing down new cultures, even if I can only do it sporadically.

You might not be able to hop on a plane every week and zip off to a new place, but if you make journaling part of your traveling experience, you don’t have to be in the middle of a trip to satisfy your wanderlust. If you’re stuck at home, reminiscing about past journeys or dreaming of new ones, you can escape from your everyday world for a short while and take mini-vacations with the Ghost of Travels Past and the Ghost of Travels Yet to Come. Through techniques I call Pre-Journaling, Post-Journaling, and Re-Journaling, you can write some of your most exciting journal entries from the mundane safety of your kitchen table.

Pre-Journaling

Journeys don’t begin at the point of departure. They start much more subtly — barely audible squeaks that echo from crevasses deep within our minds. Like a child being conceived, journeys are barely perceptible at first. Often, we’re not aware that our minds are pregnant with a new travel dream. But the dream slowly grows within us, kicking and burping until we can’t contain it anymore.

By the time we leave on our adventure, we’ve spent weeks, months, maybe even years, dreaming and planning for our journey. When we travel to a new place, we bring along expectations of what it will be like. We have fantasized about the scenery, the food, the people we will meet. We’ve read about the sights we want to see, plotted how to get around, pictured our accommodations.

Every time I travel to someplace new, I have a sensation — more than just an image in my mind — a feeling in my body as well — of what it will be like. That sensation is never accurate. When I arrive, I’m slapped with a reminder that when a place is foreign to us, it’s impossible to comprehend what it will be like before we get there.

But we fantasize anyway. We get these pictures in our minds, these feelings in our bodies. That’s what wanderlust is. Our curiosity and excitement are what nudge uskto travel in the first place.

You have probably already begun several journeys. Some might be very clear — trips coming up soon. There are others that are vaguer thoughts in your mind. Places you’d like to go one day. There are probably others still that have flashed through you mind so fast, you’re not yet aware these trips are fermenting. But these journeys are lurking. They’re part of you. Chances are you’ll make at least some of them happen.

Writing in advance about your trip gives you a sense once you’re there and after you return home of where you came from. Big trips change us. Writi.g about these trips fuels our wanderlust too. It helps us figure out our priorities. Best of all, it gives us something to do that’s more productive than pacing back and forth, wishing we could go NOW!

As you sit and fantasize about a dream journey somewhere in the future, scan your body for a moment. When I think about an upcoming adventure in a new place, I get a floaty sensation. My adrenaline kicks in. Sometimes I even get a mild head rush.

If you notice similar sensations within yourself, it’s a sign you’re pregnant with a journey. Your adventure is already alive inside of you.

The anticipation we feel before a trip can feel exhilarating or downright painful. It’s like salivating over a gourmet meal when we haven’t eaten in a long time. Planning for a trip is a huge part of the adventure we rarely acknowledge. We don’t realize we’re already on our way.

Writing about your journey before you leave home can spark powerful insights later on. It might seem silly to write about a place before we’ve even been there — but not knowing what’s there becomes an important part of our experience when we finally arrive.

Post-Journaling

Post-journaling — journaling after our journey is finished and we’re back at home — can satisfy our travel cravings just like pre-journaling. It takes us back to a place we’ve been. If you’ve had an adventure somewhere and you’re yearning to go back, post-journaling is a way of reliving memories.

Post-journaling is especially good if you haven’t had enough time on your trip to write everything down. Some of my best travel articles have stemmed from my own post-journaling exercises. I’ve looked back on a trip, recalled an event, and thought, “That would make a good story.”

Recalling details can be a challenge when you post-journal. Speed journaling helps bring back these details. When you write fast, your mind tends to begin a spontaneous sort of free association. Once you get some momentum, the memories start flooding back.

Re-Journaling

Re-journaling is similar to post-journaling. When you re-journal, you take a journal entry you’ve already written and rewrite it from a new point of view.

There are two good reasons to do this. From a personal growth point of view, re-journaling lets you look back at who you used to be. You can do it many years after the trip is complete. Re-journaling about thoughts you wrote down a long time ago gives you a sense of how you’ve grown.

I’ve done a lot of re-journaling from my shoestring budget trip to Europe in 1989. Luckily on that trip, I poured a lot of emotions into my journals, so I have a lot to work with now. Going back and psychoanalyzing the 20-year-old me many years later reminds me where I have come from. Seeing how much I have changed, it gives me optimism about the things in my life right now that I am still trying to figure out.

Re-journaling also lets you tweak your writing now that you’re home. In the speed journaling article, I talk about the importance of embracing your mediocrity and writing fast when you travel. Now that you’re home, you have time to slow down. Re-journaling is a time to stop speeding and start polishing.

You can write second, third, and eighth drafts. You can take a day’s journaling and do it all over in a different style. Try different techniques, or turn your journals into articles you can share with others.

I’ve talked a lot in these articles about the importance of not censoring yourself when you journal. But when you re-journal, that’s okay. You’ve written your honest rough drafts and gotten at whatever is most important. Now you can be selective in what you write, take your time and craft your words carefully, and censor your thoughts if others will read them.

Tunisia

I had one of my most powerful journaling experiences on a trip to northern Africa a few years ago. Writing at home before my trip, I was both pre-journaling and post-journaling at the same time.

In 1977, my family lived in England for a year. I eight years old. My brother, Steve, was four. For Christmas, we went to Tunisia. A three-hour flight from London plunged me into the most incredible culture shock my young mind had ever experienced.

We spent a week in Hammamet, a coastal village of dirt roads and palm trees. We made day trips to Muslim holy cities, rode camels on the beach, and drank tea in the spartan home of an orange farmer.

After we returned to America, our week in Hammamet swirled in my mind like a surreal dream. The memories faded with age, but they never vanished. Everything had been so radically different that one week of my life. I longed to return and experience it again.

By the time I was in my mid-20s, Tunisia had become a strange part of me that I needed to reconnect with. But it was so far in the past now, I began at times to question whether I had even been there, even though I had a passport stamp to prove it. I needed to go back and prove to myself my memories were real.

Before leaving America, I sat down to pre-journal about my upcoming trip. As I began writing about my expectations, I realized they were all based on memories. The tricky thing was I wasn’t sure how many of my memories were real, and how many were things I had concocted in my mind.

I remembered towns we had visited — little bits and pieces. But the details had blurred together as one coagulated glob. So I stopped trying to recapture the journey in any sort of chronological order, and just began spilling random thoughts onto the page.

My journal entry became a scrawled list of memories: riding camels on the beach, women in veils, stray cats at our hotel, an excruciating leg cramp on Christmas eve, bottled water — a brand called Safia, pink Safia bottlecaps with a red logo in Roman and Arabic script (I actually did collect bottlecaps then), a three-foot-tall man in a fez who made change for the hotel’s pinball machines, palm trees, pungent food in olive oil that I hated, the Muslim call to prayer billowing from the mosques, walking along the beach with my mom on the day my dad was sick with food poisoning, the walled city nearby, a beggar with deformed feet who passed his time at the city gates. The beggar popped into my mind suddenly, gesturing down at his deformed feet, which pointed inward toward each other instead of forward. I hadn’t thought of him in years

My list went on and on. I wrote myself into a frenzy losing track of time. One detail triggered another. Two hours later, my trip from 20 years earlier was down on paper. Finally it felt real again.

I remembered the hotel we stayed in. It had been our home for a week. I remembered the courtyard, and the stray cats. I remembered a friendly man in the hotel restaurant who winced when I refused to eat the food. Now I wanted not just to go back to Hammamet, but to stay in the same hotel. Could I find it?

I phoned my mother to ask if perhaps she had written the name down somewhere. “Oh,” she said nonchalantly, as if we had been there a week before, “it’s called the Fourati.”

I wrote to the Tunisian embassy in Washington, DC, and asked if they had heard of the hotel, if it even still existed. Two weeks later, I received a response:

“The Hotel Fourati is now the biggest hotel in Hammamet. You will find that Hammamet has changed considerably since your visit in 1977. Tunisia’s tourism industry has made great strides, and Hammamet is now a popular resort town.”

A resort town? I recalled dirt roads and only a couple of hotels. I didn’t want to go to Tunisia to hang out in a resort. But I had to stay at the Fourati. It was beckoning.

Walking back into the hotel was like stepping into a surreal dream. Tunisia had come to seem fictitious. Now I was there. I was overwhelmed with culture shock, but more overwhelmed with memories. The hotel had expanded, but the original buildings were the same. The food had improved slightly, but the desserts still had their familiar, oily flavor.

I struck up a conversation with a waiter one evening. He had worked at the hotel when I was there in 1977. Was he the same man who hovered over our table two decades before, concerned that my brother and I weren’t eating? He had to be. My most mind-blowing experience came the following day.

I walked along the beach like I had done with my mother 20 years earlier to the medina, the original walled city. Outside the walls, Hammamet was modern now with paved roads and high-rise hotels. Within the medina, the same shops bustled as they had for centuries.

I approached the city walls and remembered their brown, blocky shape. I remembered teenagers who 20 years earlier had tried to sell toy camels to my mother and me. I wondered if they were working in the medina now. As I came to the gate, I saw the beggar.

It was him! The same man I had remembered from 20 years earlier. He was in the same spot. I knew it was him by his pointed-in feet. I was stunned. I was sure by now he would have been elsewhere if alive at all. But nearly every day of the last 20 years, he must have sat there, one hand cupped and outstretched, the other hand pointing down at his feet as people walked by.

I wanted to tell him my story, but I was too shy, too afraid it might hurt his feelings to hear I remembered his deformed feet from 20 years earlier. So I gave him a couple of coins and continued into the bazaar. He nodded and thanked me. He had no idea how he had helped me connect with a small but resilient memory from my childhood.

Had I not pre-journaled before my trip, I never would have believed this was real. I would have convinced myself it was a weird déjà vu experience — that I was really seeing him for the first time and imagining I had seen him on my previous trip. But back in America, in my bedroom in Seattle, were the couple of lines I had scrawled about him.

Published on Thursday, January 1, 2004

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