This was supposed to be here technically on July 12th, but I had a very traumatic and scatterbrained July 11th, so it ended up getting posted several hours early...so sue me. :-P
When I was eight years old, my parents took me out of school for a week in October. Though we would be on vacation, my mother, diligent as she was (and is to this day) didn't want me to fall behind in school. She asked my teacher for a packet of materials and negotiated a few special projects for me to complete, including a daily journal about my time away.
I still remember sitting at the wooden desk in the shore house writing in the tiny manila journal. I remember struggling for things to write and in the end, writing about even the most mundane parts of my day.
23 years later, I still journal when I travel. My journaling helped me process my unexpected and silly experiences while studying abroad in Hungary. Journaling helped me make sense of the paradoxical India while I lived there for six months. I journaled when I went to Great Britain with my family and when I went on a mission trip to Central America. Journaling helped me figure out my college experience away from home.
Why is it that decades after my week at the shore, I still choose to journal whenever away from home? Journaling offers an avenue for memory. Of course I can record anything and everything that happens during my time away. If I can't recall exactly what happened, I can always go back to my journal and see what struck me about the day or the week, or the month. I can remember the specific smells, sounds, and colors. I can remember the tour guide's name.
Another draw of the travel journal is introspection. Sometimes during travel strange things happen (like when the Chinese guys asked for English lessons in Hungary). Sometimes I experienced culture shock (like when the waiters didn't bring everyone's food at the same time in England). Sometimes I would find myself in situations and I wasn't sure what I thought or felt (like when I was being told I was getting married the next day in the Himalayas). It wasn't until I was seeing my words on the page that I was finally able to understand my response to my travels.
Of course, as a writer, there is an additional benefit to the travel journal that draws from the previous two. The travel journal is source material - glorious, raw, fantastic source material. Whether I use specific lines, situations, or locations, I can always check my impressions from a given place and time. I can always reference the things, though place them in a different context (especially when writing fiction). And there's the final potential use which is of course, the non-fiction book.
Even for non-writers, the benefits of the travel journal cannot be overstated. Years later, I still find myself rereading my journals - laughing at my folly or wondering how I survived the wilds. If only I still had my third grade journal. I wonder how much my writing has changed...