Travel Journaling Exercise: Theme Journaling

By Dave Fox

When we travel in foreign places, we often find recurring themes — things that jump out at us because they are different from our native culture. Some of these themes are common travel challenges — language barriers, foreign currencies, toilets we can’t figure out how to flush, or unusual foods, for example. Other themes might be more prevalent in certain areas, such as the strong folk music culture in Ireland, or haggling over prices in Africa and the Middle East. There are also universal themes — things we encounter every day that take on a different twist when we are outside our usual environment — for example: children, animals, telephones, or transportation.

“Theme Journaling” can be a powerful way to capture your trip because it zeros in on these unique parts of your journey. When you theme journal, you focus each entry on a specific theme rather than following the chronological sequence of your trip. (For example, if you choose to write about food on day 12 of your trip, you might have memorable stories to tell from days 2, 6, and 11.) You might even find yourself looking back at other trips you have taken in the past, and incorporating those trips into your theme journal. The idea here is to write as much detail as you can about one specific topic rather than the place you are in at the time. You end up with a series of short essays the things in your travels that are most noticeable, fun, or challenging.

Make a list of themes you’d like to journal about. Spend five to ten minutes brainstorming. There is no such thing as a bad theme. If something pops into your head, write it down. When you think you’ve run out of themes, try sitting quietly for a few more minutes. Can you think of anything else? Often the best themes are the ones you come up with after you have emptied the obvious ones out of your mind and on to paper.

Once you’ve made your list of themes, choose one and write about it. It can be a theme covering lots of different trips you have taken, or you can focus on one specific journey.

Hang on to your list of themes. Add to it whenever something jumps into your head, and take it with you when you travel. You’ll have a ready-made list of topics to write about as you explore.

Published on Friday, January 2, 2004

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