The 7 Fundamentals of Documenting Your Travels

Don't Let Your Travel Memories Evaporate Once You're Home

The 7 Fundamentals of Documenting Your Travels

One of the biggest mistakes in travel is assuming you'll "never forget" a particular moment or feeling. From launching out of a plane for a skydive, to swimming in moonlit waterfalls, to rowdy nights out on Khao San Road, to that final step up Kilimanjaro  ¾ and a million other memories in between. Big and small, epic or delicate.

The question is, how do we document and preserve these travel experiences, not only to share with others but also for ourselves? There are a few easy things to do on any trip to properly document and preserve important details, memories and experiences so that your travels can stay with you long after you've returned home.

1. BE A JOURNALIST: Keep a notebook

Photo credit: João & Raquel

A notebook is an indispensable item in a traveler's bag. Keep it handy at all times to jot down where you went, when, with whom and what you did.

Take notes on a daily basis so you won't find yourself wondering the name of that dish, or who this person in your photo is or what lake that was.

Tip: Keep the books thin and light, and take new notebooks on each trip to not only stay organized, but also to keep your old notes safe and save space.

2. Keep a scrapbook

Photo credit: Danny Hope

But not your grandmother’s scrapbook. I mean something — anything — to contain information you pick up along the way. It could be a folder, or even just a Ziploc bag. But each time you pick up information, store it all in the same place. Keep flyers, business cards, receipts and more of hostels, restaurants, attractions and businesses you visited.

This way you begin to catalogue where you've been and can easily access websites, emails, and social media sites for these places. Plus, correct spellings or proper names are readily available.

Tip: Make notes on the cards — especially personal ones you collect from people — as to how or where you met them, and if or why you'd want to contact them. If you can, snap a picture with or of the person and note on the card the file number on your camera.

3: BE A PHOTOGRAPHER: Capture a sense of place

Photo credit: Kate Siobhan

Truly documenting a place takes a lot more than just snapping a few shots of the street. What gives a sense of place? Most easily, it's the activity taking place outdoors, on the streets — from lively markets, to farmers at work, to women balancing colorful jugs of water on their heads. Ask yourself what scenes you'll recall most fondly later and try to capture some of those moments. Here are a few things to consider when doing this:

Look for things that really shout out the name of where you are. A sense of place is built on multiple layers of culture: people, movement, food, scents, colors, clothing, music and much more. If you can isolate a few things into an image, you can begin to show others what the place is truly like.

Tip: Respect for the locals is a huge factor in this process. If you get glares or feel uncomfortable, stop and try again on a different street or from a different perspective.

4. Document the people

Photo credit: Kate Siobhan

This is probably the hardest thing for most people to do. We get very nervous approaching people, but often if you're smiling, polite and willing to show them the image, you can get far. The golden rule is: Always ask first. It's as easy as lifting your camera and saying, "Foto?" which is understood in most languages. If they oblige, here are some quick tips:

Tip: When in doubt, fire several different kinds of shots (close up, pulled back, midway) and decide later.

5. Document the details

Photo credit: Kate Siobhan

The little details are the first things you'll forget later on. Some things to include:

Tip: Learn to look for details by going out for walks specifically just to look around (no destination, nowhere to be). Just look. Note these details and come back later to try and capture some.


Photo credit: Aya Padron

It's not the same as a notebook. The journal is where you put your personal experiences along the way. Take time to reflect and process. Write your questions, thoughts, hopes, growth, victories, joys, urges and more.

Tip: Do it alone and give yourself time. You'll thank yourself later.

7. Share

Photo credit: Lucas Jans

Whether your purpose is an article, a series of blog posts, Facebook or an old-fashioned slideshow in your living room, you have a story to share. You went, you saw, you experienced. By documenting the trip from so many angles, you'll have heaps of material to pull from to help you paint a full and descriptive picture of your journey.

The next time you travel, be sure to properly document like a pro and you'll be able to really transport yourself — and anyone else you'd like to bring along — right back there with you.

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Kate Siobhan

Kate Siobhan is a Vancouver-Based writer and photographer, as well as contributing editor at Matador and lead photo faculty at MatadorU.
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