Motivate Yourself to Keep Journaling

Reminders and rewards will help keep your pen moving

By Dave Fox

When we travel with journaling as a focus, writing about our journeys is a secondary goal. Our top priority is the journey itself. We want to squeeze as many experiences as we can into our trips. It’s easy to get swept up in the magic of travel and forget to journal. Journaling can feel like an intrusion on the time we want to spend exploring.

The benefits of travel journaling are huge though. We’re accumulating some of the most exciting stories of our lives as we wander through new places. If we don’t write these stories down, our memories fade. In these foreign places we visit, our mind is revealing important characteristics of our personalities that stay hidden in our home environments. If we don’t write about these experiences, we miss opportunities to capture knowledge about ourselves that is flying just below the radar screens of our conscious minds.

You don’t need to journal for hours each day. Often a few minutes is sufficient. The section of this website on journaling techniques offers tips to help you cram a lot into your pages in your limited timeframe. But if you are having trouble just getting started, or if you can’t find time to write, here are some tips to help motivate you:

  • Start journaling before you leave on your trip. When possible, try to write at the same time every day. Studies show it takes three weeks to form a new habit. By the time you take off on your adventure, writing daily will feel as normal as brushing your teeth. For more on writing before you depart, see the article on pre-journaling.
  • If you have trouble remembering to journal, do something to remind yourself. Set an alarm clock to go off each day at the time you want to write. Or keep your journal on your pillow when you’re not in bed. That way, if you have forgotten to write and it’s bed time, you won’t miss it.
  • Take advantage of lulls in your day. Every day has them. If you’re traveling alone, you can write while waiting for meals in restaurants, resting your feet and enjoying a beverage, or on trains, buses, boats, etc. If you are traveling with a partner, set up a time each day when you both sit and write. You can even share a journal and take turns writing. Or journal while your partner is in the shower each morning. It is (hopefully) something he or she will do on a regular basis, and it can be your private time to write.
  • Look for cues around you to remind you to write. When I lived in Turkey, I heard the Muslim call to prayer five times a day. I’m not Muslim, but I took the mid-morning prayer call as a reminder to meditate each day. You can use something like this as a reminder to journal as well.
  • If time seems really tight, carry a pocket-sized notebook and grab scraps of time in your day. You can scribble a couple of sentences while waiting in lines, waiting for subways, or whenever something big pops into your head. You might not have time to capture as much detail this way; on the other hand, you’re writing things down at their freshest.
  • Schedule a daily ritual on your trip that goes along with your journaling — a late-morning cappuccino or a pre-dinner beer, for example. Scope out a spot each day that works well for you. It might be a crowded place with great people-watching to inspire you, or a more quiet spot where you can really concentrate.
  • Reward yourself. When you remember to journal, give yourself a treat. This can be a daily event, like dessert with dinner, or a big reward at the end of your trip, such as a souvenir you really want to buy. If you go with the big prize at the end though, be careful. Don’t set goals that are impossible to attain. And be sure to have a second place prize. If you blow it on day four of a three-week trip, you’ll have no motivation to keep going if there’s not a back-up plan. If you go for the big prize, consider using a point system. For example, for each day you write, allow yourself to spend one, five, ten, or a million dollars at the end of your trip. Let’s say you’ve given yourself ten dollars a day and you write on 17 of the 21 days of your trip. On the last day, you have 170 dollars to blow on whatever you want. The important thing with reward systems is that you follow through. Don’t make a deal with yourself and then break it. If you promise yourself a reward and you earn it, you must let yourself have it. Last-minute buyer’s remorse is only cheating yourself. On the other hand,if you don’t achieve your goal, you must not give yourself the reward. For this reason, don’t make your reward something you absolutely must have. Make it something you would like, but can live without.

The real reward for journaling often comes months or years down the road. It is the discoveries you make from writing, and the memories you retain from rereading. But we all need a little nudge or some instant gratification to motivate us. Try these tricks and keep your words flowing.

If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me an e-mail! 

Published on Thursday, January 1, 2004

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