“The journal calmed me and forced me to think clearly about the day. Often the day had been muddled with so many things happening one after another that the only way to straighten it out was to write about it, reliving it until the pattern of incidents sorted itself out. Recording specific information had to be done as soon as it was learned, and this gave me a kind of chart that later helped to trigger the circumstances I wanted written down.”
–Tobias Schneebaum, in They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing (1991)


“Increasingly, what I do when I travel with a view to writing a travel book is try and get everything down but not always in perfect, fluent prose. If I’m on a bus my notes are often lists of the colors in the hill sides, the way that the trees are moving, the starkness of the rock formations, the snatches of conversations from the bus around, but it doesn’t say ‘The sun was raking down the russet colored hillside’; it’ll say ‘Sun down, russet’, and then it will be bouncing around the back of the bus, and so what you’re trying to do is get the raw materials that you then later form into finished prose.”
–William Dalrymple interviewed by Tim Youngs, Studies in Travel Writing (2005)


“When we travel solo, a journal keeps us company. Conversely, traveling with others means we get our fair share of camaraderie but routinely forfeit our privacy. We double up on rooms, rides, meals, and lavatories; share maps, gear, and dry socks. But our notebook is private property. You won’t be asked to lend it out the way you will your pesos, toothpaste, and condoms. It can thus become a haven, a sacred oasis to come home to when travel has thrown you off-kilter; a personal traveling shrine or altar where you commune with only you.”
–Lavinia Spalding, Writing Away (2009)


“For exercise, when I make a trip, such as from Tangier to Gibraltar, I will record this in three columns in a notebook I always take with me. One column will contain simply an account of the trip, what happened. I arrived at the air terminal, what was said by the clerks, what I overheard on the plane, what hotel I checked into. The next column presents my memories; that is, what I was thinking of at the time, the memories that were activated by my encounters; and the third column, which I call my reading column, gives quotations from any book that I take with me. I have practically a whole novel alone on my trips to Gibraltar.”
–William S. Burroughs, Paris Review interview (1965)


How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook. I sometimes delude myself about why I keep a notebook, imagine that some thrifty virtue derives from preserving everything observed. See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write – on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there: dialogue overheard in hotels and elevators and at the hat-check counter in Pavillon (one middle-aged man shows his hat check to another and says, “That’s my old football number”); impressions of Bettina Aptheker and Benjamin Sonnenberg and Teddy (“Mr. Acapulco”) Stauffer; careful aperçus about tennis bums and failed fashion models and Greek shipping heiresses, one of whom taught me a significant lesson (a lesson I could have learned from F. Scott Fitzgerald, but perhaps we all must meet the very rich for ourselves) by asking, when I arrived to interview her in her orchid-filled sitting room on the second day of a paralyzing New York blizzard, whether It was snowing outside.”
–Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)


“When I was younger, I filled my reporting notes with my own thoughts and feelings about things. Those notes often didn’t contain much information about the source of my thoughts and feelings: what I was actually seeing. They contained few details of clothing and place, smells, sounds, and other sensory impressions. I’m sorry about that, because I could use some of those notes now. I’ve learned a few things since then. I try to write down all the visible, tactile, smellable facts as well as what I hear. With the material in front of me, I have complete access to my memories of how I felt about a certain incident or scene: I don’t need to have those thoughts recorded on the notebook page.”
–Tracy Kidder, “Field Notes to Full Draft,” from Telling True Stories (2007)


“What accounts for the near omnipresence of the diary in travel literature? Stuart Sherman offers a persuasive set of answers to this question in Telling Time: Clocks, Diaries, and English Diurnal Form, 1660-1875. Looking at how “the numbers of time structure the narrative of motion through space,” he suggests that the travel diary allows for “greatest comprehensiveness of coverage.” That is, organized by time, rather than topic, event, or place, the diary offers the traveler a framework that can encompass everything that happens, everything seen, every possible kind of information gathered. …Of course not everything worth writing about is worth reading; one danger of any diary, but especially the travel diary, as Sherman points out, is that it can become what Daniel Defoe criticized as “a Journal of Trifles”: a list of distances, sights, prices and meals that reveals little or nothing of the traveler or the travels. The boring monotony of many travel diaries, both published and manuscript, testifies loudly to this danger. Revising a diary into narrative, even partially, can be seen as an effort to distill and develop a more compelling account out of the diary’s “comprehensiveness.” Such revisions also allow a writer to enhance the diary’s immediate observations with the benefits of hindsight and reflection.”
–Rebecca Steinitz, in Literature of Travel and Exploration (2003)


“A good journal entry — like a good song, or sketch, or photograph — ought to break up the habitual and lift away the film that forms over the eye, the finger, the tongue, the heart. A good journal entry ought to be a love letter to the world.”
–Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome (2008)