Dear Queer Diary: I’m Leaving On An Airplane

Dear Queer Diary_Rory Midhani_640px

My grandparents kept track of their travels on an enormous, faded map of the country. It hung on the wall of their living room, where the map stretched from California, just above the lamp, across to Maine, which was positioned over the old brown sofa. My grandfather used red, green, and blue pens to mark the routes they had followed on their many cross-country drives, penning the date of the trip next to each wandering line of highways and scenic routes. For him, this was a kind of travel journal, a way of recording their many car trips as my mother and her siblings grew up, moved away, and started taking trips of their own.

In a just over a week, my girlfriend and I will be hitting the road (or, more accurately, the transatlantic airways) on a trip that wouldn’t fit on my grandfather’s map. Our line stretches all the way to England, where we plan to visit our college roommates, gaze upon attractive historic castles, and eat some serious scones. I would like to say that I will be journaling every step of our journey in a beautifully crafted, appropriately themed notebook. However, I’m not exactly sure of what my journaling plan will entail.

I just hope that such beautiful cups of tea are in my future! (Via Dispatch from LA)

I just hope that such beautiful cups of tea are in my future! (Via Dispatch from LA)

In kitschy bookstores and gift shops, I spend a lot of time looking through travel journals—fancy ones with maps embossed on their tastefully muted covers or adorably hand-illustrated versions that prompt you to record a favorite sunset or a favorite sandwich from each stop on your trip. I love the idea of journals like these—neatly themed and ready to be filled from cover to cover with all of my fabulous adventures.

Once, I had one of these lovely little travel journals. It was a gift from my mother, who presented me with a map-covered Paris-themed journal before my first trip to France, which I took with my best friend’s family in the summer before I started high school. I wrote in that notebook every day of my trip– due in no small part to the need to take some alone time in the midst of the awkwardness of traveling with someone else’s not-entirely-harmonious family. But unless I was a young Proust (I wasn’t), there was no way in the wide world that I could have filled up that entire journal during one ten-day vacation, and once I got back to the U.S. of A., it seemed strangely anti-climactic to record the details of my suburban summertime in my Parisian notebook. I returned to my old journal, leaving its more metropolitan cousin to sit, 70% empty on my bookshelf.

Personally, I find this journal intimidatingly classy. (Via Paper Chocolate Press)

Personally, I find this journal intimidatingly classy. (Via Paper Chocolate Press)

That’s the thing about pretty travel notebooks. They have high expectations for you — or so I imagine. They make me feel compelled to include a truly nauseating degree of detail: every item that I ate, the route we took from point A to point B, or exactly what the cute girl in the museum said before walking into the portrait gallery. And in the midst of a trip, there isn’t always time for that.

In reality, most of the best journaling I have done while in transit has actually taken in place in my regular old black softcover notebook. While it doesn’t have the same thematic charm as an official travel journal, it also doesn’t come with the same heights of expectation. In my comfortably tatty black journal, I can write a few bullet points or an address, a few elaborate entries about my journeys, and then return to the quotidian without feeling like I am disappointing anyone.

Even in the company of my adorable girlfriend, my travels will never be this cute. (Via Happy Dappy Bits)

Even in the company of my adorable girlfriend, my travels will never be this cute. (Via Happy Dappy Bits)

Traveling alone during my semester abroad, the aforementioned Moleskine was my only companion in a series of hostels of varying quality. I scribbled about historic landmarks, strange encounters with locals, and my desire to write the scripts for audio tours. I wrote while I ate cobbled-together meals of hummus and digestive biscuits. I wrote to assuage the strange, unending quiet of multiple consecutive weeks spent mostly in my own company.

By contrast, I don’t expect to get very much journaling done on this trip. The purpose for my long flight is spending time with real live people, after all, and while there may occasionally be time on trains and buses, I anticipate that we will use that for sleeping more often than we will use it for writing. That’s okay with my humble little black notebook. It can appreciate a quick note here and there, a three-week-late recap, or a smear of jam that commemorates the time we ate toast at four in the morning.

Please take a moment to appreciate how amazing this is. Cracked Designs)

Please take a moment to appreciate how amazing this is. Cracked Designs)

When I get back from my trip, I will be happy to flip back through one or five or fifteen or fifty pages — however many I happen to get to. The rest I can write down later — or I can remember as lines on an enormous, wall-sized map like my grandfather’s.

How do you document your travels, my dearest queerest diarists? Do you have tips for me as I pack my bags for some transatlantic journaling?

Dear Queer Diary is a column about the joys (and occasionally, the pains) of journaling. We crack open our tiny notebooks and break out the rainbow-colored pens on the regular, so get ready to limber up your writing hands and document all your beautiful feelings!

Header by Rory Midhani

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Maggie is a freckly, punctuation-loving queer living in the Boston area. She supports her book-buying and tea-drinking habits by teaching America’s youth how to write topic sentences and spends her free time writing postcards and making sandwiches for her girlfriend.

Maggie has written 53 articles for us.


  1. When abroad for a May Term course, I was required to keep a travel journal, which I found to be rather exciting. I was intrigued by the idea of describing my experience for an audience. However, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to write about how my roommate was driving me crazy or how much beer I had consumed at the pub the night before, so I brought my personal journal along with me as well. Largely because I knew I needed to write for my grade, and a huge need for alone time after being with a group of 30+ music majors (read: loud), I was able to write quite a bit in both journals. Going back and reading both journals is interesting because the public one is light-hearted and more descriptive, whereas my personal is full of angst.

  2. Oh, gosh. Keeping a journal while traveling is the haaaaardest! I am having enough of a hard time keeping up with blogging about our travels, let alone sit down and write all that goes through my head while enjoying all these experiences!

    After my room caught fire and burnt absolutely everything I owned two years ago, I decided I wasn’t going to keep anything disposable anymore. So when my girlfriend bought me a journal, I began filing it up with everything would otherwise catch fire if I kept it: ticket, pictures, notes, flower pedals, maps, pieces of advertisement I liked, cards from friends, pamphlets from events I went to, and of course my thoughts and experiences. In a way it’s become my way of collecting the uncollectable and keeping it packet up, safe for travel. I had become a real addict to writing everything important to me down. Any minute I had of free time I would dedicate to filling those pages.

    So now that my girlfriend and I are backpacking all over Mexico, I still collect tickets, pamphlets, pictures, business cards, notes, postcards, and a zillion things more. I am just having a hard time finding a time and place to sit and word out my experience.

    So my recommendation would be to carry that notebook everywhere and just use those seconds in between to scribble little notes of what is going on in your head, and once you have full minutes develop those ideas. It’s working for me so far! :)

    • Oh Laura! As a journal-lover, you have my deepest sympathies on the room fire! I love the idea of collecting all the little bits and pieces associated with traveling. Those are the things I love finding in the bottoms of my bags months after the fact!

  3. Since traveling for me inevitably involves (a) at least 100lbs of bulky climbing gear or (b) whatever I can take with me on a motorcycle, I go for the lightest and smallest thing possible. I had a nice, 3″x4″ black book with an elastic band to keep it closed for my previous trips to South America, but it’s mostly filled up now (it notably contains a phenomenal empanada recipe that I learned in Mendoza, Argentina)

  4. Ok so if you’re doing England…please make time for Yorkshire. Stuffy white folks wrote lots of famous literature here and damn it’s beautiful in a rugged and ominous way.
    I always take a moleskine when I travel, mostly a blank page medium one. I draw things and make notes…i find this easier if I’m travelling alone. I bought my GF a cute semi laid out travel journal from paperchase for our road trip this summer…its currently hidden awaiting her birthday…the idea is she can journal/scrapbook all our road trips in it, which would be cool.

  5. I kept a travel journal during my three week exchange in Germany. I spent little on souvenirs because all my memories were kept in those pages. Here are some pictures of the journal:

    I used an “artist” moleskine, there weren’t as many pages so I was able to fill it and they were nice and thick so they held up to all the stuff I taped inside. I’m quite proud of how it turned out.

    • Also, I’d definitely recommend the book Globejotting by Dave Fox. It really helped me prepare for journaling on my trip. The links I posted are from his website. He posted the pictures I sent him of my journal.

    • This was awesome, thanks for linking. I loved how your journal looked with everything all flipped out

  6. On my last trip I just took my paperback moleskine with me, and I did a lot of writing in the airport during layovers and my friend, whom I visited in Philly, keeps a journal too so she was more than happy to go to coffee shops to write when the mood struck us.

    I almost always travel alone, so I never feel bad about making time to write. If I don’t take my journal with me I always end up jotting things down in my phone or on the backs of receipts and put them in my journal later anyway. Being in different locations, especially while waiting for the train or sitting in a restaurant looking out on a totally different scene watching people you’ve never seen before walk by really sparks creativity for me.

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